Adolescent Cognitive Gender Gaps Reflect Differential Dynamic Associations with Undernutrition and Poverty in Preschool and Preadolescent Ages

We look beyond the traditional focus on the gender gap in schooling attainment by investigating how gender differences in cognitive achievement in mid-childhood and adolescence are associated with trajectories of deprivation, measured by undernutrition and poverty. This study uses longitudinal data that include math, reading, and receptive vocabulary test scores at ages eight and 15 years for children in four low- and middle-income countries.
We find associations between nutrition status in preschool years and cognitive achievements more substantial for eight-year-old girls than their male counterparts. Between ages eight and 15, however, the cognitive development of girls is less responsive than for boys to their growth and poverty (proxied by wealth at age 12 years). We find significant associations of the test scores in math and reading at age 15 with nutritional status at age 12 and with preadolescence wealth at age 12 for boys in India and Peru, as well as all boys in the pooled sample. Consequently, considerable gender gaps are observed unfavorable to girls in cognitive achievement at age 15 for India and Peru. This study adds another rationale for governments in countries with significant stunting prevalence and gender gaps favoring males to invest more in preschool children.

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