Members of the NBER's Children Program met March 5-6 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:
Michael Gilraine, New York University
Air Filters, Pollution and Student Achievement
Gilraine identifies the achievement impact of installing air filters in classrooms for the first time. To do so, they leverage a unique setting arising from the largest gas leak in United States history, whereby the offending gas company installed air filters in every classroom, office and common area for all schools within five miles of the leak (but not beyond). This variation allows Gilraine to compare student achievement in schools receiving air filters relative to those that did not using a spatial regression discontinuity design. They find substantial improvements in student achievement: air filter exposure led to a 0.20σ increase in mathematics and English scores, with test score improvements persisting into the following year. Air testing conducted inside schools during the leak (but before air filters were installed) showed no presence of natural gas pollutants, implying that the effectiveness of air filters came from removing common air pollutants and so these results should extend to other settings. The results indicate that air filter installation is a highly cost-effective policy to raise student achievement and, given that underprivileged students attend schools in highly polluted areas, one that can reduce the pervasive test score gaps that plague public education.
Peter Bergman, Columbia University; Raj Chetty and Lawrence F. Katz, Harvard University and NBER; Stefanie DeLuca, Johns Hopkins University; Nathaniel Hendren, Harvard University and NBER; and Christopher Palmer, MIT and NBER
Creating Moves to Opportunity: Experimental Evidence on Barriers to Neighborhood Choice (NBER Working Paper 26164)
Low-income families in the United States tend to live in neighborhoods that offer limited oppor- tunities for upward income mobility. One potential explanation for this pattern is that families prefer such neighborhoods for other reasons, such as affordability or proximity to family and jobs. An alternative explanation is that they do not move to high-opportunity areas because of barriers that prevent them from making such moves. Bergman, Chetty, DeLuca, Hendren, Katz, and Palmer test between these two explana- tions using a randomized controlled trial with housing voucher recipients in Seattle and King County. They provided services to reduce barriers to moving to high-upward-mobility neighbor- hoods: customized search assistance, landlord engagement, and short-term financial assistance. The intervention increased the fraction of families who moved to high-upward-mobility areas from 14% in the control group to 54% in the treatment group. Families induced to move to higher opportunity areas by the treatment do not make sacrifices on other dimensions of neigh- borhood quality and report much higher levels of neighborhood satisfaction. These findings imply that most low-income families do not have a strong preference to stay in low-opportunity areas, instead, barriers in the housing search process are a central driver of residential segregation by income. Interviews with families reveal that the capacity to address each family’s needs in a specific manner – from emotional support to brokering with landlords to financial assistance – was critical to the program’s success. Using quasi-experimental analyses and comparisons to other studies, the researchers show that more standardized policies – increasing voucher payment standards in high-opportunity areas or informational interventions – have much smaller impacts. The researchers conclude that redesigning affordable housing policies to provide customized assistance in housing search could reduce residential segregation and increase upward mobility substantially.
Imran Rasul, Pedro Carneiro, and Giacomo Mason, University College London University College London; Lucy Kraftman, Institute for Fiscal Studies; and Lucie Moore and Molly Scott, OPM
The Impacts of a Multifaceted Pre-natal Intervention on Human Capital Accumulation in Early Life
Rasul, Carneiro, Kraftman, Mason, Moore, and Scott present results from a large-scale and long-term randomized control trial to evaluate an intervention targeting early life nutrition and well-being for households residing in extreme poverty in Northern Nigeria. The multifaceted intervention provides: (i) information to mothers and fathers on practices related to pregnancy and infant feeding, (ii) high-valued unconditional cash transfers to mothers, each month from pregnancy until the child turns two. The researchers document two- and four-year impacts among 3600 pregnant women and their children. The intervention leads to large and sustained improvements in anthropometric and health outcomes for children, including an 8% reduction in stunting by endline. These impacts are partly driven by information-related channels (such as improved knowledge, practices and health behaviors of mothers towards new borns). However, the value and certain flow of cash transfers is also key: these induce labor supply responses among women, and allow them to undertake investments in livestock. These are both a source of protein rich diets for children, and generate higher earnings streams for households long after the cash transfers expire. The results show the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of scalable multifaceted pre-natal interventions in even the most challenging and food insecure economic environments.
Katherine Meckel, University of California, San Diego and NBER; Maya Rossin-Slater, Stanford University and NBER; and Lindsey M. Uniat, Yale University
Efficiency Versus Equity in the Provision of In-Kind Benefits: Evidence from Cost Containment in the California WIC Program (NBER Working Paper 26718)
In many US public programs, the government contracts with private firms to deliver in-kind benefits to recipients. These public-private partnerships generate agency problems that could drive up costs and lower program efficiency, but cost containment regulations may discourage firm participation and reduce access among eligible households. Meckel, Rossin-Slater, and Uniat examine these trade-offs in the context of California's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides vouchers to low-income pregnant women and children under five to obtain free food packages from private vendors, and has complex rules about eligible products. They use variation from a 2012 cost containment reform, which resulted in a 55 percent drop in the number of small vendors, and examine how local access to small vendors affects WIC take-up among pregnant women. The researchers find that within-ZIP-code access to small vendors raises the likelihood of WIC take-up among first-time mothers, and that this effect is stronger for foreign-born than US-born women and exists even for mothers who also have access to a larger WIC vendor. The findings suggest that small vendors are uniquely effective at lowering barriers to take-up among subgroups of women with high program learning costs, and that cost containment reforms, which frequently target these vendors, may have unintended consequences of inequitably reducing program access.
Olivier Marie, Erasmus University Roterdam, and Esmée Zwiers, Princeton University
The Power of the Dutch Pill: The Short and Long Term Effects of Access to Birth Control
Marie and Zwiers study how access to birth control affects short- and long- term outcomes of women in a new context: the 1970 liberalization of the contraceptive pill in the Netherlands. They first document a massive immediate drop in the birth rate post-liberalization which was particularly strong for young women, the group for which access restrictions were most drastically lifted. The researchers then exploit area level social norms – proxied by votes for religious parties which were against relaxing access rules – to obtain causal estimates of the impact of the availability of the pill on female fertility control and especially changes in the prevalence of ill-timed births. Marie and Zwiers find that women who lived in areas that were less religiously resistant to the introduction of the pill were much less likely to experience an underaged birth or to end up in a 'shotgun' wedding (i.e. married seven months or less before a birth). They then show that women who were less likely to experience ill-timed births went on to invest more in their education and, conditional on working, earned higher wages. Finally, the researchers measure the importance of birth control technology providers' beliefs by estimating the additional effect of the religiosity of local health professionals on women's outcomes. They find that, given an area's level of social norms, the probability of ill-timed births was only reduced for women exposed to a less than median proportion of religious 'technology gatekeepers' at the time of the pill liberalization.
John Anders and Andrew C. Barr, Texas A&M University, and Alexander A. Smith, West Point
The Effect of Early Childhood Education on Adult Criminality: Evidence from the 1960s through 1990s.
Anders, Barr, and Smith investigate the impact of early childhood education on adult criminal behavior, leveraging policy variation spanning decades. They use variation across birth cohorts generated by the rollout of Head Start (for those born in the 1960s and 1970s) and Smart Start (for those born in the 1980s and 90s) along with administrative crime data containing the birth county of all individuals convicted of a crime in North Carolina. Across programs and time periods the researchers find that improvements to early childhood education led to large (20 percent) reductions in the likelihood of a serious criminal conviction in adulthood, with these reductions concentrated in high poverty counties. While the benefits generated by each program in the form of crime reduction account for a large portion of the costs of the education provided, Anders, Barr, and Smith find substantial relative gains from the targeting of funds to high poverty areas and to areas without existing access to subsidized care.
Elira Kuka, George Washington University and NBER, and Na'ama Shenhav, Dartmouth College
Long-Run Effects of Incentivizing Work Post-Birth
This paper provides new evidence of the impact of increasing post-birth work incentives on mothers' long-run career trajectories. Kuka and Shenhav focus on variation in incentives from the substantial expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in 1994, and use two complementary research designs that exploit variation in the timing of exposure to the expansion as well as in eligibility for the credit. Using a large-scale panel of administrative earnings linked to the CPS, they show that mothers exposed to the expansion immediately after birth ("early-exposed") have 3 to 4 p.p. higher employment in the first 5 years after birth than mothers exposed 3 to 6 years after a first birth ("late-exposed"). Fifteen years later, the researchers find that early-exposed moms have the same employment as late-exposed moms, but have accrued 0.5 to 0.6 more years of work experience and 6 percent higher earnings. These impacts on labor market outcomes then feed back into future EITC benets: early-exposed moms are expected to receive higher EITC benets in the short-term, but lower EITC benets over the long run. Their results suggest that there are steep returns to work incentives at child birth that accumulate over the life-cycle.
Christina Brown, University of California, Berkeley; Supreet Kaur, University of California, Berkeley and NBER; and Heather Schofield, University of Pennsylvania
Attention as Human Capital
Herdis Steingrimsdottir, Copenhagen Business School, and Snaebjorn Gunnsteinsson, University of Maryland
The Long-Term Impact of Children's Disabilities on Families
Childhood disability is a major health shock that affects parents early in their working life. Steingrimsdottir and Gunnsteinsson estimate its impact on parents' career trajectories, their balance sheets, and major life decisions using detailed register data from Denmark. To identify the causal effect of childhood disability the researchers use an event study approach, where they control for a rich set of pre-birth variables and focus on conditions that have no or weak associations with socioeconomic determinants. They find that having a child with a disability has strong negative impact on mothers' earnings. The effect is persistent and the wage penalty appears to grow over time. Fathers' earnings are also affected but the impact is notably smaller. The researchers find that both parents are less likely to be employed in the long run and are less likely to ascend to top executive positions. The long-term structure of the household is also affected as subsequent fertility is lower and partnership dissolution is more common. Finally, despite this financial shock, long term net worth of families is not affected or may be positively affected, potentially due to help from government transfers and lower cost associated with having fewer other children, or due to a stronger savings motive for the long term care of the disabled child.
Alicia S. Modestino and Richard J. Paulsen, Northeastern University
School's Out: How Summer Youth Employment Programs Impact Academic Outcomes
Over the past several decades, many urban high schools have experienced little or no improvement in closing academic achievement gaps along socioeconomic and racial lines. Recently there has been an emphasis on how time spent outside of the classroom can affect student outcomes, including high school graduation. Modestino and Paulsen provide experimental evidence regarding a particular type of out-of-school activity -- work experience -- on high school academic outcomes. Using randomized admissions lotteries for students who applied to the Boston Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), the researchers estimate the effect of being selected to participate on high school graduation and dropout rates as measured by administrative school records. They find that SYEP lottery winners are 2.6 percentage points (24.8 percent) less likely to drop out of high school relative to the control group, and 6.1 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school, resulting in a benefit-to-cost ratio of 4-to-1. These improvements appear to be driven by better attendance in the year after being selected for the program, and better course performance if selected for a second summer. Survey data suggest that the Boston SYEP affects academic outcomes by increasing aspirations to attend college, gaining basic work habits, and improving social skills.
Bhashkar Mazumder, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago; Maria Rosales-Rueda, Rutgers University; and Margaret Triyana, Wake Forest University
Social Interventions, Health and Well-being: The Long-term and Intergenerational Effects of a School Construction program
Mazumder, Rosales-Rueda, and Triyana analyze the long-run and intergenerational effects of a large-scale school building project (INPRES) that took place in Indonesia between 1974 and 1979. Specifically, they link the geographic rollout of INPRES to longitudinal data from the Indonesian Family Life Survey covering two generations. The researchers find that individuals exposed to the program have better health later in life along multiple measures. They also find that the children of those exposed also experience improved health and educational outcomes and that these effects are generally stronger for maternal exposure than paternal exposure. The researchers find some evidence that household resources, neighborhood quality, and assortative mating may explain a portion of the results. The findings highlight the importance of considering the long-run and multigenerational benefits when evaluating the costs and benefits of social interventions in a middle-income country.
Timothy N. Bond and Jillian B. Carr, Purdue University; Analisa Packham, Vanderbilt University and NBER; and Jonathan Smith, Georgia State University
Hungry for Success? SNAP Timing, High-Stakes Exam Performance, and College Attendance
Monthly government transfer programs produce cycles of consumption that track benefit receipt, creating periods in which many households experience food insecurity. Bond, Carr, Packham, and Smith exploit state-level variation in the staggered timing of nutritional assistance benefit issuance across households to analyze how this monthly cyclicality in food availability affects academic achievement. Using individual-level score data from a large national college entrance exam in the United States linked to national college enrollment data, the researchers find that taking this highstakes exam in the last two weeks of the SNAP benefit cycle reduces test scores and lowers the probability of attending a 4-year college for low-income high school students.