The role of aspirations in facilitating movement out of poverty is a subject of increasing research in development economics. Previous work finds positive impacts from international child sponsorship on educational attainment, employment, and adult income. This paper seeks to ascertain whether the impacts of child sponsorship on educational outcomes may occur through elevated aspirations among sponsored children. Using an age-eligibility rule applied during program rollout to identify causal effects, we study whether international child sponsorship increases educational and vocational aspirations among a sample of 2022 children in Kenya, Indonesia, and Mexico. While effects are heterogeneous, and strongest in Kenya, we find that, averaging over the three countries, sponsorship increased indices of self-esteem (0.25sd), optimism (0.26sd), aspirations (0.29sd), and expected years of completed education (0.43 years). We find that sponsorship increases actual grade completion by 0.56 among children at the time of the survey, and mediation analysis suggests that the impact of sponsorship on aspirations is likely to mediate higher levels of grade completion. Our results contribute to a growing body of evidence indicating that the positive impacts of child sponsorship stem partly through elevating aspirations. More generally, our research contributes to a larger literature suggesting that the alleviation of internal constraints among the poor is a strong complement to addressing their external constraints.
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We would like to thank Wess Stafford, Scott Todd, Javi Carillo, Teddi Auker, Kate Heryford, Laine Rutledge, Herman Ramirez, Eliana Zeballos, Alistair Sim, Marcela Bakir, Boris Zegarra, Catherine Mbotela, Peter Ndungu, Gloria Laux and other local Compassion staff and enumerators in Kenya, Indonesia, and Mexico for logistical help and support in carrying out our field research. We also appreciate support and helpful comments from Alessandra Cassar, Boris Gershman, Pauline Grosjean, John Maluccio, Rebecca Thornton, and participants at the 2014 Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture at Chapman University, the 2014 NEUDC Conference at Boston University and the 2015 ASSA Annual Meeting. We are grateful to the University of San Francisco's graduate program in International and Development Economics for substantial funding and resources for this research.
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- Child sponsorship
- Economic development