Subjective Parental Beliefs. Their Measurement and Role

Orazio Attanasio, Flávio Cunha, Pamela Jervis

NBER Working Paper No. 26516
Issued in November 2019
NBER Program(s):Children

We study the importance of maternal subjective beliefs about the technology of skill formation in determining parental investments on child development. We describe our framework in three steps. First, we discuss the construction of the survey instrument we used to elicit maternal subjective beliefs. Second, we show how to convert the answers to the survey instrument into estimates of maternal subjective beliefs. Finally, we correlate maternal subjective beliefs with maternal investments of child development. We apply our framework to a unique dataset collected as part of an 18-month-long parenting stimulation program in Colombia, whose target population were low-income households with children aged 12 to 24 months at baseline and lasted 18 months. In this program, home visitors paid weekly visits to randomly chosen households to improve mother-child interactions and other maternal behaviors that foster the development of children's cognitive and non-cognitive skills. We show that the vast majority of mothers believe that the technology of skill formation follows a Cobb-Douglas parameterization, but there is significant heterogeneity in coefficients of investments across mothers. In particular, mothers hold low subjective expectations, which means that mothers underestimate the returns to their investments. We also find that maternal subjective beliefs predict investments, but that the program did not affect maternal subjective beliefs.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26516

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