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Cyclicality, Mortality, and the Value of Time: The Case of Coffee Price Fluctuations and Child Survival in Colombia

Publication Date: 
February 1, 2010

Journal of Political Economy 118(1): 113-155, 2010 (with Piedad Urdinola)

Recent studies demonstrate procyclical mortality in wealthy countries, but there are reasons to expect a countercyclical relationship in developing nations. We investigate how child survival in Colombia responds to fluctuations in world arabica coffee prices and document starkly procyclical child deaths. In studying this result’s behavioral underpinnings, we highlight that (1) the leading determinants of child health are inexpensive but require considerable time, and (2) as the value of time declines with falling coffee prices, so does the relative price of health. We find a variety of direct evidence consistent with the primacy of time in child health production.