Cohort Studies Meeting

April 8, 2011
Dora Costa of the University of California, Los Angeles, Organizer

Gabriella Conti, University of Chicago; James Heckman, NBER and University of Chicago; and Junjian Yi and Junsen Zhang, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Early Health Shocks, Parental Responses, and Child Outcomes

Conti, Heckman, Yi, and Zhang study how early health shocks affect human capital formation. They first formulate a theoretical model to understand how early health shocks affect child outcomes through parental responses. They nest a dynamic model of human capability formation into a standard intra-household resource allocation framework. By introducing multidimensionality of child endowments, they allow parents to compensate and reinforce along different dimensions. They then test their main empirical predictions using a Chinese child/twins survey, which contains detailed information on child- and parent-specific expenditures. They are able to differentiate between investments in money and investments in time. On the one hand, they find evidence of compensating investments in child health but reinforcing investments in education. On the other hand, they find no change in the time spent with the child dependent upon health. They confirm that an early health shock negatively affects the child under several different domains, ranging from later health, to cognition, to personality. These findings suggest caution in interpreting reduced-form estimates of the effects of early-life shocks. In the presence of asymmetric parental responses under different dimensions of the child's human capital, these shocks cannot even be unambiguously interpreted as upper or lower bounds of the biological effects.

Reynaldo Martorell, Emory University
Early Growth and Adult Health and Human Capital: A Pooled Analysis from Five Cohorts from Developing Countries

Laura Carstensen, Stanford University
Shifting Temporal Horizons Influence Motivation across Adulthood

Carstensen notes that according to socio-emotional selectivity theory, time horizons change as people age. These changes have reliable influences on social preferences, cognitive processing, and behavior. Early in life, people tend to view chronological age as a marker of time passed since they were born. Gradually, age comes to serve as a marker of time left in life. This shift in the perception of time changes individuals' motivation in fundamental ways, so that the priority becomes regulation of emotion. Findings from several experiments suggest that these changes in goals affect memory, attention, and decision-making.

Moshe Buchinsky, University of California at Los Angeles and NBER, and Nicole Maestas, RAND Corporation
The Evolution of Self-Reported Health

Self-reported health is widely used in economic models to measure general health status. Most major surveys include some form of a question, in which respondents are typically asked to rate their health on a five-point scale from excellent to poor. Despite its widespread usage, we understand little about the process that individuals use to position themselves on the scale. Furthermore, the process itself may have changed over time as knowledge and perceptions about particular health conditions and their medical treatments have evolved. Using the National Health Interview Study, Buchinsky and Maestas show that use of the scale has changed substantially over the past X years. They find the change is due not only to changes in underlying health, but also to changes in the way individuals regard their health in relation to the scale.

Anne R. Pebley, University of California, Los Angeles
Capturing Residential Mobility and Choice in a Longitudinal Survey

Janice Compton, University of Manitoba, and Robert Pollak, Washington University and NBER
Family Proximity, Childcare, and Women's Labor Force Attachment

Compton and Pollak show that close geographical proximity to mothers or mothers-in-law has a substantial positive effect on the labor supply of married women with young children. Using two large datasets, the National Survey of Families and Households and the public use files of the U.S. Census, they find that the predicted probability of employment and labor force participation is 4-10 percentage points higher for married women with young children living in close proximity to their mothers and/or their mothers-in-law compared with those living further away. They argue that the availability of childcare is the most likely mechanism. They focus on proximity and the availability of childcare rather than on actual or predicted hours of childcare for both theoretical and econometric reasons. The theoretical issues arise because the availability of a mother or mother-in-law who can respond to irregular or unanticipated childcare needs constitutes a kind of "insurance" whose importance may be far greater than the actual number childcare hours provided. The econometric issue is endogeneity and arises because childcare decisions and labor supply decisions are often made simultaneously. Because proximity and labor supply decisions are less likely to be simultaneous, the endogeneity problem is mitigated by focusing on proximity and the availability of childcare rather than on childcare hours. The effects of close proximity on labor supply are robust. Although the authors are unable to fully control for potential endogeneity, the data provide clear and convincing circumstantial evidence that proximity has a substantial effect on the labor force attachment of married women with young children, and that the underlying mechanism is the availability of childcare to meet irregular or unanticipated needs.

Paola Giuliano, University of California at Los Angeles and NBER, and Alberto F. Alesina and Nathan Nunn, Harvard University and NBER

On the Origin of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough (NBER Working Paper No. 16718)

Giuliano, Alesina, and Nunn study the historic origins of current differences in norms and beliefs about the role of women in society. They test the hypothesis that the way people farmed historically has influenced gender division of labor and the attitudes about women's roles that tend to persist today. The authors find that societies with a tradition of plough agriculture developed the belief that the natural place for women was inside the home. In these societies, women participate less in the market and are less represented in positions of power. The identification in this analysis exploits variation in the historic suitability of the environment of one's ancestors for growing crops that benefitted differentially from the adoption of the plough. The researchers examine the importance of cultural persistence by looking at second generation immigrants with different cultural backgrounds living within the United States.

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