Health, Agriculture and Labor Markets in Developing Countries

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Kim, Yeon Soo
Cropper, Maureen
Lafortune, Jeanne
Rural households comprise a large share of the population in developing countries. This dissertation examines how the welfare of these households, whose economic activity mainly relies on agriculture, is affected by weather shocks and health shocks in the context of West Africa and Vietnam. In the second chapter of the dissertation, I use the variation in rainfall within and across years at a detailed geographic level in West Africa to examine how rainfall shocks might affect the well-being of very young children. Variations in rainfall may affect not only income, but also the opportunity cost of time of parents, which may negatively impact child welfare. I find that high long-term rainfall averages for a particular location and month increase the probability of giving birth in the dry season, whereas positive deviations from this long-term mean ("rainfall shocks") have a small but statistically significant negative effect on the probability of giving birth in the rainy season. Further, contrary to what one might expect, rainfall shocks do not appear to improve the survival chances of young children and shocks in the first year of life have an adverse effect on the survival of children that are born in the rainy season. This result may be partly attributable to the finding that rainfall shocks significantly reduce the time mothers breastfeed their children, which could be due to a trade-off with work. Breastfeeding is important for the health of young children since it provides not only essential nutrients but also effective protection against various diseases. In the third chapter, I examine the effect of health shocks on the production decisions of agricultural households in Vietnam. I look at whether malaria illnesses experienced by the household have an effect on their agricultural production decisions. While I am not able to entirely overcome issues with endogeneity that are persistent in this literature, results show that profits are negatively associated with the share of household members experiencing malaria. This result is not explained by the decrease in the total number of labor days the household employed. Rather, households appear to change their crop choice to less labor-intensive, less profitable crops in anticipation of these seasonal health shocks.