Child labor and learning

Child labor and learning

While much is known about the incidence and the determinants of child labor, surprisingly little is known about the consequences of child work on participants. Important policy questions such as how young is too young to work, are some work activities better or worse than others, does work impair the health of children and does combining work and school hinder learning remain largely unanswered. This paper seeks to provide an answer the last of these questions and contributes to the literature by assessing the impact of working while in school on learning as measured by the proficiency of students in the S ̃ao Paulo (Brazil) municipal school system through their performance on standardised exams.

This paper finds negative and significant impacts of working while in school on the math and Portuguese proficiency scores of children enrolled in the municipal schools. The authors find some evidence that the effect of working while in school is cumulative and that the effect lingers over time. They also find evidence that the negative effect of child labour while in school operates through the interference in students’ study time allocation and habits such as attending class, doing homework outside of class and turning in homework on time.

The paper concludes that though it is tempting to suggest that the policy prescription is to prohibit working for students, one must proceed with caution. It is possible that without the ability to work while in school these students would drop out of school entirely, so policies that minimise the time spent in work activities and promote study at home have the potential of significantly improving learning outcomes.