We examine the effect of India's National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), one of the largest workfare programs in the world, on human capital investment. Since NREGS increases labor demand, it could increase the opportunity cost of schooling, lowering human capital investment even as incomes increase. We exploit the staged rollout of the program across districts for causal identification. Using a household survey of test scores and schooling outcomes for approximately 2.5 million rural children in India, we show that each year of exposure to NREGS decreases school enrollment by 2 percentage points and math scores by 2% of a standard deviation amongst children ages 13-16. In addition, we show that while the impacts of NREGS on human capital are similar for boys and girls, adolescent boys are primarily substituting into market work when they leave school while adolescent girls are substituting into unpaid domestic work. We find mixed results for younger children. We conclude that anti-poverty programs which raise wages could have the unintended effect of lowering human capital investment.
Higher wages are generally thought to increase human capital production, particularly in the developing world. We introduce a simple model of human capital production in which investments and time allocation differ by age. Using data on test scores and schooling from rural India, we show that higher wages increase human capital investment in early life (in utero to age 2) but decrease human capital from ages 5-16. Positive rainfall shocks increase wages by 2% and decrease math test scores by 2-5% of a standard deviation, school attendance by 2 percentage points, and the probability that a child is enrolled in school by 1 percentage point. These results are long-lasting; adults complete 0.2 fewer total years of schooling for each year of exposure to a positive rainfall shock from ages 11-13. We show that children are switching out of school enrollment into productive work when rainfall is higher. These results suggest that the opportunity cost of schooling, even for fairly young children, is an important factor in determining overall human capital investment.