Economics on Children

Members of the NBER's Program on Economics on Children met on April 12 in Cambridge. Program Directors Anna Aizer of Brown University and Janet Currie of Princeton University organized the meeting. These researchers' papers were presented and discussed:

Martha J. Bailey, University of Michigan and NBER, and Shuqiao Sun and Brenden D. Timpe, University of Michigan

Prep School for Poor Kids: The Long-Run Impacts of Head Start on Human Capital and Self-Sufficiency

Bailey, Sun, and Timpe evaluate the long-run effects of Head Start on human capital in large-scale, linked administrative data. Their research design exploits the county-level rollout of Head Start between 1965 and 1980 together with program eligibility captured by state-level school-entry age cutoffs. Using the restricted 2000-2013 Census/ACS linked to the Numident, they find that children induced to participate in Head Start achieved 0.29 more years of education, reflecting a 2.1-percent increase in high school completion, a 8.7 percent increase in college enrollment, and 18.6-percent increase in college completion. Consistent with the program benefiting lower income children, participation in Head Start decreased adult poverty by 12 percent and the receipt of public-program income by 28 percent. The researchers estimates are smaller in magnitude than those reported in other studies, but nevertheless imply substantial returns to investing in large-scale, publicly funded preschool programs.

Emilia Simeonova, Johns Hopkins University and NBER; Randall Akee, University of California, Los Angeles and NBER; and Elizabeth Costello, William Copeland, and John B. Holbein, Duke University

Family Income and the Intergenerational Transmission of Civic Participation: Evidence from a Cash Transfer Program and Parent and Child Voting Behaviors

People who have more money are more likely to participate in politics. Despite clear evidence of this income gradient in political participation, few have been able to isolate the effects of income from other household characteristics. There is little work showing whether income itself narrows or exacerbates participatory inequality or has effects that span multiple generations. Even less is known about how and when children's participation rates are formed and whether family financial circumstance plays a role. Simeonova, Akee, Costello, Copeland, and Holbein begin to fill these gaps by exploring the effect of exogenous unconditional cash transfers across two generations from the same household. Their approach employs a quasi-experimental income intervention. Using various panel techniques, the researchers show that household receipt of unconditional cash transfers increases children's voter turnout (in adulthood) noticeably among the children from initially poorer households. Thus, the additional income narrows participatory inequality across generations. However, income transfers have no effect on adult-aged recipients (the household parents), whose voting patterns appear to be locked in. These results suggest that childhood conditions -- income levels in particular -- play a key role in influencing levels of political participation in the United States. Further, in the absence of outside shocks, these differences are transmitted across generations and likely contribute to the intergenerational transmission of social inequality.

Chloe N. East, University of Colorado Denver; Marianne E. Page, University of California, Davis and NBER; Sarah Miller, University of Michigan and NBER; and Laura R. Wherry, University of California, Los Angeles

Multi-generational Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net: Early Life Exposure to Medicaid and the Next Generation's Health

East, Page, Miller, and Wherry examine multi-generational impacts of positive in utero and early life health interventions. They focus on the 1980s Medicaid expansions, which targeted low-income pregnant women, and were adopted differently across states and over time. They use Vital Statistics Natality files to create unique data linking individuals' in utero Medicaid exposure to the next generation's health outcomes at birth. They find strong evidence that the health benefits associated with treated generations' in utero access to Medicaid extend to later offspring in the form of higher average birth weight and decreased incidence of very low birth weight. Later childhood exposure to Medicaid does not lead to persistent health effects across generations. The return on investment is substantially larger than suggested by evaluations of the program that focus only on treated cohorts.

Timothy Halliday, University of Hawaii at Manoa; Bhashkar Mazumder, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago; and Ashley Wong, Northwestern University

Intergenerational Health Mobility in the US

Studies of intergenerational mobility have largely ignored health despite the central importance of health to welfare. Halliday, Mazumder, and Wong present the first estimates of intergenerational health mobility in the US by using repeated measures of self-reported health status (SRH) during adulthood from the PSID. The researchers main finding is that there is substantially greater health mobility than income mobility in the U.S. A possible explanation is that social institutions and policies are more effective at disrupting intergenerational health transmission than income transmission. The researchers further show that health and income each capture a distinct dimension of social mobility. They also characterize heterogeneity in health mobility by child gender, parent gender, race, education, geography and health insurance coverage in childhood. Halliday, Mazumder, and Wong find some important differences in the patterns of health mobility compared with income mobility and also find some evidence that there has been a notable decline in health mobility for more recent cohorts. They use a rich set of background characteristics to highlight potential mechanisms leading to intergenerational health persistence.

Francisco Gallego, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile; Ofer Malamud, Northwestern University and NBER; and Cristian Pop-Eleches, Columbia University and NBER, "Parental Monitoring and Children's Internet Use: The Role of Information, Control, and Cues" (NBER Working Paper No. 23982)

Gallego, Malamud, and Pop-Eleches explores how parental information and control can influence children's internet use in Chile. They designed and implemented a set of randomized interventions whereby approximately 7700 parents were sent weekly SMSs messages with (i) specific information about their children's internet use, and/or (ii) encouragement and assistance with the installation of parental control software. The researchers separate the informational content from the cue associated with SMS messages and vary the strength of the cues by randomly assigning whether parents received messages in a predictable or unpredictable fashion. The analysis yields three main findings. First, they find that messages providing parents with specific information reduce children's internet use by 6-10 percent. Second, they do not find significant impacts from helping parents directly control their children's internet access with parental control software. Third, the strength or salience of the cue associated with receiving a message has an independent impact on internet use.

Diane E. Alexander, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and Molly Schnell, Princeton University

Closing the Gap: The Impact of the Medicaid Primary Care Rate Increase on Access and Health

The difficulties that Medicaid beneficiaries face accessing medical care are often attributed to the program's low reimbursement rates relative to other payers. There is little evidence, however, as to the actual effects of Medicaid payment rates for providers on access and health outcomes for beneficiaries. Alexander and Schnell exploit time-series variation in Medicaid reimbursement rates primarily driven by the Medicaid fee bump -- a provision of the Affordable Care Act mandating that states raise Medicaid payments to match Medicare rates for primary care visits for 2013 and 2014 -- to quantify the impact of physician payment on access to treatment. The researchers find that increasing Medicaid payments to primary care doctors is associated with improvements in access, better self-reported health, and fewer school days missed among beneficiaries.

Diva Dhar, Indian Statistical Institute; Tarun Jain, Indian School of Business; and Seema Jayachandran, Northwestern University and NBER

Reshaping Adolescents' Gender Attitudes: Evidence from a School-Based Experiment in India

Cultural norms and attitudes about gender equality reinforce the social and economic disadvantages facing women and girls in many developing countries. Dhar, Jain, and Jayachandran evaluate an intervention aimed at changing gender attitudes, specifically, a multi-year school-based intervention in Haryana, India, that engaged adolescents in classroom discussions about gender equality. Using a randomized controlled trial, they find that the intervention improved adolescents' gender attitudes by 0.24 standard deviations, a sizable effect when compared with other correlates of their attitudes, such as their parents' attitudes. Program participants also report more gender-equitable behavior such as increased interaction with the opposite sex. The change in attitudes is similar for boys and girls, but behavior change is larger among boys.

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