Working Papers   

Breaking The Link Between Legal Access to Alcohol And Motor Vehicle Accidents: Evidence from New South Wales

NBER Working Paper No. 19857, January 2014. Joint with Peter Siminski and Oleg Yerokhin

A large literature has documented significant public health benefits associated with the minimum legal drinking age in the United States, particularly because of the resulting effects on motor vehicle accidents. These benefits form the primary basis for continued efforts to restrict youth access to alcohol. It is important to keep in mind, though, that policymakers have a wide variety of alcohol-control options available to them, and understanding how these policies may complement or substitute for one another can improve policy making moving forward. Towards this end, we propose that investigating the causal effects of the minimum legal drinking age in New South Wales, Australia provides a particularly informative case study, because Australian states are among the world leaders in their efforts against drunk driving. Using an age-based regression-discontinuity design applied to restricted-use data from several sources, we find no evidence that legal access to alcohol has effects on motor vehicle accidents of any type in New South Wales, despite having large effects on drinking and on hospitalizations due to alcohol abuse.

Economic Conditions and Child Abuse

NBER Working Paper No. 18994, April 2013. Joint with Jessamyn Schaller and Benjamin Hansen.

Although a huge literature spanning several disciplines documents an association between poverty and child abuse, researchers have not found persuasive evidence that economic downturns increase abuse, despite their impacts on family income. In this paper, we address this seeming contradiction. Using county-level child abuse data spanning 1996 to 2009 from the California Department of Justice, we estimate the extent to which a county's reported abuse rate diverges from its trend when its economic conditions diverge from trend, controlling for statewide annual shocks. The results of this analysis indicate that overall measures of economic conditions are not strongly related to rates of abuse. However, focusing on overall measures of economic conditions masks strong opposing effects of economic conditions facing males and females: male layoffs increase rates of abuse whereas female layoffs reduce rates of abuse. These results are consistent with a theoretical framework that builds on family-time-use models and emphasizes differential risks of abuse associated with a child's time spent with different caregivers.



Publications in Refereed Journals and Books

Heaping-Induced Bias in Regression-Discontinuity Designs

Economic Inquiry, forthcoming. Joint with Alan I. Barreca and Glen R. Waddell. [Pre-publication version]

This study uses Monte Carlo simulations to demonstrate that regression-discontinuity designs arrive at biased estimates when attributes related to outcomes predict heaping in the running variable. After showing that our usual diagnostics are poorly suited to identifying this type of problem, we provide alternatives, and then discuss the usefulness of different approaches to addressing the bias. We then consider these issues in multiple non-simulated environments.

Aggregation and The Estimated Effects of Economic Conditions on Health

Journal of Health Economics, forthcoming. [Pre-publication version]

This paper considers the relationship between economic conditions and health with a focus on different approaches to geographic aggregation. After reviewing the tradeoffs associated with more- and less-disaggregated analyses, I update earlier state-level analyses of mortality and infant health and then consider how the estimated effects vary when the analysis is conducted at differing levels of geographic aggregation. This analysis reveals that the results are sensitive to the level of geographic aggregation with more-disaggregated analyses--particularly county-level analyses--routinely producing estimates that are smaller in magnitude. Further analyses suggest this is due to spillover effects of economic conditions on health outcomes across counties.

Economic Determinants of Child Maltreatment

Encyclopedia of Law and Economics, forthcoming. Joint with Jessamyn Schaller. [Pre-publication version]

This entry examines the economic determinants of child maltreatment. We first discuss potential mechanisms through which economic factors, including in- come, employment, aggregate economic conditions, and welfare receipt, might have causal effects on the rates of child abuse and neglect. We then outline the main challenges faced by researchers attempting to identify these causal effects, emphasizing the importance of data limitations and potential confounding factors at both the individual and aggregate levels. We describe two approaches used in the existing literature to address these challenges--the use of experimental variation to identify the effects of changes in family income on individual likelihood of maltreatment, and the use of area studies to identify the effects of changes in local economic conditions on aggregate rates of maltreatment.

Comment: Should the Legal Age for Buying Alcohol Be Raised to 21 Years?

Medical Journal of Australia, 201(10), 2014. Joint with Peter Siminski.

Drawn Into Violence: Evidence on 'What Makes a Criminal' from the Vietnam Draft Lotteries

Economic Inquiry, 52(1), 2014. Joint with Charles Stoecker. [Pre-publication version]

Draft lottery number assignment during the Vietnam Era provides a natural experiment to examine the effects of military service on crime. Using exact dates of birth for inmates in state and federal prisons in 1979, 1986, and 1991, we find that draft eligibility increases incarceration for violent crimes but decreases incarceration for non-violent crimes among whites. This is particularly evident in 1979, where two-sample instrumental variable estimates indicate that military service increases the probability of incarceration for a violent crime by 0.34 percentage points and decreases the probability of incarceration for a nonviolent crime by 0.30 percentage points. We conduct two falsification tests, one that applies each of the three binding lotteries to unaffected cohorts and another that considers the effects of lotteries that were not used to draft servicemen.

Alcohol and Student Performance: Estimating the Effect of Legal Access

Journal of Health Economics, 32(1), 2013. Joint with Isaac D. Swensen and Glen R. Waddell. [Pre-publication version]

We consider the effect of legal access to alcohol on student achievement. Our preferred approach identifies the effect through changes in one's performance after gaining legal access to alcohol, controlling flexibly for the expected evolution of grades as one makes progress towards their degree. We also report RD-based estimates but argue that an RD design is not well suited to the research question in our setting. We find that students' grades fall below their expected levels upon being able to drink legally, but by less than previously documented. We also show that there are effects on women and that the effects are persistent. Using the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we show that students drink more often after legal access but do not consume more drinks on days on which they drink.

Evidence on the Efficacy of School-Based Incentives for Healthy Living

Economics of Education Review, 31(6), 2012. Joint with Harold Cuffe, William T. Harbaugh, Giancarlo Musto, and Glen R. Waddell. [Pre-publication version]

We analyze the effects of a school-based incentive program on children's exercise habits. The program offers children an opportunity to win prizes if they walk or bike to school during prize periods. We use daily child-level data and individual fixed effects models to measure the impact of the prizes by comparing behavior during prize periods with behavior during non-prize periods. Variation in the timing of prize periods across different schools allows us to estimate models with calendar-date fixed effects to control for day-specific attributes, such as weather and proximity to holidays. On average, we find that being in a prize period increases the riding behavior of participating children by sixteen percent, a large impact given that the prize value is just six cents per student. We also find that winning a prize lottery has a positive impact on ridership over subsequent weeks; consider heterogeneity across prize type, gender, age, and calendar month; and explore differential effects on the intensive versus extensive margins.

Are Big-Time Sports a Threat to Student Achievement?

American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 4(4), 2012. Joint with Isaac D. Swensen and Glen R. Waddell. [Pre-publication version]

We consider the relationship between collegiate-football success and non-athlete student performance. We find that the team's success significantly reduces male grades relative to female grades. This phenomenon is only present in fall quarters, which coincides with the football season. Using survey data, we find that males are more likely than females to increase alcohol consumption, decrease studying, and increase partying in response to the success of the team. Yet, females also report that their behavior is affected by athletic success, suggesting that their performance is likely impaired but that this effect is masked by the practice of grade curving.

Saving Babies? Revisiting the Effect of Very Low Birth Weight Classification

The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 126(4), 2011. Joint with Alan Barreca, Melanie Guldi, and Glen R. Waddell. [Pre-publication version]

We reconsider the effect of very low birth weight classification on infant mortality. We demonstrate that the estimates are highly sensitive to the exclusion of observations in the immediate vicinity of the 1500-gram threshold, weakening the confidence in the results originally reported in Almond, Doyle, Kowalski, and Williams (2010).

Parental Job Loss and Infant Health

Journal of Health Economics, 30(5), 2011. [Pre-publication version]

This paper is the first to explore the extent to which the health effects of job displacement extend to the children of displaced workers. Using detailed work and fertility histories from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, estimates are identified by comparing the outcomes of children born after a displacement to the outcomes of those born before. This analysis reveals that husbands' job losses have significant negative effects on infant health. They reduce birth weights by approximately four and a half percent with suggestive evidence that the effect is concentrated on the lower half of the birth weight distribution.

Ability, Gender, and Performance Standards: Evidence from Academic Probation

American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2(2), 2010. Joint with Nicholas J. Sanders and Philip Oreopoulos. [Pre-publication version]

We use a regression discontinuity design to examine students' responses to being placed on academic probation. Consistent with a model of introducing performance standards, we find that being placed on probation at the end of the first year discourages some students from returning to school while improving the GPAs of those who return. We find heterogeneous responses across prior academic performance, gender, and native language, and discuss these results within the context of the model. We also find negative effects on graduation rates, particularly for students with the highest high school grades.

Are Children Really Inferior Goods? Evidence from Displacement-driven Income Shocks

The Journal of Human Resources, 45(2), 2010. [Pre-publication version]

Although many papers have attempted to reconcile economic theory with the commonly observed negative relationship between income and fertility, little is known about the causal nature of the relationship. This paper explores the causal link by analyzing women’s fertility response to the large and permanent income shock generated by a husband’s job displacement. I find that the shock reduces total fertility, suggesting that the causal effect of income on fertility is positive. A model that incorporates the time cost of children and assortative matching of spouses can simultaneously explain this result and the negative cross-sectional relationship. I also find that the income shock accelerates childbearing. This finding is consistent with life-cycle models of fertility in which a husband’s earnings growth provides an incentive to delay having children.

Parental Income Shocks and Outcomes of Disadvantaged Youth in the United States

In Jonathan Gruber, ed., An Economic Perspective on the Problems of Disadvantaged Youth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. Joint with Marianne E. Page and Ann Huff Stevens. [Pre-publication version]

This paper uses layoffs and business closings to identify the effect of a permanent parental income shock on children’s long-run socioeconomic outcomes. We find that estimates of the intergenerational effects of parental job loss are sensitive to our definition of job displacement. Focusing on measures of displacement that are most likely to be exogenous, we find no evidence of intergenerational effects of job loss on the average child. In contrast, among disadvantaged children (defined by family income or race), we find evidence of negative effects of parental displacement on income, earnings, and completed education.