Economics ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 10-25-2019


This dissertation is comprised of five chapters. The first chapter provides an outline of the three separate research papers that are combined in this dissertation. It highlights the goals of each paper, discusses their importance to the field of economics, and outlines their contributions to the existing literature. The final chapter summarizes the main conclusions from the three research articles and points to how my future research trajectory is shaped by my dissertation research.

The second chapter explores the effect of current health (denoted by BMI for age scores) on cognitive test scores directly and indirectly, through time allocated to studying, for a sample of Ethiopian children during childhood (5-8 years) and mid-childhood (8-12 years). Using a novel method for using instrumental variables to conduct causal mediation analysis, I find that not only does current health improve cognitive test scores, but that this effect operates almost entirely through an indirect time allocation channel. Moreover, I also find that as the child approaches adolescence and the opportunity costs to study time increase, improved current health can lead to reduced study time and increased work time. My results point to time allocation as an important channel in the influence of current health on cognitive production during childhood. Finally, policies that improve returns to education and reduce returns to child labor are likely to improve cognitive outcomes during mid-childhood.

The third chapter explores patterns of persistence and catch-up growth in cognition (denoted by standardized mathematics scores) for a sample of Ethiopian children during childhood (5-8 years), middle childhood (8-12 years), early adolescence (12-15 years), and middle adolescence (15-19 years). I also examine whether perfect complementarity in cognition formation exists for this sample. The results suggest that persistence in cognition scores increases throughout the lifecycle of cognitive production. They also point towards early childhood (before age 5) as a “sensitive period” where the chances of catch-up growth in cognition are the highest, especially for children at the lower end of the cognition distribution. Finally, I also find evidence for the case of perfect complementarity in cognitive production, where investments in cognition seem necessary for the process of self-productivity in cognitive production to start.

The fourth chapter comes up with a set of adult-equivalent scales based on the specific daily intake requirement for macro- and micronutrients. I also attempt to find whether on average there are differences between the individual-level nutrient availability estimates when they are calculated through nutrient-specific and other (calorie-based, per capita, or OECD) adult-equivalence scales. The results suggest that on average there are significant differences between the individual-level nutrient availability estimates depending on which adult-equivalent scale is used. Moreover, the nutrient-specific adult-equivalent scales derived in this paper have the potential to reduce measurement error in future studies relying on nutrient availability estimates obtained through household survey data.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Economics

First Committee Member (Chair)

Kira Villa

Second Committee Member

Robert Berrens

Third Committee Member

Melissa Binder

Fourth Committee Member

Catalina H. Almanza




Human Capital, Early Childhood Development, Cognitive Formation, Nutrient Availability

Document Type