At the Margins: Women’s Education, Economic Empowerment & Child Health in Guatemala

I recently returned from two weeks in Guatemala doing pre-dissertation fieldwork.  One of my goals on this trip was to spend time talking to locals about my research and talking through some of my ideas. To me, that is an important step in the research process (and development practice in general) – making sure your ideas make sense in the local context and that you seek input from the people who live where you are going to work.  I’m at the very start of the dissertation process – trying to solidify my research questions and make arrangements for data collection.

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Picture: Me and some of the amazing Guatemalan women I met with to talk about my research.

One of the things I’m interested in studying in Guatemala is the relationship between women’s education, economic empowerment and child health and nutrition.  One thing I am particularly in is how mothers learn about child health and nutrition in a context where female illiteracy rates are so high.  In Guatemala, almost a third of all adult women (15 years and older) are illiterate (World Bank, 2009).  Furthermore, child malnutrition is a critical issue in Guatemala with 48% of children chronically malnourished, as reported in the World Bank’s Development Indicators.

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Picture: Thirteen year old Leti cares for her year-old cousin after school.

For mothers without any education, the number is even higher with 69% of their children chronically malnourished, but with up to a secondary school education this is reduced to 21%. Improving education is important for the health and well-being of children is a critical long-run policy goal, but in the short-run how do women who haven’t made it through the education system learn about child health and nutrition? And if they have knowledge about vitamin-rich foods, childhood health treatments, and how to access health care in their community, do they have the ability to make decisions about how household resources are used to apply this knowledge?

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Picture: A local Mayan weaver; weaving is a major source of income for many women in highland Guatemala.

Studies have shown that an increase of income under women’s control is associated with larger budget shares spent on health and education.  Empowering women to have more decision-making power over how income is spent, over productive assets and agricultural production can have a big impact on kid’s health.  One thing I hope to do in my study is use econometric methods to look at the impact of women’s economic empowerment and knowledge about child health on childhood nutrition.

I’m also hoping to incorporate some behavioral economics into my research to study trust and information sharing within the household (more on this to come).  When women learn something new about child health and nutrition do they share that information with their spouse? Similarly, how much information sharing and trust is there among women of different Mayan indigenous groups? If one person within the household earns some extra income, do they share that income with their spouse or keep it for their own use?

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About Brooke Krause

Brooke Krause is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities). She received her Master’s degree from the same department in 2012 and earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin (Madison) in Economics, International Political Economy and Latin American Studies. She was awarded a dissertation fellowship from the International Food Policy Research Institute, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and the United States Agency for International Development. She has been a teaching assistant at the Colleges in the Schools Applied Economics program, working with Dr. Donald Liu for the past three years. Brooke first became interested in economics when she took a volunteer trip to a rural community in Guatemala in 2004. On this trip she realized the impact of economic policies on impoverished people in developing countries. By studying economics, she is able to research practical solutions to help people in poverty and encourage international development.
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