The Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma: The Effect of a Mother's Childhood Exposure to Armed Conflict
Maya Escueta

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Research Development Award

Award Year



Teachers College, Columbia University

Primary Discipline

Children growing up in poverty are at elevated risk of exposure to potentially traumatic life events. For these children at risk, the quality of early caregiving, and in particular, the attunement of the mother, is critical for mitigating detrimental outcomes from early adversity. However, when the mother herself experiences trauma, this poses an additional risk to children above and beyond the environmental risks they already face because she may be less capable of providing the economic and psychosocial support that a child needs to recover from early adversity. This suggests that maternal trauma, if not properly addressed, may be passed from mother to child through the mother's behavioral responses to her own trauma. In this paper, I investigate the intergenerational transmission of trauma from mother to child by examining one specific type of trauma: exposure to armed conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa. I do so by first documenting the factors that predict a mother's resilience in the aftermath of trauma. I then generate causal estimates of a mother's exposure to armed conflict on her maternal capacities and investments, and the early developmental outcomes of her children.
About Maya Escueta
Maya Escueta is a doctoral candidate in the Economics and Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Maya's work focuses on leveraging rigorous quantitative methods and insights from psychology and neuroscience to investigate the role of trauma and adversity on the early developmental outcomes of vulnerable children. She is currently working on a research project using experimental data to examine the role of caregiver aspirations in parental investments and educational attainment in the Gambia (with Alexander Eble), and her dissertation work focuses on the effect of maternal trauma on early childhood development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Maya's research agenda is informed by her previous professional experience across research, policy and practice. Prior to joining Teachers College, Maya worked in India for three years with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), where she oversaw a randomized controlled trial of a technology-based education intervention, and worked with key decision-makers in the South Asia region to bridge the gap between policy implementation and research. She has also worked as a teacher for inner city youth in Harlem and recently resettled refugees with the International Rescue Committee. Maya holds a Master's in Public Policy from Duke University, and a B.A. in English and Philosophy from Columbia University. She is a John Jay Scholar (Columbia University) and University Scholar (Duke University), both awarded for interdisciplinary achievement.

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