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Essays in Schooling, Nutrition and Public Policy


This thesis examines human capital outcomes in developing countries. It is especially concerned with evaluating the policies meant to raise the rate of accumulation of such capital in poor households.

Chapter 3 considers this problem in the context of calorie deprivation in India. Rapid economic growth has been advocated as the instrument of choice in tackling undernutrition in India. Yet, while India's annual economic growth has never dipped below four percent in two decades, calorie consumption has been falling across the income distribution. This poses a disturbing trend against the background of widespread malnutrition.

Chapter 2 details how the literature has typically defined nutrition, and attempted to derive the causal impact of income on it. The next essay investigates the calorie-income puzzle using a random sample of poor households in rural Maharashtra from the 2004 National Sample Survey. The nonparametric estimate of the expenditure elasticities of calories reveals that there is a gradual fall from 0.28 to zero over the income distribution, which roughly translates to a halving of the elasticities from 1983. Controlling for household and district level characteristics does not alter the basic estimate. It closes by showing that food price inflation could not have been the cause of the calorie decline.

Chapter 4 examines the intergenerational transmission of schooling in Zimbabwe. After Independence in 1980, Zimbabwe implemented a substantial reform of the racially-segregated education system it inherited from colonial times. A key element of the reform was the elimination of restrictions governing progress from primary to secondary school. Consequently, primary school graduates of 1980 entered secondary school at a rate three times higher than the class of 1979. Exploiting the fuzzy discontinuity implicit in this natural experiment, I find that an additional year of schooling acquired by a woman increased her child's by about five percent of a standard deviation. Estimates of schooling transmitted from fathers to children were thrice as large, significant and robust. Descriptive evidence suggests that public investment in the quality of schooling would have enhanced the intergenerational benefits of the reform.

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