To Practice (5) – Health Conditions and Opportunity Cost of Time


IS MORTALITY IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES PROCYCLICAL? HEALTH PRODUCTION AND THE VALUE OF TIME IN COLOMBIA’S COFFEE-GROWING REGIONS (Miller and Urdinola, 2007) is a paper testing the hypothesis of countercyclical infant mortality in poor coffee crops area in rural Colombia, i.e. the mortality rate being decreasing during economic growth. That is to say, during economic upturns (high coffee price), coffee growers would have a higher propensity to focus on their children’s health conditions due to higher disposable income. Meanwhile, during economic downturns (low coffee price), poor coffee growers would give priority to other expenditures than the ones put towards their children’s health status – due to consumption smoothing mechanisms. However, the authors find evidence of procyclical infant mortality rate. Namely, the mortality rate increases during positive economic shocks (high coffee price), when the coffee growers are supposed to have more resources they can assign to health care. In developed countries, too, evidences suggest that mortality rate is procyclical. This could be explained by three main factors, holding during economic upturns:

  1. Increasing consumption of harmful normal goods like tobacco and  alcohol (Miller and Urdinola, 2007)
  2. Increasing pollutant emissions and higher traffic fatality rates (ibid.)
  3. Increasing opportunity cost of time (ibid.)

The Colombian context – where the rates of tobacco and alcohol addition are supposed to be close to zero among infants and the geographic and environmental features make pollution and traffic an minor problem –   suggests reasons 1. and 2. cannot hold. On the other hand, factor 3., the increased opportunity cost of time, looks plausible.

Jinotega department in Nicaragua is a coffee-growing region. Yesterday I was interviewing a household’s head and, at the question whether he was worried by bad health conditions of him or a family member, he complined about the waste of time for going to the health center. Did he read Miller and Urdinola, too?

Don’t hesitate to tell me I make things too simple!

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