An NBER conference on Health, Wellbeing, and Children’s Outcomes for Native Americans and other Indigenous Peoples met November 1 in Cambridge. Research Associate Randall Akee of University of California, Los Angeles and Faculty Research Fellow Emilia Simeonova of Johns Hopkins University organized the meeting, sponsored by the NBER Center for Aging and Health Research. These researchers' papers were presented and discussed:
Richard H. Steckel, Ohio State University and NBER, and Kris Inwood, University of Guelph
Changes in the Well-Being of Native Americans Born in the Northwest, 1830-1900
Steckel and Inwood consider the physical well-being of Native Americans living along and near the northwest coast of North America in the nineteenth century. Systematic evidence extracted from anthropological, prison and military sources suggests that physical well-being improved for Indians born in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. This is somewhat unexpected given the simultaneous decline of indigenous population. The researchers identify potential hypotheses that might
explain the phenomenon of stable or improving health amid population decline.
Stefanie Schurer, University of Sydney; Mary Alice Doyle, Poverty Action; and Sven Silburn, Menzies School of Health Research
Why did Australia’s Major Welfare Reform Lead to Worse Birth Outcomes in Aboriginal Communities?
Australia's controversial 'income management' policy restricts Aboriginal welfare recipients to spend the majority of their government transfers on essential goods (e.g. food, housing, fuel). Schurer, Doyle, and Silburn evaluate the causal impact of this policy on birth outcomes by exploiting its staggered rollout across communities. The policy aims to improve child outcomes by shifting parents' spending patterns, but the researchers find no evidence of a positive impact. Instead, it reduced average birthweight by 100 grams and increased the probability of low birthweight by 30 percent, with larger impacts when introduced early in the pregnancy. The researchers explore in depth the mechanisms that explain this outcome.
Donna Feir, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and Maggie Jones and David Scoones, University of Victoria
The Legacy of Indian Missions in the United States
During the colonial era, Christian missions operated throughout colonial states with the intention of converting local populations to Christianity. Feir, Jones, and Scoones examine the long-run impact of these Christian missions in the United States. They combine a variety of historical sources to construct a dataset on the location of over 300 missions across the US, which they combine with other publicly available sources to study the effects of missionary presence in cultural homelands on education, income, and cultural outcomes. In line with previous research on missionary presence in the developing world, the researchers find historical missionary activity to be positively correlated with contemporary education and income, although the effects differ substantially by religious denomination. Distinct from previous literature, explore the possible political and land status ramifications of missionary contact. Preliminary results are generally consistent with early missionary contact increasing the political and land base intactness of Indigenous people in the United States during the colonial era.
Student Aid and the Distribution of Educational Attainment
During the colonial era, Christian missions operated throughout colonial states with the intention of converting local populations to Christianity. Jones examines the long-run impact of these Christian missions in the United States. Jones combines a variety of historical sources to construct a dataset on the location of over 300 missions across the US, which they combine with other publicly available sources to study the effects of missionary presence in cultural homelands on education, income, and cultural outcomes. In line with previous research on missionary presence in the developing world, they find historical missionary activity to be positively correlated with contemporary education and income, although the effects differ substantially by religious denomination. Distinct from previous literature, Jones explores the possible political and land status ramifications of missionary contact. Preliminary results are generally consistent with early missionary contact increasing the political and land base intactness of Indigenous people in the United States during the colonial era.
Brooks A. Kaiser, University of Southern Denmark
Growth, Transition, and Decline in Resource Based Socio-Ecological Systems
Globalization transforms communities. Increased trade and technology can disrupt existing socio-ecological systems that persisted for centuries. A new dominant culture may destroy or consume whole socio-ecological systems. This has occurred with many Indigenous cultures worldwide. Thule Inuit society is a dynamic, multi-trophic socio-ecological system transformed by globalizing forces. Lessons from studying the system and its transformation clarify fundamentals of trade and development. In particular, mutual benefits from trade rely upon fair terms. Fair terms sustain the original stewards of the ecological resource base. The ability to achieve fair terms is a function of both parties' governance capabilities and mechanisms. All trading parties should recognize the institutional tools and governance mechanisms in use. The multi-trophic model includes three layers. These are: a composite ecosystem, resource-dependent humans, and a top trophic layer of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) holders. The layers connect through caloric productivity and use. Kaiser calibrates the model using the historical record and ecological evidence. 19th Century stressors to the Thule Inuit system included foreign commercial whaling and fur trading. These initiated particularly rapid shifts from the 1820s forward, transforming the system dynamics. The commercial enterprises generated different impacts for Inuit communities. Commercial whaling brought significant losses in access to calories while fur trapping did not. Fur trading introduced more useful technology than whaling. Socio-ecological systems can gain or lose through the introduction of trade and technology. Shifts in the relative rates of return to ecosystem components affect net gains.
Dustin Frye, Vassar College, and Christian Dippel, University of California, Los Angeles and NBER
The Effect of Land Allotment on Native American Households During the Assimilation Era
In the early twentieth century, the US government broke up millions of acres of communally owned reservation lands and allotted them to individual Native American households. Households initially received land allotments with limited property rights ('in trust'), and were incentivized to prove themselves "competent" in order to obtain full legal title ('fee simple') after a set period. Indian allotment thus had elements of a conditional cash transfer program aimed at assimilation. The policy was ended suddenly in 1934, locking in-trust land into its status in perpetuity. Frye and Dippel link land allotment information to the universe of Native American households in the 1940 US Census. They exploit quasi-random variation in being allotted as well as in securing the allotment in fee simple. Obtaining an allotment significantly increased the likelihood of being a farmer, but also educational attainment, which they interpret as a way of signalling "competency". Obtaining the land in fee simple was associated with increases in home values, a reduction in farming, increases in labor force participation, occupational upgrading, and additional educational attainment of children. The fee-simple effects were more pronounced within tribes whose ancestral tribal norms emphasized private over communal property, indicating a cultural determinant in how the wealth transfer was utilized.