Pathways from Poverty


One potential pathway from poverty is that of human capital formation. While it would seem that this is well-covered territory in much of the development literature, this work is innovative in that it explores some often ignored aspects of human capital development such as: pre- and post-school investments in human capital; issues of endogeneity in human capital development; and potential spill-over affects across generations.

The specific objective of our work in Guatemala is to advance understanding of the (1) significance of early childhood nutrition for adult human capital and economic productivity; and (2) inter-generational transmission of pathways from poverty to both younger and older generations. The setting for this study is four rural villages in eastern Guatemala and the localities to which some of these individuals have migrated.

Between 1969 and 1977, our sample participated – as preschoolers – in a randomized controlled supplementation trial examining child growth and development. Between 2002 and 2004, we traced and re-interviewed participants in the original intervention who were now 25 to 42 years old, collecting data on physical (i.e., biological) and intellectual capital and on economic productivity, complementing the information already available. In 2005 – 2007, additional fieldwork surveyed the children and parents of these individuals. The long-term longitudinal, individual level data set was constructed in partnership with Institute for Nutrition in Central America and Panama (INCAP), Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Middlebury College, and the University of Pennsylvania.

This research has produced three key findings: that the original intervention had large and persistent effects on the cognitive skills of participants; that it had a substantive effect on increasing the wages of men in adulthood; and that it has had positive inter-generational effects, improving anthropometric outcomes in the children of these participants.

Key publications

  • J. Behrman, M. C. Calderon, S. Preston, J. Hoddinott, R. Martorell and A. Stein, “Nutritional supplementation of girls influences the growth of their children: Prospective study in Guatemala,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, forthcoming.
  • J. Maluccio, J. Hoddinott, J. Behrman, R. Martorell, A. Quisumbing, and A. Stein, 2009. “The Impact of nutrition during early childhood on education among Guatemalan Adults”, Economic Journal, vol. 119(April), pp. 734-763.
  • J. Hoddinott, J. Maluccio, J. Behrman, R. Flores and R. Martorell, 2008, “Effect of a nutrition intervention during early childhood on economic productivity in Guatemalan adults”, The Lancet, vol. 371, pp. 411-416.

Other related publications


Data are available at: