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The effects of child labor on learning

Latin American countries have made a conscious effort to increase the percentage of children receiving formal instruction. Nevertheless, according to the latest household survey statistics, a significant amount of children combine school with work. For instance, in Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, the great majority of children are enrolled in school (95, 87 and 97 percent, respectively), but still a high percentage of children work (13, 34 and 28 percent). Preliminary outcomes from a recent study reveal that, taking into consideration social and economic variances, as well as differences in the caliber of the schools, the academic performance of children working part-time while attending classes is around 12 percent lower than that of those who do not work. The difference reaches 16 percent for children working full-time outside the home.

The study is based on data collected from 11 Latin American countries* that participated in the First International Comparative Survey on Language, Math and Other Related Subjects for Third and Fourth Grade Students. This survey will help researchers and policymakers assess the cost that working children pay in terms of their ability to learn.

The study also suggests that investment in combating child labor will result in stronger school performance, which in turn will lead to higher incomes when children become adults and enter the labor force.

Mario Sanchez from the Office of Evaluation of the IDB, who coauthored the study, points out that “keeping children out of the labor market and in school will provide them with the tools to get out of their present situation of poverty, since stronger cognitive skills will lead them to applying and obtaining better paying jobs as they reach adulthood.”

Other data from this study reinforce previous findings that higher-quality education is provided in urban areas, compared with rural setting, and in private schools, compared with public schools.

* The 11 countries that participated in the study are: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela.

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