Migration has substantial consequences on the wellness of affected households, thereby exposing children to circumstances that are detrimental for healthy cognitive development. This study evaluates the relationship between conflict and migration during conception or early childhood and childhood cognitive development outcomes among families in Ethiopia. We hypothesized that migration is associated with worse cognitive development outcomes among children and that this association is mediated by educational disparities and caregiver psychological distress.
The study used longitudinal data of children enrolled in the Young Lives Study (YLS) conducted in Ethiopia during 2002 (age 1), 2006–2007 (age 5), and 2009–2010 (age 8). We used multivariate linear and logistic regression to analyze the association between migration on cognitive development during middle childhood. Household migration and caregiver psychological distress were measured during round 1, type of education was measured at round 2, and cognitive development was measured at round 3.
Results of the multivariate regression analysis showed that migrant children achieved lower scores on a test of verbal intelligence after controlling for sex, ethnicity, religion, and caregiver distress (β: −8.09; 95% CI: −15.33, −0.85). Results of the mediation analysis show that the type of schooling that children attended, but not caregiver psychological distress, mediated the association between migration and cognitive development. Migrant children were more likely to attend private schools, which buffered the association between migration and lower cognitive development.
This study suggests that migration is a key determinant of childhood cognitive development among migrated populations. More research is needed to build the evidence base to support interventions for this growing, underserved population.