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Cognitive skills gaps in India: can (late) nutrition ameliorate them?

This paper explores the (late) nutrition-cognition link using novel panel data from India for very young children. We estimate a value-added model of cogni- tive development that corrects for biases in the previous literature. Moreover, we use exposure to the national Mid Day Meal Scheme interacted with a non- linearity in how birth year exogenously affects the probability of enrollment in public schools as an instrumental variable. We find that a 1-standard-deviation increase in height-for-age at 5 years of age (i.e., beyond the 1,000-day window of opportunity) leads to cognitive test scores 11 to 14 percent of a standard deviation higher at age 8. This positive and significant effect supports the re- cent strand of literature on catch-up growth. Our analysis also suggests that providing low-caste children with the average nutritional status of their upper- caste counterparts would close around one-fourth of the existing caste cognitive differentials for boys. For girls, the gap is closed by half.

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