Human Resources and Endowments

Human resources and endowments. Many differences in health and social outcomes between and within populations are functions of individual differences in the characteristics with which individuals are endowed, from genes and their phenotypic expression through family background characteristics. These outcomes also depend on the health, nutritional, and educational resources that they are granted, acquire, or invest in across the life cycle, but especially in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.

Philadelphia Human Development Study: A longitudinal study of the determinants of early childhood development, where nearly 1000 women are being followed from pregnancy until their children are 24 months old; it is funded by R01 HD073221 (F Cunha [Rice], PI; Elo, co-I) and housed at the PSC, where it receives substantial support for data security and sharing from the CIT Core. The study probes heterogeneity in maternal preferences and beliefs about the technology of skill formation: Are mothers investing optimally in the well-being of their children? Results suggest that they are not. Only part of the divergence in human capital profiles of children that occurs early in life is attributable to heterogeneity in budget sets and in human capital at birth. Much is attributable to heterogeneity in maternal knowledge regarding the potential payoff of, e.g., reading to children investments, opening the possibility of low-cost interventions directed at maternal behavior.

Human capabilities and outcomes. Duckworth’s 2016 book Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance was a New York Times bestseller. The book is a distillation of a highly influential research agenda that has established that “talent,” as per conventionally measured IQ and the like, is not the only determinant of success, and that stick-to-itiveness and resilience, or grit, and self-control are measurable, have independent effects on life outcomes, and can be acquired (e.g., situational strategies for self-control that avoid or minimize decision-making, in Perspect Psych Sci, 2016). With J Heckman (Chicago), she is MPI of R24 AG048081, an award to create a Research Network on the Determinants of Life Course Capabilities and Outcomes, which synthesizes and extends understanding of the measurement and development of human capabilities. Penn hosted the May 2017 “Conference on Making Behavior Change Stick.”

Investments in child development in LDCs. With substantial support for coordination from the PSC Administrative Core, Behrman has been heading a large interdisciplinary collaboration, Team 1000+ Saving Brains, including Buttenheim, Hannum, Wolf and PSC post-docs W Schott and X Liu, plus over 50 collaborators from 24 countries worldwide on the effects of health, nutrition and education on development, from earliest childhood through adolescence to later life, in the developing countries where most of the world’s children live. Project support has been provided by R01s HD070993, HD065436, and HD072120 and Gates Fdtn, Grand Challenges Canada, the Sackler Institute, UBS Optimus Foundation, International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3IE), UK Department for International Development, and the World Bank. Studies include: (1) the impact of early-life undernutrition in Guatemala, with evidence of substantial effects over 35 years later on cognitive skills, wage rates and the nutritional status of the next generation; (2) development and estimation for the Guatemalan context of a structural model of parental investments in child nutrition, showing how the long-run effects of a nutrient subsidization program are more than doubled by parents using the nutritional status of other children in the community as a reference point for desirable nutrition for their own children; and (3) a randomized controlled trial of training kindergarten teachers in Ghana resulting in greater school readiness for children, as well as better classroom practices and greater teacher satisfaction.