Early Life Adversity, Biological Adaptation, and Human Capital
Atheendar Venkataramani, Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania
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.