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Investigating the Impact of Prenatal Temperature Variability on Children’s Education in India

This research delves into the profound impact of prenatal exposure to temperature fluctuations on children's academic performance, cognition, and other aspects.

The most critical period of a child’s development is during their time in the mother’s womb. This is when humans undergo the most rapid physiological growth. Consequently, researchers have increasingly shown interest in studying how exposure to certain shocks in utero can affect the foetus and have sustained effects throughout the child’s lifetime.

Exposure to environmental shocks such as droughts, floods, heat waves, and temperature variability in utero also has sustained effects on the child’s life, impacting their educational attainment, labour market participation, cognition, and more. This work aims to investigate how exposure to temperature change during pregnancy can affect a child’s later educational outcomes in India.

India, as a developing country experiencing rising temperature fluctuations, offers an interesting case study for this work. The study uses temperature data collected by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and the two waves of the Indian Human Development Survey of 2004-2005 and 2011-2012 for analysis. These two nationally representative datasets together offer a comprehensive and holistic view of the effects across India. Using statistical analysis and a practical approach, the research investigates how exposure to temperature variations before birth affects children’s academic performance in math, reading, and writing.

Prior research indicates that exposure to high temperatures during pregnancy can harm cognitive abilities. This decline affects human capital, lowering overall productivity in the economy. Thus, temperature fluctuations during pregnancy not only diminish children’s cognitive abilities, which can persist throughout their lives but also hinder overall productivity, negatively impacting the economy.

Thus, it is crucial for policymakers to understand how prenatal exposure to temperature variations affects children’s education and learning outcomes. This work contributes to the policy discourse by emphasising the importance of strengthening healthcare systems and assisting pregnant women in mitigating challenges posed by rising temperature variability, such as crop loss and heat stress. Given the reality of climate variability in our times, this work also sheds light on how climate change can influence a country’s growth.

Figure 1: Source- IMF Climate Change Dashboard

Various weather and climate change events, including excessive or insufficient precipitation, temperature fluctuations, natural disasters, and unusual weather phenomena, can affect both the economy and individuals’ health. In recent years, climate change has caused a rise in temperature variability- the global average change of a heat wave has increased from 5% to 28% in a span of 30 years from 1981-2010. Additionally, surface temperatures have been rising year by year, indicating an overall increase in ambient temperature.

These fluctuations in temperature, induced by climate change, significantly impact economic and health outcomes such as productivity, output, and heat-related stress. Therefore, studying the effects of prenatal temperature variability on education and learning outcomes becomes increasingly relevant.

(Written by Nandini Krishnan, ASP 2024, Economics)

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka