Impact of Parental Beliefs on Child Developmental Outcomes: A Quasi-Experiment in Rural China
This paper examines the impact of parental beliefs on child development outcomes (for both cognitive and social–emotional skills) based on a three-wave longitudinal survey in rural China. The survey waves were conducted when the sample children were 18–30 months, 22–36 months, and 49–65 months, respectively. A total of 815 children and their primary caregivers who participated in all three wave surveys were enrolled in this study. Using difference-in-differences and propensity score matching approaches, the results indicate that strengthened parental beliefs have a positive and significant impact on child social–emotional development. Specifically, between the periods of the Wave 1 survey (when children were 18–30 months old) and the Wave 3 survey (when children were 49–65 months old), and between the Wave 2 survey (when children were 22–36 months old) and the Wave 3 survey, strengthened parental beliefs were causally associated with more favorable child social–emotional scores by 0.44 SD (p < 0.01) and 0.49 SD (p < 0.01), respectively. No significant impact, however, was found between the period of the Wave 1 survey and the Wave 2 survey. In contrast, weakened parental beliefs had a negative and significant impact on child social–emotional development. Specifically, weakened parental beliefs were causally associated with worse child social–emotional abilities by 0.35 SD (p < 0.01), 0.30 SD (p < 0.01), and 0.22 (p < 0.05) for the time period of the Wave 1 to Wave 2, Wave 1 to Wave 3, and Wave 2 to Wave 3, respectively. No significant impact of parental beliefs, however, was found on child cognitive development. In addition, the findings of the mediation analysis show that only a marginal impact of parental beliefs on child social–emotional development can be indirectly explained by parental beliefs through parenting practices. This study calls on policy makers to improve parental beliefs and parenting practices in the hope that it will lead to better child development in rural China.