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.

Advertisements

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
.

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

On Shared Consumption

Last week, I wrote about the economics profession’s new “power couple”, Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson, and mentioned the idea of shared consumption driving marriage rather than shared production. In the comments, Katina asked me to explain shared consumption a bit more in depth and I promised her a longer post on the matter. I’m a little late, but here it is. I haven’t formally modeled any of this, and so I’ll say it’s not very clearly thought out, but in the name of elucidating the inner workings of this economist’s mind, I figured I’d at least outline my thoughts here.

One of the perhaps more complicated ways to define shared consumption comes from the study of public goods. Public goods are things like national defense or clean air. They constitute things that are non-excludable and non-rivalrous in consumption. There’s a lot of buzz words in that sentence, but just think about things that you can enjoy (or gain utility from) without diminishing someone else’ enjoyment (this is the non-rivalrous part) and things that, once they are in existence, no one can easily prevent someone else from enjoying it, say through an entrance fee (this is the non-excludable part).

Shared consumption goods are a little less strict than this, however. The idea of shared consumption lets us take what we would normally call “private” goods (non-public, like shoes–we both can’t wear the same pair of shoes) and give them some public (or sharing) aspects within a marriage or partnership.

A big shift in family economics has been to examine children as a public good. See, for instance, Chiappori, Iyigun and Weiss. The idea is that two people investing in a child reap benefits from both their own investment and the other’s investment. But this is a little convoluted for a non-economist, maybe.

Perhaps even simpler is when we take children out of the equation. Many couples these days marry without any intention of having children, even if though it might mean paying more in taxes. Two-earner households aren’t specializing in household production by one staying at home to cook and clean while the other works, but rather enter into a marriage for the purpose of keeping each other company.

To back me up, the New York Times published a piece outlining a significant demographic shift in parenthood over the past few years. Namely, more than half of children born to mothers under 30 are born to single mothers. If that’s not a refutation of shared production, I don’t know what is. This is a theme that is also prominent in my new favorite ethnography (not so new, really, but if you ever want to see me get really excited, ask me about Promises I Can Keep).

In addition, I’m currently reading Is Marriage for White People? by Ralph Richard Banks of Stanford Law. Early on, he cites a Pew study that says shared religious beliefs, shared interests, a healthy, happy sexual relationship and even sharing household chores were more important for a happy marriage than children. We’re not getting married to have children, necessarily, anymore, and when we are, we’re not convinced that specializing in raising the child is the best thing for one parent to do.

As pertaining to children, there’s a fine line between what constitutes consumption and production, but I think it’s safe to say that most matches aren’t happening with the primary purpose of building a home with a white picket fence in the suburbs and raising a couple of kids who go on to do the same. Americans are marrying to make themselves better off still, just not in the way that our parents and grandparents did.

Environmental stress and obesity

I haven’t had the chance to read this paper yet, though I surely hope to get to it in the next week or so, but I think it’s rather fascinating. Gary Evans, a scholar at Cornell, shows that stressful home environments lead to obesity later in life. There is a rather large set of literature in fields such as medicine that link stressful home environments–embodied in poverty, unhappy parents, and more–to children’s outcomes–smaller incomes, less educational attainment, depression, and more. This work is of particular importance to some of my own work, where I show that a poor relationship between parents is correlated with a mother’s reading days with a child, which, in turn, is a good predictor of success later in life.

Vaccines–or the lack thereof

A recently released study in Pediatrics shows that more than 1 in 10 children don’t receive their vaccinations as scheduled by their doctor, and likely as scheduled by the American Academy of Pediatrics. There are indicators that race and class have some bearing on whether parents follow the recommended schedule, but also a strong sense that the decision not to follow a schedule is often made before birth of the child. This may seem unsurprising to some, as often parents discuss and establish how they are going to raise a child before it’s brought into the world, but from an economic standpoint, kind of flies in the face of treating a vaccination as an investment. I am careful, in my research, to include controls for things like current medical insurance or medicaid assistance when it comes to measuring a similar outcome. As economists, it makes sense to assume that the marginal decision of taking the child to the doctor at any given scheduled checkup is subject to financial constraints. But if those decisions are made before the child is even born, then perhaps marginal analysis isn’t the correct way of approaching the problem.