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Health effects of child work: Evidence from rural Vietnam

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We test whether work in childhood impacts on health. We focus on agricultural work, the dominant form of child work worldwide. Data are from the Vietnam Living Standards Survey, 1992–93 and 1997–98. We correct for both unobservable heterogeneity and simultaneity biases. Instruments are land holdings and commune labour market and school quality indicators. We examine three indicators of health: weight-for-age Z-score; reported illness; and, height growth. There is clear evidence of a healthy worker selection effect. We find little evidence of a contemporaneous negative impact of child work on health but, particularly for females, work undertaken during childhood raises the risk of illness up to five years later. For boys, the risk is increasing with the period of time in work. There is no evidence that work impedes the growth of the child.

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Correspondence to Owen O'Donnell.

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This work was undertaken as part of the Understanding Children's Work project, an inter-agency program between the International Labour Organisation, UNICEF and the World Bank. The views expressed are those of the authors alone and do not reflect positions of the sponsoring organisations. We are grateful to the Government of Vietnam for permission to use the data. We thank two referees for very helpful comments.

Responsible editor: Alessandro Cigno.

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O'Donnell, O., Rosati, F. & van Doorslaer, E. Health effects of child work: Evidence from rural Vietnam. J Popul Econ 18, 437–467 (2005).

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JEL classification

  • I12
  • J13
  • J22
  • J28
  • J43


  • Child labour
  • health
  • anthropometrics
  • Vietnam