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Article

The Economics of Abortion Policy  

Damian Clarke

The economic literature on abortion policy broadly is broad, studying abortion reforms that have occurred over the past two centuries, with a concentration of studies examining policy reform over the 20th and 21st centuries. The literature has examined a range of policies: both those which restrict access and those which legalize elective abortion; but within these two broad classes, the precise nature of policy reform can vary greatly. Policy reforms studied range from specific types of limits or financial barriers restricting access for particular age groups to policies which entirely criminalize or legalize elective abortion. Policies have been studied that restrict or relax individual access as well as impose regulations on abortion providers. The economic literature on abortion reform has illuminated a number of clear links, showing that increased availability of abortion decreases rates of unintended births, and vice versa when access to abortion is limited. These effects have been shown to have downstream impacts in many domains such as family formation, educational attainment, and labor market attachment, as well as impacts on health, empowerment, and broader measures of well-being such as life satisfaction and exposure to intimate partner violence. There is mixed evidence when examining the impact that abortion reform has on cohorts of children exposed to reform variation. Across contexts abortion reforms have been shown to affect the composition of cohorts of children via differential rates of access to abortion, though this compositional effect is context-dependent, and as such a number of different patterns have been documented. Compositional effects of policies often also have been shown to have a geographic component, given that certain types of individuals are more easily able to travel to access abortion where restrictions are in place in one area but not in another. Much of what is known in the economic literature on abortion is gleaned from country-level case studies and cohort variation in access, with this evidence generated from a relatively small number of countries in which reforms have occurred and data is available. In general, much of the literature available covers low fertility and industrialized settings. Additional evidence from other settings would allow for a broader understanding of how abortion reform affects well-being.

Article

The Multiple Missions of Community College  

Christopher Jepsen and Adela Soliz

U.S. community colleges are extremely diverse; these public schools provide vocational awards, the first 2 years of a 4-year university degree, adult basic education, specialized training for companies, coursework for industry credentials, and many offerings in between. In other words, community colleges have many different missions. They serve students who, on average, have less advantaged educational and socioeconomic backgrounds than students attending 4-year institutions, yet community colleges receive less funding per student, on average. Regarding remedial or developmental education, many studies estimating the effect of participating in traditional developmental education courses use regression discontinuity models to look at the population of students who barely fail placement exams, compared to those who barely pass. These studies find mixed results. Results are more promising for corequisite models where students take remedial classes alongside college-level classes. Many community college students state that their goal is to transfer to a 4-year school and complete a bachelor’s degree, but only roughly one quarter achieve this goal. Although state articulation agreements aim to simplify the process of transferring, descriptive analyses of these programs suggest that they have at best modest effects on transferring and completing a bachelor’s degree. Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) programs aim to reduce the number of choices students face as they work through their community college courses. In the early 21st century, evaluations of these programs suggest that they raise bachelor’s degree receipt relative to students in majors or schools that do not offer ADTs, but more research is needed. Despite low persistence rates, particularly in academic programs at community colleges, nearly all the awards offered by these institutions lead to increases, often sizable, in labor-market outcomes. Broadly speaking, the biggest gains are for the program with the most coursework, an associate’s degree, which typically requires 2 years of full-time coursework. At the same time, stackable credentials and non-credit credentials, awards that can sometimes be completed in under a year, often lead to increases of more than 10% in earnings and over 4 percentage points in employment. In contrast, certificates have mixed impacts on labor-market outcomes, although the results for employment are more promising than those for earnings.

Article

Unintended Fertility: Trends, Causes, Consequences  

Christine Piette Durrance and Melanie Guldi

Unintended fertility occurs when an individual, who did not intend to, becomes pregnant or gives birth. Most measures of unintended fertility account for whether the pregnancy (birth) was wanted and whether it occurred at a desired time. Economic models of fertility provide a framework for understanding an individual’s desire to have children (or not), the number of children to have alongside the quality of each child, and the timing of childbirth. To study fertility intendedness, researchers often classify pregnancies or births as unintended using self-reported retrospective (or prospective) survey responses. However, since survey information on the intendedness of pregnancies and births is not always available, the research on unintended fertility using survey data is necessarily limited to the population surveyed. Consequently, to broaden the population studied, researchers also often rely on reported births, abortions, and miscarriages (fetal deaths) to estimate intendedness. However, other factors (such as laws restricting access or financial hurdles to overcome) may restrict access to the methods used to control reproduction, and these restrictions in turn may influence realized (observed) pregnancies, births, and abortions. Furthermore, abortion and miscarriages are not consistently reported and, when reported, they exhibit more measurement error than births. Despite these research challenges, the available data have allowed researchers to glean information on trends in unintendedness and to study the relationship between fertility-related policies and unintendedness. Over the last 2 decades, unintended fertility has declined in many countries and fewer births are happening “too soon.” There are multiple factors underlying these changes, but changes in access to and quality of reproductive technologies, changes in macroeconomic conditions, and socioeconomic characteristics of fertility-aged individuals appear to be crucial drivers of these changes.

Article

A Review of the Effects of Pay Transparency  

Emma Duchini, Stefania Simion, and Arthur Turrell

An increasing number of countries have introduced pay transparency policies with the aim of reducing gender inequality in the labor market. Firms subject to transparency requirements must disclose publicly or to employees’ representatives information on their employees’ pay broken down by gender, or indicators of gender gaps in pay and career outcomes. The argument at the base of these policies is that gender inequality may in part persist because it is hidden. On the one hand, employers rarely keep track of employees’ pay and career progression by gender, and, on the other hand, employees rarely engage in conversations with their colleagues about pay. The lack of information on within-firm disparities by gender may therefore hamper progress toward a more egalitarian labor market. Transparency policies have the potential to improve women’s relative pay and career outcomes for two reasons. First, by increasing the salience of gender gaps in the labor market, they can alter the relative bargaining power of male and female employees vis-à-vis the firm and lead lower-paid individuals to demand higher pay from their employer. Second, together with pressures from employees, the public availability of information on firms’ gender-equality performance may also increase public pressure for firms’ action in this domain. A clear message emerges from the literature analyzing the impact of pay transparency policies on gender inequality: these policies are effective at pushing firms to reduce their gender pay gaps, although this is achieved via a slowdown of men’s wage growth. Related results point to a reduction in labor productivity following the introduction of transparency mandates but no detrimental effect on firms’ profits because this effect is compensated by the reduction in labor costs. Overall, the findings in this literature suggest that transparency policies can reduce the gender pay gap with limited costs for firms but may not be suited to achieve the objective of improving outcomes for lower-paid employees.

Article

Earnings Inequality in Latin America: A Three-Decade Retrospective  

Manuel Fernández and Gabriela Serrano

Latin American countries have some of the highest levels of income inequality in the world. However, earnings inequality have significantly changed over time, increasing during the 1980s and 1990s, declining sharply in the 2000s, and stagnating or even increasing in some countries since 2015. Macroeconomic instability in the region in the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as the introduction of structural reforms like trade, capital, and financial liberalization, affected the patterns of relative demand and relative earnings across skill-demographic groups in the 1990s, increasing inequality. Significant gains in educational attainment, the demographic transition, and rising female labor force participation changed the skill-demographic composition of labor supply, pushing the education and experience premiums downward, but this was not enough to counteract demand-side trends. At the turn of the 21st century, improved external conditions, driven by China’s massive increase in demand for commodities, boosted economies across Latin America, which began to grow rapidly. Growth was accompanied by a positive shift in the relative demand for less-educated workers, stronger labor institutions, rising minimum wages, and declining labor informality, a confluence of factors that reduced earnings inequality. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, particularly after the end of the commodities price boom in 2014, economic growth decelerated, and the pace of inequality decline stagnated. There is extensive literature documenting and trying to explain the causes of recent earnings inequality dynamics in Latin America. This literature is examined in terms of themes, methodological approaches, and key findings. The focus is on earnings inequality and how developments in labor markets have shaped it.

Article

The Empirics of Network Models  

Pedro CL Souza

The literature documenting a wide range of network or peer effects has blossomed in the past decade and have appeared in most major economics journals, using a variety of methods and identification strategies. Reviewing the empirics of those papers suggests a few broad classes of econometric models. The first and canonical model is the “linear-in-means,” which grows from Manski’s seminal work. More recently, it has shown that network asymmetry conditions (known as “peers-of-peers” instrument approach) can be used to instrument the endogeneity inherently present in the linear-in-means model. Moving to more recent empirical practice reveals novel and creative instrumentation strategies exploring particular empirical settings. The network identification strategies can also be combined with traditional differences-and-differences, event-study, and regression discontinuity designs. For example, under certain conditions, one can explore the variation that stems from the differential comparison of the evolution over time of well-connected versus less-well-connected individuals; or explore the variation in the network structure induced by a discontinuous change in the network. Randomized, controlled studies had substantial importance in revealing network effects in the past literature using standard methods; and, more recently, in understanding the extent to which networks can themselves be endogenous to the provision of the treatment itself. This, in turn, will present future challenges for the econometrics of networks and the identification or evaluation of treatment effects under a causal framework with endogenous interference.

Article

Happiness and Productivity in the Workplace  

Mahnaz Nazneen and Daniel Sgroi

Happiness has become an important concept in economics as a target for government policy at the national level. This is mirrored in an increasing understanding of the microeconomic effects of increased happiness. While correlational studies have for many years documented a relationship between individual-level happiness and productivity, more recent work provides causal evidence that a positive shock to happiness can boost productivity significantly. These studies include three strands of research. The first provides a number of longitudinal surveys that have generated evidence linking happiness to productivity but run the risk of confounding happiness with other related variables that may be driving the relationship. The second includes laboratory experiments that simulate a workplace under tightly controlled conditions, and this strand has established a clear relationship between positive happiness shocks and rises in productivity. The third involves examining experimental field data, which sacrifices the control of laboratory experiments but offers greater realism. However, there is still work to be done generalizing these findings to more complex work environments, especially those that involve cooperative and team-based tasks where increases in happiness may have other consequences.

Article

Peer Effects in Education  

Andrés Barrios-Fernandez

The identification of peer effects is challenging. There are many factors not related to social influences that could explain correlations among peers. Peers have been shown to affect many important outcomes, including academic performance and educational trajectories. Confirming the existence of peer effects is important from a policy perspective. Both the cost-benefit analysis and the design of policies are likely to be affected by the existence of social spillovers. However, making general policy recommendations from the current evidence is not easy. The size of the peer effects documented in the literature varies substantially across settings and depends on how peers are defined and characterized. Understanding what is behind this heterogeneity is thus key to extract more general policy lessons. Access to better data and the ability to map social networks will likely facilitate investigating which peers and which characteristics matter the most in different contexts. Conducting more research on the mechanisms behind peer effects is also important. Understanding these drivers is key to take advantage of social spillovers in the design of new educational programs, to identify competing policies, and to gain a deeper understanding of the nature and relevance of different forms of social interactions for the youth.

Article

Explaining the Mathematics Gender Gap: The Role of Stereotypes  

Pilar Cuevas Ruiz, Ismael Sanz, and Almudena Sevilla

Descriptive stereotypes such as “girls are not good at mathematics” or prescriptive stereotypes, that is, fixed views about women’s societal roles, can explain the persistent gender gap in mathematics. Stereotypes lower girls’ beliefs, expectations, and incentives to put forth effort, and can constrain girls’ choices in male-dominated high-paying careers that are math-intensive and that require strong math skills. This gap slows progress toward gender equality in the labor market and hinders productivity and economic growth. Policy interventions to alleviate the negative impacts of descriptive stereotypes aim to prevent girls from internalizing socially constructed behaviors aligned with prevalent gender stereotypes regarding the innate mathematical abilities of boys and girls. Boosting girls’ confidence in their math skills includes introducing them to female role models, such as women math teachers, using gender-neutral language, and providing textbooks and other teaching materials that challenge gender stereotypes. A different set of policies focuses on altering the environment in which girls learn, rather than modifying their beliefs. By adjusting the testing methods (such as reducing the level of competition) or adapting the instructional approach to better align with the learning style of girls, it is possible to create an environment that enables more girls to achieve their maximum potential and to accurately assess their math abilities and interests, rather than simply their test-taking or classroom performance. However, interventions that aim to modify the beliefs and attitudes of girls and women ex post, as well as those that seek to alter the environment, may not work in the long term because they reinforce preexisting stereotypes and operate within the constraints of those stereotypes. For instance, while modifying the testing environment may result in higher grades for girls, it may not necessarily alter the perception that girls are incapable of excelling in math. In some cases, these interventions may even have negative consequences. Encouraging girls to “lean in” and behave like boys, for example, can lead to unequal, unjust, and inefficient outcomes because the benefits (economic returns) of doing so are lower or even negative for girls in light of existing gender stereotypes. One popular and affordable approach to combating gender stereotypes involves addressing (unconscious) biases among teachers, parents, and peers through initiatives such as unconscious bias training and self-reflection on biases. The underlying premise is that by increasing awareness of their own (unconscious) biases, individuals will engage their more conscious, non-gender-stereotypical thinking processes. However, such behavioral interventions can sometimes have unintended consequences and result in backlash, and their effectiveness may vary significantly depending on the context, so that their external validity is often called into question. The recognition of the adaptable nature of both conscious and unconscious stereotypes has led to progress in economics, with the development of social learning and information-based theories. Interventions resulting from these models can effectively counteract prescriptive stereotypes that limit girls’ education to certain fields based on societal expectations of gender roles. However, prescriptive gender stereotypes are often based on biased beliefs about the innate abilities of girls and women. Overcoming deeply ingrained descriptive stereotypes about innate abilities of boys and girls is a fruitful avenue for future economics research and can help close the gender performance gap in mathematics.

Article

Trade Liberalization and Informal Labor Markets  

Lourenço S. Paz and Jennifer P. Poole

In recent decades, economic reforms and technological advances have profoundly altered the way employers do business—for instance, the nature of employment relationships, the skills firms demand, and the goods and services they produce and export. In many developing economies, these changes took place concurrently with a substantive rise in work outside of the formal economy. According to International Labour Organization estimates, informal employment can be as high as 88% of total employment in India, almost 50% in Brazil, and around 35% of employment in South Africa. Such informal employment is typically associated with lower wages, lower productivity, poorer working conditions, weaker employment protections, and fewer job benefits and amenities, and these informal workers are often poorer and more vulnerable than their counterparts in the formalized economy. Informal jobs are a consequence of labor market policies—like severance payments or social security contributions—that make the noncompliant informal job cheaper for the employer than a compliant formal job. Each model has a different benefit (or lack of punishment) for employing formal workers, and a distinct mechanism through which international trade shocks alter the benefit-cost of these types of jobs, which in turn results in a change in the informality share. The empirical literature concerning international trade and formality largely points to an unambiguous increase in informal employment in the aftermath of increased import competition. Interestingly, increased access to foreign markets, via liberalization of major trading partners, offers strongly positive implications for formal employment opportunities, decreasing informality. Such effects are moderated by the de facto enforcement of labor regulations. Expansions toward the formal economy and away from informal wage employment in the aftermath of increased access to foreign markets are smaller in strictly enforced areas of the country.