Climate change and educational attainment in the global tropics

Heather Randell, Clark Gray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Climate change may negatively impact education among children via exposure to extreme temperature and precipitation conditions. We link census data from 29 countries across the global tropics to high-resolution gridded climate data to understand how climatic conditions experienced in utero and during early childhood affect educational attainment at ages 12 to 16. We show that exposure to higher-than-average temperatures during the prenatal and early-life period is associated with fewer years of schooling in Southeast Asia. In this region, a child who experiences temperatures 2 SDs above average is predicted to attain 1.5 fewer years of schooling than one who experiences average temperatures. In addition, early-life rainfall is positively correlated with attainment in West and Central Africa as well as Southeast Asia, and negatively correlated with attainment in Central America and the Caribbean. While we expected that children from the most educated households would be buffered from these effects, we discover that they tend to experience the greatest educational penalties when exposed to hotter early-life conditions and, in some regions, to drier conditions. For example, among the most educated households in West and Central Africa, predicted schooling is 1.8 years lower for children who experience early-life rainfall 2 SDs below average versus 2 SDs above average, while the difference is just 0.8 years for children from the least educated households. These results suggest that development and educational gains in the tropics could be undermined by climate change, even for better-off households.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8840-8845
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - Apr 30 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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