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Social protection and foundational cognitive skills during adolescence: Evidence from a large Public Works Programme

5th Oct 2022 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Many low- and middle-income countries have introduced Public Works Programmes (PWPs) to fight poverty. PWPs provide temporary cash-for-work opportunities to boost poor households’ incomes and to provide better infrastructure to local communities. While PWPs do not target children directly, the increased demand for adult labour may affect children’s development through increasing households’ incomes and changing household members’ time uses. This paper expands on a multidimensional literature showing the relationship between early life circumstances and learning outcomes and provides the first evidence that children from families who benefit from PWPs show increased foundational cognitive skills (FCS). We focus on four child FCS: inhibitory control, working memory, long-term memory, and implicit learning. Our results, based on unique tablet-based data collected as part of a 20- year longitudinal survey, show positive associations of family participation in the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) in Ethiopia during childhood on long-term memory and implicit learning, with weaker evidence for working memory. These associations appear to be strongest for children whose households were still PSNP participants in the year of data collection. We find suggestive evidence that, the association with implicit learning may be operating through children’s time reallocation away from unpaid labour responsibilities, while the association with long-term memory may be due to the programme’s success in remediating nutritional deficits caused by early life rainfall shocks. Our results suggest that policy interventions such as PWPs may be able to mitigate the effects of early poverty on cognitive skills formation and thereby improve children’s potential future outcomes.

About the Presenter

Richard is currently a Quantitative Research Analyst at Young Lives, a longitudinal study of poverty and inequality documenting the lives of 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam since 2001. He holds a Bachelor of Business Science from the University of Cape Town and an MSc in Economics for Development from the University of Oxford. His current research focuses on the remediation role of social protection programmes, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on multiple aspects of well-being. He is also the co-founder of Periods for Hope – a non-profit organisation which aims to empower learners through reusable sanitary pad provision and sexual health workshops focused on menstruation and gender-based violence

Hybrid Seminar Details
Zoom Meeting Details
Meeting ID: 325 559 487 848
Passcode: fYhLeE

Venue: UCT, School of Economics Seminar Room

Lunch will be served in the staff lounge at 12:30.


5th Oct 2022
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Event Category:


Amy Jephthah


UCT School of Economics, 4th Floor Seminar Room
UCT Middle Campus
Cape Town, Western Cape 7700 South Africa
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