Members of the NBER's Chldren Program met May 2-3 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:
Maria Micaela Sviatschi, Princeton University, and Iva Trako, World Bank
Female Officers, Gender Violence and Children: Evidence from Women Justice Centers in Peru
In many developing countries, access to justice remains unequal, especially for women. What are the implications of this inequality for gender-based violence, intra-household bargaining, and investment in children? This paper provides evidence from Peru on all-women's justice centers (WJCs), specialized institutions that mostly employ female officers and provide police and legal services to reduce gender-based violence. Examining the gradual rollout of WJCs across districts/villages, Sviatschi and Trako find that the opening of a center increases reporting of gender-specific crimes by 40% and reduces the incidence of gender-based violence measured by domestic violence, femicides and hospitalizations due to mental health by about 10%. They find, moreover, that a decrease in the exposure of women to violence has intergenerational effects: WJCs substantially increase human capital investments in children, raising enrollment, attendance, and test scores. These results are consistent with a bargaining model in which women's access to justice determines the threat point.
Giuseppe Sorrenti and Ulf Zoelitz, University of Zurich
The Causal Impact of Socio-Emotional Skills Training on Educational Success
Sorrenti and Zoelitz study the long-term effects of a randomized control trial targeting socio-emotional skills in 8-year-old primary school children. The intensive one-year, teacher-run training program which was integrated into the curriculum leads to a large and persistent boost of educational careers that remains visible a decade after the intervention. Treated children become 16 percent more likely to complete academic high school, the highest secondary school track in Switzerland. The researchers present evidence that these results are mainly driven by (1) improvements in social and school related behavior and (2) an increase in math and language skills.
Andrew C. Barr, Texas A&M University, and Alexander A. Smith, United States Military Academy
The Effect of Income During Infancy: Evidence from the EITC
Barr and Smith provide evidence of the effect of income during the first year of life on educational outcomes. They take advantage of the EITC's January 1 birthdate eligibility cutoff, which results in families of otherwise similar children receiving substantially different amounts of income. Using detailed administrative education data from North Carolina, the researchers show that income during the first year of life has meaningful positive effects on grade 3-12 schooling outcomes. Their baseline estimates indicate that a $1,000 increase in income in infancy raises math and reading test scores by 2 to 3 percent of a standard deviation and the likelihood of high school graduation by 1 percentage point. Results undergoing disclosure review suggest that these effects persist through college and into the labor market.
Anthony Bald and Margarita Machelett, Brown University; Eric Chyn, University of Virginia; and Justine S. Hastings, Brown University and NBER
The Causal Impact of Removing Children from Abusive and Neglectful Homes (NBER Working Paper No. 25419)
Bald, Chyn, Hastings, and Machelett use administrative data to measure causal impacts of removing children from families investigated for abuse or neglect. They use the removal tendency of quasi-experimentally assigned child protective service investigators as an instrument for whether authorities removed and placed children into foster care. The main analysis estimates impacts on educational outcomes by gender and age at the time of an investigation. The researchers find that removal significantly increases standardized test scores for young girls. There are no detectable impacts on the test scores of girls removed at older ages or boys of any age. For older children, the researchers also find few significant impacts of removal on the likelihood of having a juvenile conviction, graduating from high school, enrolling in a postsecondary institution, or having a teenage birth. They investigate potential mechanisms driving heterogeneous impacts by gender and age. The results do not appear to be driven by heterogeneous effects on foster care placement, school mobility and quality, or participation in special education programs. For girls, the researchers find that removal significantly increases the likelihood of post-investigation criminal charges or incarceration for parents and caretakers who are the perpetrators of abuse or neglect.
Jonathan M. Colmer, University of Virginia, and John L. Voorheis, U.S. Census Bureau
Pollution and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital: Evidence from the 1970 Clean Air Act
Using a newly constructed dataset linking administrative, survey and decennial Census data, Colmer and Voorheis evaluate the intergenerational effects of early life pollution exposure. Exploiting variation in particulate matter, which sharply dropped following the enactment of the 1970 Clean Air Act Amendments, they find that the children of those affected by additional improvements in air quality are more likely to attend college. Furthermore, the researchers find no differential effect between the adopted and biological children of affected parents, and find suggestive evidence that parents who experienced large declines in pollution exposure are more likely to engage in child enrichment activities. This suggests that the transmission mechanism arises through parental investments and resources, rather than genetic channels.
Natalie Bau, University of California, Los Angeles; Martin Rotemberg, New York University; Manisha Shah, University of California, Los Angeles and NBER; and Bryce Steinberg, Brown University and NBER
Brain vs. Brawn: Child Labor, Human Capital Investment, and the Role of Dynamic Complementarities
Early-life interventions are a promising route to improve educational outcomes. Yet, in many low-income countries, children (and their parents) make trade-offs between schooling and productive work. Bau, Rotemberg, Shah, and Steinberg formalize this trade-off in a simple model of human capital investment. If early-life investments increase child wages more than they increase the returns to education, children who receive greater early life investments will attend less school. Exploiting rainfall shocks as a source of variation in early-life income in India, the researchers test the model. Parental income shocks early in a child's life lead to higher educational attainment in places with low levels of child labor, but this positive effect is attenuated in areas with high child labor. When child labor is especially prevalent, positive early shocks have statistically significant, negative effects on educational attainment. To verify that this is not driven by the unobservable characteristics of high child labor regions, the researchers replicate this pattern using geographic variation in two child labor intensive crops, cotton and sugar.
Bahadir Dursun, Princeton University; Ozkan Eren, University of California, Riverside; and My T. Nguyen, Louisiana State University
Curriculum Reforms and Infant Health
Dursun, Eren, and Nguyen examine the effects of high school curriculum reforms on infant health by exploiting sharp and staggered changes across states in core course requirements for graduation. The results suggest that curriculum reforms significantly reduced the incidence of low birth weight and prematurity for black mothers. For white mothers, the estimated effects are small and generally insignificant. Improvements in maternal health behaviors and family income appear to explain a non-negligible fraction of the observed effects. Finally, the researchers calculate a large social gain induced by favorable infant health outcomes. Several robustness checks and different placebo tests support the findings.
Anne Karing, University of California, Berkeley
Social Signaling and Childhood Immunization: A Field Experiment in Sierra Leone
Individuals care about how they are perceived by others, and take visible actions to signal their type. Karing investigates social signaling in the context of childhood immunization in Sierra Leone. Despite high initial vaccine take-up, many parents do not complete the five immunizations that are required in a child's first year of life. Karing introduces a durable signal -- in the form of differently colored bracelets -- which children receive upon vaccination, and implement a 22-month-long experiment in 120 public clinics. Informed by theory, the experimental design separately identifies social signaling from leading alternative mechanisms. In a first main finding, it is shown that individuals use signals to learn about others' actions. Second, the impact of signals varies significantly with the social desirability of the action. In particular, the signal has a weak effect when linked to a vaccine with low perceived benefits and a large, positive effect when linked to a vaccine with high perceived benefits. Of substantive policy importance, signals increase timely and complete vaccination at a cost of 1 USD per child, with effects persisting 12 months after the roll out. Finally, Karing structurally estimates a dynamic discrete-choice model to quantify the value of social signaling.
Jonas Lau-Jensen Hirani, University of Copenhagen; Hans Henrik Sievertsen, University of Bristol; and Miriam Wüst, University of Copenhagen and the Danish Center for Social Science Res
Beyond Treatment Exposure: The Timing of Early Interventions and Children's Health
Hirani, Sievertsen, and Wüst analyze the impact of the timing of nurse home visits for newborns and their family on child health, mother health, and parental health investments. To identify the effects of timing, the researchers study the 2008 national nurse strike in Denmark: They exploit exogenous variation in the timing of foregone nurse visits for the population of children born in Copenhagen in the period up to the strike and in control years in a difference in differences framework. Children who missed visits at younger ages have more regular and emergency general practitioner (GP) contacts in their first five years of life compared to children who missed nurse visits later. The researchers find larger impacts for children of parents with no educational background in health and childcare and first-parity children. The finding indicates that universal home visits convey important information and guidance to new parents. While constrained by power issues, the further analyses of mechanisms carefully suggest that the timing of nurse visits may impact parental health investments. In sum, the findings and stylized cost-effectiveness calculations suggest that universal home visiting policies should put special emphasis on nurse visits in the very first months of the child's life.
Anne Ardila Brenoe, University of Zurich
Brothers Increase Women's Gender Conformity
Brenoe examines how one central aspect of the childhood family environment -- sibling sex composition -- affects women's gender conformity, as measured through their choice of occupation and partner. Using Danish administrative data, Brenoe causally estimates the effect of having a second-born brother relative to a sister for first-born women. The results show that first-born women with a second-born brother acquire more traditional gender roles resulting in a stronger response to motherhood in terms of labor supply and earnings. Brenoe provides evidence of increased gender-specialized parenting in families with mixed-sex children, suggesting a stronger transmission of traditional gender norms. Finally, Brenoe finds indications of persistent effects to the next generation of girls.
Kasey Buckles, University of Notre Dame and NBER; Melanie E. Guldi, University of Central Florida; and Lucie Schmidt, Williams College and NBER
Fertility Trends in the United States, 1980-2017: The Role of Unintended Births (NBER Working Paper No. 25521)
After roughly 10 years of decline, the U.S. fertility rate reached a historic low in 2017. However, aggregate trends in fertility mask substantial heterogeneity across different demographic groups. Young women and unmarried women have seen the largest declines in fertility in recent years while women older than 30 and married women have actually experienced increases. Buckles, Guldi, and Schmidt explore the role of changes in unintended births in explaining fertility patterns in the U.S. from 1980 to 2017, with an emphasis on the fertility decline of the last decade. They begin by documenting heterogeneity in fertility trends across demographic groups, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics' Natality Detail Files. The researchers then use data from the National Survey of Family Growth to describe trends in unintended births and to estimate a model that will identify the maternal characteristics that most strongly predict them. Finally, the researchers use this model to predict the proportion of births in the Natality Detail Files that are unintended. They find that 35% of the decline in fertility between 2007 and 2016 can be explained by declines in births that were likely unintended, and that this is driven by drops in births to young women.