Water Quality, Brawn, and Education: The Rural Drinking Water Program in China
58 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2014
Date Written: September 15, 2014
While previous research has demonstrated the health benefit of water treatment programs, we know relatively little about such programs’ effects on education. In this paper we examine the educational benefit to rural youth in China from a major drinking water treatment program started in the 1980’s. By employing a cross-sectional data set (constructed from a longitudinal data set covering two decades) encompassing more than 4,700 individuals between 18 and 25 years old, we find that this health program has improved education substantially -- increasing the grades of education completed by 1.08 years. The qualitative results remain robust when we control for local educational policies and resources, the village dummy variables, the distance of villages to schools, and by instrumenting the water treatment dummy variable with villages’ topographic features, and other potentially covariant factors. Moreover, three findings render support to the brawn theory of gender division of labor presented in Pitt et al. (2012): girls benefit much more from water treatment than boys in terms of schooling attainment; youth with an older brother benefit more than youth with an older sister; and boys gain more body mass than girls do from having access to treated water. The water treatment program accounts for the gender gap in educational attainment in rural China in the sample period. Finally, young people that had access to higher water quality in early childhood (i.e. 0-2 years of age) experienced significantly higher gains in education than those who did not experience higher water quality until after early childhood. Our analysis suggests that this program has been highly cost-effective.
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