Nutrition Smoothing: Can Proximity to Towns and Cities Protect Rural Children against Seasonal Variation in Agroclimatic Conditions at Birth?

A large literature links early-life environmental shocks to later outcomes. This paper uses seasonal variation across the Democratic Republic of the Congo to test for nutrition smoothing, defined here as attaining similar height, weight and mortality outcomes despite different agroclimatic conditions at birth. We find that gaps between siblings and neighbors born at different times of year are larger in more remote rural areas, farther from the equator where there are greater seasonal differences in rainfall and temperature. For those born at adverse times in places with pronounced seasonality, the gains associated with above-median proximity to nearby towns are similar to rising one quintile in the national distribution of household wealth for mortality, and two quintiles for attained height. Smoothing of outcomes could involve a variety of mechanisms to be addressed in future work, including access to food markets, health services, public assistance and temporary migration to achieve more uniform dietary intake, or less exposure and improved recovery from seasonal diseases.

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