Early Life Adversity, Biological Adaptation, and Human Capital

80 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2015 Last revised: 10 Nov 2017

See all articles by Günther Fink

Günther Fink

Harvard University - Department of Population and International Health

Atheendar Venkataramani

University of Pennsylvania - Perelman School of Medicine

Arianna Zanolini

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies

Date Written: October 17, 2017

Abstract

Early life shocks result in physiological changes that allow infants and children to adapt to surrounding environments. We examine the implications of one form of biological adaptation - immune system learning - for human capital formation. Using two case studies, where interventions to reduce the risk of an infectious disease – malaria – were only temporarily successful, we show that reduced early life exposure to infectious diseases may substantially reduce cognitive development and educational attainment if children are later re-exposed. Our findings highlight the importance of capturing the critical tradeoffs generated by biological adaptation to early adversity in human capital models.

Keywords: human capital production, child development, cognition, malaria, eradication, immunity, adaptive responses, complementarity

JEL Classification: I10, I14, I18, J13, J24

Suggested Citation

Fink, Günther and Venkataramani, Atheendar and Zanolini, Arianna, Early Life Adversity, Biological Adaptation, and Human Capital (October 17, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2705563 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2705563

Günther Fink

Harvard University - Department of Population and International Health ( email )

665 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

Atheendar Venkataramani (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - Perelman School of Medicine ( email )

423 Guardian Drive
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Arianna Zanolini

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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