Food for thought: the birth-order effect and resource allocation in Indonesia

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Despite the large literature linking birth order to socio-economic outcomes, research uncovering the mechanisms that drive these effects has been rare. We construct a unique measure of nutritional variety to examine whether differential resource allocation among siblings explains the birth-order effect on cognitive ability. We document birth-order differences among children and young adults, showing that second and third borns perform worse on cognitive assessments compared to their firstborn siblings. We find further evidence suggesting that second- and third-born children frequently eat a smaller variety of food than their first-born counterparts. However, this differentiation in food allocation does not appear to drive the differences in cognitive ability in our sample. To our knowledge, this article is the first both to confirm the presence of a birth-order effect on cognition in a developing country and to test empirically whether a difference in food allocation contributes to this effect.