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Education is a key factor in the formation of human capital. The importance of investments in childhood

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1 Introduction

Education is a key factor in the formation of human capital. The importance of investments in childhood education and returns to education has been emphasized in a large number of studies (e.g., Becker 1965; Heckman 2012; Aizer and Cunha 2012; Campbell et al. 2014). Yet, there are still many people with low levels of education. According to Barro and Lee (2013), it is estimated that in 2010, in 146 countries throughout the world, the proportion of people aged 15 and over who have completed the upper-secondary and tertiary education levels was only 26.1 and 6.7%, respectively. A crucial question is, why do some parents invest more in their children’s education

Responsible editor: Junsen Zhang

 * Cuong Viet Nguyen cuongwur@gmail.com

1 National Economics University and Mekong Development Research, Hanoi, Vietnam

 than others? The answer lies in differences in parents’ incomes, the cost of education, and the utility parents derived from children’s education. Parental utility is related to an important issue: unintended pregnancies and unintended children.

Unintended or unplanned pregnancy is widely defined as unwanted or mistimed childbearing (e.g., Sedgh et al. 2014; Gipson et al. 2008; Santelli et al. 2003). Unwantedness means pregnancy is not wanted by parents, while mistiming refers pregnancy happening sooner than expected. A recent estimate shows that the propor- tion of unintended pregnancies worldwide was around 40% in 2012, of which 50% ended in abortion, 12% in miscarriage, and 38% ended with unwanted children (Sedgh et al. 2014).

There is an influential hypothesis that unintended childbearing has adverse conse- quences on children’s development due to poorer prenatal care and less attention paid to children by their parents (e.g., Barber et al. 1999; Joyce et al. 2000; Donohue and Levitt 2001; Finer and Henshaw 2006; Logan et al. 2007; Gipson et al. 2008; Cohen 2010; Bongaarts and Sinding 2011; de La Rochebrochard and Joshi 2013). Nutrition during the maternal period and 24 months after birth plays a key role in health and economic outcomes for adults (e.g., Victora et al. 2008; Maluccio et al. 2009; Hoynes et al. 2016; Aizer et al. 2016). A child’s month of birth has been found to be correlated with her/his future health and education outcomes. In utero exposure to weather, illness, grief, or nutrition-related events such as food programs or Ramadan for Muslims can affect later human health and education (Angrist and Krueger 1991; Gortmaker et al. 1997; Almond 2006; Almond and Mazumder 2011; Aizer and Currie 2014; Aizer et al. 2015; Hoynes et al. 2016; Black et al. 2016).

There are two key points worth noting in empirical studies of the effect of unin- tended childbearing on later outcomes of children. Firstly, empirical findings on the hypothesis of a negative effect of unintended childbearing are mixed. A large number of studies find negative effects of unintended pregnancy on children’s health, cognitive ability, and children’s social behaviors, whereas other studies do not find such signif- icant effects (e.g., for review see Logan et al. 2007; Gipson et al. 2008). Secondly, most studies focus on the effect on outcomes in the childhood (e.g., for review see Logan et al. 2007; Gipson et al. 2008). There are only a few studies looking at the long-term effect of unintended pregnancy on psychosocial development. For instance, Axinn et al. (1998) find that unintended children in Metro Detroit (Southeast Michigan, United States) have significantly lower self-esteem than other children in 23 years later.1 David (2006) follows 220 children whose mothers were denied abortion in Prague to examine the effect of unwanted childbearing on their psychosocial development. The study finds that adults who were unwanted children are more likely to have negative psychosocial development and mental well-being. To our understandings, the question on the long- term effect of unintended pregnancy on the later outcomes of children such as tertiary education and employment remains unanswered.

One of difficulties in studying unintended childbearing is how to define unin- tended childbearing. There are large differences in how unintended pregnancies are measured in terms of both how it is defined and the specific questions asked about the unintended pregnancy (Logan et al. 2007; Gipson et al. 2008). Most previous

1 In Axinn et al. (1998), self-esteem is defined as less positive, proud, capable, competent, and confident about themselves.

 studies define mistimed pregnancy by asking mothers subjective and retrospective questions about mistiming or unwantedness of children (e.g., Logan et al. 2007; Gipson et al. 2008). Perception of unintended pregnancy can be affected circum- stances such as the mother’s health and stress, and it can be changed over time (Rackin and Brasher 2016). Trussell et al. (1999) find that in the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, 25% of women who defined their pregnancy as unin- tended reported being happy or very happy when finding pregnancy. Self-reported measurements of unwantedness are associated with large measurement errors (e.g., Rosenzweig and Wolpin 1993; Bachrach and Newcomer 1999; Logan et al. 2007; Gipson et al. 2008).

Several studies use different definitions of unwanted children. For example, David (2006) defined unwanted children as those whose mothers were denied abortion. Do and Phung (2010) provide a measurement of parental desire for children. They use horoscopes to assess auspicious months and years for childbirth as a proxy of child wantedness in Vietnam. In this case, the selection of an auspicious month or year to conceive reflects well-planned childbearing.

The lack of comparable findings on the effect of unintended childbearing on children, especially long-term outcomes such as education and employment, calls for more research. In this study, we examine the long-term effects of mistimed pregnancy on the future educational attainment and employment of individuals in 10 countries on 3 continents: Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Iraq, Malawi, Philippines, Romania, Sudan, United States, and Zambia. Our study is expected to make two contributions to the literature. Firstly, we use a simple proxy, a woman’s pregnancy status just before she gets married, to measure unintended pregnancy. Traditionally, people tend to have a child after marriage. In family economics, children are considered as “public or collective goods,” and the “free-rider” problem arises in the case of marital dissolution (Becker et al. 1977; Weiss and Willis 1985; Folbre 1994). Children tend to live with their mothers, and unmarried women are burdened with children more often than unmarried men. Having a child before marriage indicates unplanned childbearing. This indicator might not capture the mistiming of pregnancy precisely, since some births before marriage are intentional and some births after marriage can still be unexpected. However, this indicator has a great advantage that it can be measured objectively and comparably across countries.

Secondly, our study is one of the first attempts to estimate the long-term effects of mistimed pregnancy on education and employment in different countries using com- parable data and measurements of mistimed pregnancy. As discussed above, there are numerous studies on the effect of unintended pregnancy on children’s health, but little if anything is known about the long-term effects on children’s education and employment.

 

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