Theses Doctoral

Essays on Income Shocks and Human Capital

Rehman, Sidra

Human capital is an important predictor of economic growth. A higher initial stock of human capital boosts productivity and encourages knowledge diffusion, thereby generating higher levels of growth. Given its importance in determining growth, it is imperative to study the mechanisms through which human capital accumulation is affected. This is particularly important in the context of low-income countries that perform poorly on indicators relating to the quality and quantity of human capital accumulation.

What follows are three essays that explore the topic of human capital accumulation for developing countries. The chapters explore the implications of income shocks for human capital accumulation both at the household level as well as at the school level. The first chapter surveys the literature on income shocks and its impact on human capital. The second and third chapters explore the impact of income shocks, such as aggregate income shocks and idiosyncratic income shocks, on human capital accumulation at the school and household levels in selected low-income countries. These shocks impact human capital accumulation through two main effects: the purchasing power of households and the opportunity cost of schooling. The total impact on human capital investment therefore depends on which effect dominates.

In the first chapter, I find that the regional context as well as the nature of the shock can be important in determining outcomes. While in Latin America, robust analysis points towards the substitution effect dominating, in the case of Asia and Africa the evidence largely points towards the dominance of the income effect. In this chapter, the various studies reviewed are summarized, and the methodologies are critically examined.

In the second chapter, I use negative rainfall shocks as a proxy for agricultural income shocks in Pakistan where negative rainfall shocks are defined as rainfall that is lower than average. I study the impact of negative rainfall shocks on enrollment in public schools across the province of Punjab. Punjab proves to be an interesting setting given its high reliance on agriculture as well as the possibility to test the heterogeneity of the impact of rainfall due to its vast irrigation network. I find that, while crop yields and enrollment are, in general, adversely affected by negative rainfall shocks, the heterogeneity of the impact indicates that income may not be the only channel at play.

In the third chapter, I use panel household survey data for Uganda to explore concerns regarding human capital accumulation in the context of idiosyncratic income shocks which can impact education expenditure allocation at the household level. I find some evidence suggesting that shocks impact total consumption as well as education expenditure. While some forms of financial instruments play a role in mitigating the negative impact of shocks, others do not. Furthermore, I explore the heterogeneity of the impact of shocks by certain selected characteristics of the household.

In conclusion, income shocks have important implications for low-income countries’ human capital accumulation, which in turn is a cornerstone for their development and growth prospects. Negative income shocks can have adverse effects on human capital accumulation in the long-run, where their impact in the short-term can translate into long-term negative outcomes for human capital accumulation. Therefore, if developing economies want to improve their growth prospects, they need to invest in education and provide buffers so that income shocks do not hinder the accumulation of human capital.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Economics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Scott-Clayton, Judith E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 26, 2019