Sisters and Partisanship

Andres Marroquin highlights a recent paper on his blog regarding the presence of sisters and its effect on political leanings and attitudes toward gender roles. The paper is clear, concise, seems statistically sound, and declares confidently that “having sisters causes young men to be substantially more likely to identify as Republicans and to express conservative viewpoints, particularly with regard to gender roles.”

In some ways, this outcome is counter intuitive. My initial thought was that having sisters should lead to a less rigid adherence to traditional gender roles because caring about one’s siblings means you would like them to be free to live their lives as they pleased, etc.

Oh, folly.

The paper does expand upon this more, but I don’t think it does a really good job of explaining the effect it actually finds. The result is not really that having a sister makes you more conservative, it’s rather likely that when boys have sisters and their parents reinforce typical gender roles by assigning gender-specific chores or other means, men are more conservative. It’s a more nuanced outcome and not as shocking, but it’s the more correct way to view it, I think. The paper is sold as a departure from the “parents influence children” literature and its contribution as “siblings influence each other,” but they don’t provide a clear mechanism for how the siblings actually influence each other outside of how the parents influence the children.

Statistically, having a sister might mean you are more conservative, but that doesn’t mean that boys with sisters will automatically be more conservative. There is still likely significant room for parental influence in establishing (or bucking) gender roles.

The long-term effects of food stamps

I was so confused yesterday when the NBER email arrived because I didn’t remember it being Monday. Last week just kind of crept into this week and though I’m ready for my mountains and family, I didn’t expect it to come so fast!

A paper on that sells itself as a ray of sunshine in the midst of a bleak and dreary literature on children’s lifelong outcomes from exposure to poverty, maternal stress, fires, and more. And it’s kind of true. The maternal stress/in-utero distress papers seem to be getting a lot of play lately (here’s one). Hillary Hoynes, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and Douglas Almond think perhaps we should look at long-run positive outcomes from the things (read: policies and social safety net programs) we can control. The abstract for “Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net” reads:

A growing economics literature establishes a causal link between in utero shocks and health and human capital in adulthood. Most studies rely on extreme negative shocks such as famine and pandemics. We are the first to examine the impact of a positive and policy-driven change in economic resources available in utero and during childhood. In particular, we focus on the introduction of a key element of the U.S. safety net, the Food Stamp Program, which was rolled out across counties in the U.S. between 1961 and 1975. We use the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to assemble unique data linking family background and county of residence in early childhood to adult health and economic outcomes. The identification comes from variation across counties and over birth cohorts in exposure to the food stamp program. Our findings indicate that the food stamp program has effects decades after initial exposure. Specifically, access to food stamps in childhood leads to a significant reduction in the incidence of “metabolic syndrome” (obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes) and, for women, an increase in economic self-sufficiency. Overall, our results suggest substantial internal and external benefits of the safety net that have not previously been quantified.

I tried to read it on the plane, but was distracted by an early, incorrectly used semi-colon. Yes, that’s enough to make me stop reading a paper (especially after wading through 19 student papers with many incorrectly used semi-colons). I’ll get back it to it later, promise.

Fun stuff on infant health and taxes

I’m not a huge fan of the US tax code. I think it’s far too complicated and full of ridiculous things you can do to get around paying your taxes. This makes for rent seeking and a huge time suck. That said, I’m always interested in the types of incentives that certain taxes provide to change behavior, particularly when it comes to child health and investments in children. A new NBER working paper examines the relationship between infant health and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Without having read the paper, my first thoughts are 1) why do we think the EITC would affect infant health specifically? and 2) those are pretty large effects for an increase in income. The authors argue that an exogenous increase in income means mothers will seek out more prenatal care, but it seems that a 10% reduction in the rate of low birth weight babies would require a large portion of the tax credit (increase in income) to go towards prenatal care for most mothers (or all for some and a small amount for others). Maybe they address it later on, but this, too, will make for some good plane and train reading this week.

The abstract is here:

This paper evaluates the health impact of a central piece in the U.S. safety net for families with children: the Earned Income Tax Credit. Using tax-reform induced variation in the federal EITC, we examine the impact of the credit on infant health outcomes. We find that increased EITC income reduces the incidence of low birth weight and increases mean birth weight. For single low education (<= 12 years) mothers, a policy-induced treatment on the treated increase of $1000 in EITC income is associated with 6.7 to 10.8% reduction in the low birth weight rate, with larger impacts for births to African American mothers. These impacts are evident with difference-in-difference models and event study analyses. Our results suggest that part of the mechanism for this improvement in birth outcomes is the result of more prenatal care and less negative health behaviors (smoking). We find little role for changes in health insurance. We contribute to the literature by establishing that an exogenous increase in income can improve health, and illustrating a health impact of a non-health program. More generally, we demonstrate the potential for positive external benefits of the social safety net.

Source: “Income, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Infant Health.” Hilary W. Hoynes, Douglas L. Miller, David Simon. NBER Working Paper No. 18206, July 2012
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Compulsory education and girls in China

A new paper (gated) by a gaggle of economists (is this a new trend? I’ve never seen so many papers with five or six names on them than as of late), shows that compulsory schooling in China helped raise average educational attainment, and did a particularly good job of getting girls to stay in school. Girls stayed in school an average of 1.17 years longer, and boys an extra 0.4 years. I’ve yet to really get into this paper, but they use what looks like a neat instrument to identify the effect causally. The compulsory education policy was implemented at different times, so different regions were subject to the policy at different times.

The abstract:

As China transforms from a socialist planned economy to a market-oriented economy, its returns to education are expected to rise to meet those found in middle-income established market economies. This study employs a plausible instrument for education: the China Compulsory Education Law of 1986. We use differences among provinces in the dates of effective implementation of the compulsory education law to show that the law raised overall educational attainment in China by about 0.8 years of schooling. We then use this instrumental variable to control for the endogeneity of education and estimate the returns to an additional year of schooling in 1997-2006. Results imply that the overall returns to education are approximately 20 percent per year on average in contemporary China, fairly consistent with returns found in most industrialized economies. Returns differ among subpopulations; they increase after controlling for endogeneity of education.

“The Returns to Education in China: Evidence from the 1986 Compulsory Education Law.”
Hai Fang, Karen N. Eggleston, John A. Rizzo, Scott Rozelle, and Richard J. Zeckhauser
NBER Working Paper No. 18189, June 2012

CESifo Conference on Children

I think this looks pretty cool. Call for papers comes due on July 15. And I’ve never been to Germany!

CESifo Economic Studies and UCLS Conference on Families, Children and Human Capital Formation

From 19/Oct/2012 to 20/Oct/2012

Among the issues to be covered include the causes and (short-and long-run) consquences of child health, early-life interventions and events, education and familiy poilicies and divorce (including the role of the family more generally). The keynote lectures will be delivered by Anna Aizer (Brown University) and Kevin Milligan.

Scientific organiser(s):  Matz Dahlberg ,  Eva Maria Mörk and  Anna Sjögren

See call for papers 
Submit a paper
Contact for queries: office@cesifo.de

An abstract

Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, and appropriately, I met with the Vice-Provost to negotiate my contract for next year. He only wanted to give me a one-year contract the first time around, despite knowing that the Economics department needed me and wanted me for two years, so clearly, I was going negotiate again.

Through the course of our discussion, I began to get a little nervous about upcoming calls for papers, conference deadlines and the looming market. As I have told a few of you, I will be on the market again in the Fall, attending the American Economic Association meetings in San Diego in January, and filling out ridiculous numbers of applications as the year comes to a close. There’s lots to be done, but also lots to finish up–getting my dissertation out–and lots to start–new papers!

So, I’m trying to get some papers out and I think I’m close to getting this one done. It’s so hard sometimes, because it’s really so easy just to keep editing, keep running regressions and keep looking for other things to do. But I like this paper. I hope some editor does, too. Hopefully, next week I can share the whole things with you.

Abstract for “Match Quality and Maternal Investments in Children”, Working Paper, April 2012, Erin K Fletcher.

Marriage advocates suggest that the unstable environment caused by divorce can have adverse effects on children’s educational and behavioral outcomes. However, the causal assignment of poor outcomes to the divorce itself fails to take into account relationship quality and heterogeneity in place before or in the absence of divorce. I explore the link between heterogeneity of relationship quality and investments in children. I show that women who report less satisfaction in their relationships spend less time reading with their children. I test various theoretical mechanisms by which we would expect women to decrease their investments in a child using additional information about the match including argument frequency and whether the union dissolves in the future. The anticipation of a union’s dissolution is associated with a decrease in investments in children while the relationship is intact, but argument frequency and mother’s estimation of the father’s character do not have a significant correlation. The results suggest that subjective measures tell a more complete story about investments in children than indicated by future union status, argument frequency or parental quality.

Have a great weekend!

The costs of breastfeeding

When I started writing my final dissertation chapter, I chose to examine two investments in children–breastfeeding and taking children to the doctor–which I assumed to have different cost structures. The idea was that breastfeeding would be a time-intensive investment, while taking children to the doctor would be a monetarily intensive investment.

Further research showed that this dichotomy was clearly false. In order to breastfeed, one has to consume more calories, sleep less, and generally be available more. While I generally only cite the additional caloric cost in my presentation, new research highlights other costs of breastfeeding, which manifest themselves in wage penalties that accrue over time. From the Motherlode blog at the NYT:

Now researchers have zeroed in on an economic cost of following the pediatrician’s advice: women who breast-feed for six months or more suffer more severe and more prolonged earnings losses than mothers who breastfeed for a shorter amount of time, or not at all,” writes Tom Jacobs for Miller-McCune.

While mothers may not have to physically outlay cash in order to breastfeed, there are definitely significant costs associated with it. If the consensus is that breastfeeding is a desirable and healthy behavior, we have to make policies to support it.

Related (from Irrational Tonics and elsewhere):

  1. Breastfeeding, formula, and perception
  2. Support for breastfeeding by Tangerine and Cinnamon
  3. My quick response to Tangerine and Cinnamon post above
  4. My paper on Health Investments in Children: healthinvestFF_071911