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Sending children to school: rural livelihoods and parental investment in education in northern Tanzania


Evolutionary and economic models of the demographic transition argue that economic development incentivizes low-fertility, high-investment parental strategies, and that such strategies emerge first in relatively wealthy families within populations undergoing 'modernization'. However, most research focuses on fertility reduction rather than shifting parental investment, and few studies consider how parental decisions regarding educational investment vary in relation to alternative rural livelihoods. Using data from 19 villages and 1,719 children (7-19 years), we investigate the effects of diversifying livelihoods, wealth and child characteristics on multiple measures of educational investment in rural Tanzania. Children in (predominantly Maasai) pastoralist households were the least likely to attend school, while neighboring farmers and business owners invested more in education. Household wealth, as measured by asset ownership, was also independently positively associated with educational investment for all livelihood types. These results are consistent with lower opportunity costs and greater perceived economic pay-offs to education for relatively labor market-integrated and wealthy households. However, among pastoralists wealth held in livestock was not associated with educational investment. This result may reflect elevated opportunity costs related to the child labor demands of livestock herding. We find a marginal female advantage in education, which is surprising because qualitative research and numerous development projects in the region emphasize the disadvantages facing girls. We also find suggestive evidence of a later-born disadvantage (i.e. borderline statistically significant) consistent with the predicted consequences of sequential household resource dilution. Female advantage and later-born disadvantage were particularly evident in the wealthiest households. Greater reliability in the returns to education for wealthy households may favor preferential treatment of children with higher perceived long-term payoffs, while equal but lower-level investment in all children in relatively poor families may reflect a bet-hedging strategy. We discuss our results in light of parental investment theory and the wider literature on the demographic transition.

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