Improvements in childhood nutrition increase schooling and economic returns in later life in a virtuous cycle. However, better nutrition also leads to an earlier onset of menstruation (menarche). In socio-cultural contexts where menarche adversely affects educational attainments, early menarche can thus break the virtuous cycle of girls’ human development. This paper focuses on one such context, India, and uses the Young Lives Longitudinal Study to show that starting menses before age twelve causes a 13% decrease in school enrollment rate. Healthier girls have higher learning outcomes at age twelve, but they also start menstruating earlier and are more likely to drop out of school, such that their initial health advantage over other girls in their cohort disappears. Further, dropout rates induced by menarche are higher if girls live in communities with a low average perception of safety among children, while dropout rates are lower in communities with higher expected wages for female-dominated professions.
Georgetown University Initiative on Innovation, Development and Evaluation
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