Current estimates of the benefits from malaria reduction (including educational attainment) come from studies that look at eradication in the United States, Latin America, and South Asia. However, the effects from reducing the incidence of malaria are likely to be quite different from those of full eradication. Unlike other diseases, reducing malaria without full eradication has an oft-overlooked drawback. High and sustained levels of infection confer a partial immunity, which is lost when infection becomes a rare occurrence. When lowering malaria transmission, further reductions can be socially detrimental.

This paper is an attempt to estimate some of the effects of malaria reduction (specifically, its impact on educational attainment) by focusing on a region of Africa—the Ethiopian highlands—with levels of malaria transmission that range from high to low. By combining a survey of rural households in over 1,000 villages with satellite-derived data on environmental conditions, I first show that self-reported malaria in the highlands is highly correlated with village elevation and land slope. Using arguably exogenous predictors of actual malaria derived from these observed environmental conditions—more precisely, the interaction between village slope and elevation— I estimate that moving from a village with no malaria to one with average malaria reduces educational attainment in children and adults by 0.30-0.70 years of schooling. The results suggest that reductions in malaria have educational effects similar in magnitude to those obtained from eradication of the disease.