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Article

The Academic Effects of United States Child Food Assistance Programs—At Home, School, and In-Between  

Michael D. Kurtz, Karen Smith Conway, and Robert D. Mohr

The primary goals of food assistance programs are to alleviate child hunger and reduce food insecurity; if successful, such programs may have the added benefit of improving child academic outcomes (e.g., test scores, attendance, behavioral outcomes). Some U.S. government programs serve children in the home, such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), others serve them at school, such as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP), and still others fall in-between, such as the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Most empirical research seeking to identify the causal effect of such programs on child academic outcomes addresses the endogeneity of program participation with a reduced form, intent-to-treat approach. Specifically, such studies estimate the effect of a program’s availability, timing, or other specific feature on the academic outcomes of all potentially affected children. While findings of individual studies and interventions are mixed, some general conclusions emerge. First, increasing the availability of these programs typically has beneficial effects on relatively contemporaneous academic and behavioral outcomes. The magnitudes are modest but still likely pass cost-benefit criteria, even ignoring the fact that the primary objective of such programs is alleviating hunger, not improving academic outcomes. Less is known about the dynamics of the effects, for example, whether such effects are temporary boosts that dissipate or instead accumulate and grow over time. Likewise, the effects of recent innovations to these programs, such as breakfast in the classroom or increases in SNAP benefits to compensate for reduced time in school during the pandemic, yield less clear conclusions (the former) and/or have not been studied (the latter). Finally, many smaller programs that likely target the neediest children remain under- or un-examined. Unstudied government-provided programs include SFSP and CACFP. There are also a growing number of understudied programs provided primarily by charitable organizations. Emerging evidence suggests that one such program, Weekend Feeding or “Backpack” programs, confers substantial benefits. There, too, more work needs to be done, both to confirm these early findings and to explore recent innovations such as providing food pantries or “Kids’ Cafés” on school grounds. Especially in light of the uncertain fate of many pandemic-related program expansions and innovations, current empirical evidence establishes that the additional, beneficial spillover effects to academic outcomes—beyond the primary objective of alleviating food insecurity—deserve to be considered as well.

Article

Creative Destruction, Technology Disruption, and Growth  

Thomas Clarke

The origins of modern technological change provide the context necessary to understand present-day technological transformation, to investigate the impact of the new digital technologies, and to examine the phenomenon of digital disruption of established industries and occupations. How these contemporary technologies will transform industries and institutions, or serve to create new industries and institutions, will unfold in time. The implications of the relationships between these pervasive new forms of digital transformation and the accompanying new business models, business strategies, innovation, and capabilities are being worked through at global, national, corporate, and local levels. Whatever the technological future holds it will be defined by continual adaptation, perpetual innovation, and the search for new potential. Presently, the world is experiencing the impact of waves of innovation created by the rapid advance of digital networks, software, and information and communication technology systems that have transformed workplaces, cities, and whole economies. These digital technologies are converging and coalescing into intelligent technology systems that facilitate and structure our lives. Through creative destruction, digital technologies fundamentally challenge existing routines, capabilities, and structures by which organizations presently operate, adapt, and innovate. In turn, digital technologies stimulate a higher rate of both technological and business model innovation, moving from producer innovation toward more user-collaborative and open-collaborative innovation. However, as dominant global platform technologies emerge, some impending dilemmas associated with the concentration and monopolization of digital markets become salient. The extent of the contribution made by digital transformation to economic growth and environmental sustainability requires a critical appraisal.

Article

The Early Origins of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States: An Analysis of the Growth of the NAACP  

Daniel Aaronson, Jala Abner, Mark Borgschulte, and Bhashkar Mazumder

A newly digitized panel of county-level branch activity of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is used to describe the potential factors underlying the expansion of political participation in the American South, with a particular emphasis on the short period from the late 1930s through the 1940s. This period has long been recognized for its significant progress in reducing sizable racial gaps in labor market outcomes. But little work in economics has considered the role of political participation in shaping that progress. As the preeminent civil rights organization prior to the 1950s, the NAACP provides a natural lens in which to explore the expansion in political activism during this crucial period. Associative evidence suggests that a few potential channels could be especially worthy of future study, including the role of demographics, increased human capital, expansion in labor demand driven by wartime efforts, reduction in racial violence, latent political activism, and expansions in political and social networks, all of which have been highlighted in a variety of history and social science literatures. However, careful causal empirical work does not currently exist on these factors. Filling in this hole is important for providing compelling evidence on the origins of the 20th century’s most important U.S. political movement, as well as adding to a growing literature in political economy and development economics which examines the role that grassroots activism has played on economic growth and income inequality around the world.

Article

The Economic Effect of Vocational Education on Student Outcomes  

Shaun M. Dougherty and Walter G. Ecton

As long as formal education has existed, there has been a clear connection between education and preparation for employment. In much of the world, formal educational systems have come to include vocational education and training (VET) as part of secondary education. In these spaces, individuals can receive continued training in general skills related to reading, writing, and mathematics while also pursuing specific skills in prescribed vocational or technical programs (e.g., skilled trades, culinary arts, information technology, health services). Across all countries and associated educational systems, a tension exists between whether to invest educational dollars in general versus specific skill development. On the one hand, general skills allow for transferability and likely support adaptability across workplace settings and in response to changes in employment conditions. On the other hand, secondary school completion is not universal, even in rich countries, and there are often large penalties or social costs to not completing secondary education. Furthermore, across countries of varying GDP levels, the question about how to best prepare individuals for entry into and success in the workforce is a persistent one. Evidence suggests that the payoff to investments in VET vary considerably, and that context and the characteristics of participants likely inform the expected returns to such investments. For instance, there is strong evidence across contexts that male participants in VET are likely to benefit in the short- to medium-term with respect to employment and earnings, and possibly also engage in less crime. Unresolved, however, is whether these payoffs persist in the longer term. In contrast, for women the estimated returns appear to be more context dependent. Some research shows reduced fertility and greater financial independence of women participating in VET programs in less-developed countries, but evidence is mixed in other settings. All evidence underscores that the payoff to VET is likely tied to the extent to which it adapts to contemporary economic needs, including extending the amount of total formal education that participants might otherwise receive.

Article

Economic Theory of Criminal Law  

Keith N. Hylton

Criminal law consists of substantive and procedural parts. Substantive law is the set of rules defining conduct that violates the law. Procedural criminal law is the set of rules regulating the process of punishment. Substantive rules apply mostly to individual actors, and procedural rules apply to public enforcement agencies and adjudicators. Economic theory of criminal law consists of normative and positive parts. Normative economic theory, which began with writings by Beccaria and Bentham, aims to recommend an ideal criminal punishment scheme. Positive economic theory, which appeared later in writings by Holmes and Posner, aims to justify and to better understand the criminal law rules that exist. Since the purpose of criminal law is to deter socially undesirable conduct, economic theory, which emphasizes incentives, would appear to be an important perspective from which to examine criminal law. Positive economic theory, applied to substantive criminal law, seeks to explain and to justify criminal law doctrine in economic terms—that is, in terms that emphasize the incentive effects created by the law. The positive economic theory of criminal law literature can be divided into three phases: Classical deterrence theory, neoclassical deterrence, and modern synthesis. The modern synthesis provides a rationale for fundamental criminal law doctrines and also more puzzling portions of the law such as the doctrines of intent and necessity. Positive economic theory also provides a rationale for the allocation of enforcement responsibilities.

Article

The Effect of Immigration on Education  

Giorgio Brunello

Does a higher share of immigrants affect the school performance of both immigrants and natives? Do desegregation policies improve efficiency? The existing evidence suggests that a higher share of immigrants has a negative (and often sizable) effect on the school performance of immigrants and a negative but probably small effect on the performance of natives. When average school performance is considered, this asymmetry generates concave peer effects, a key condition for the efficiency of desegregating policies. The broad message from the empirical literature is that these policies are not only equitable, in that they provide better opportunities to individuals with relatively low parental background, but also efficient.

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

Maternity Leave and Paternity Leave: Evidence on the Economic Impact of Legislative Changes in High-Income Countries  

Serena Canaan, Anne Sophie Lassen, Philip Rosenbaum, and Herdis Steingrimsdottir

Labor market policies for expecting and new mothers emerged at the turn of the 19th century. The main motivation for these policies was to ensure the health of mothers and their newborn children. With increased female labor market participation, the focus has gradually shifted to the effects that parental leave policies have on women’s labor market outcomes and gender equality. Proponents of extending parental leave rights for mothers in terms of duration, benefits, and job protection have argued that this will support mothers’ labor market attachment and allow them to take time off from work after childbirth and then safely return to their pre-birth jobs. Others have noted that extended maternity leave can work as a double-edged sword for mothers: If young women are likely to spend months, or even years, on leave, employers are likely to take that into consideration when hiring and promoting their employees. These policies may therefore end up adversely affecting women’s labor market outcomes. This has led to an increased focus on activating fathers to take parental leave, and in 2019, the European Parliament approved a directive requiring member states to ensure at least 2 months of earmarked paternity leave. The literature on parental leave has proliferated during the past two decades. The increased number of studies on the topic has brought forth some consistent findings. First, the introduction of short maternity leave is beneficial for both maternal and child health and for mothers’ labor market outcomes. Second, there appear to be negligible benefits from a leave extending beyond 6 months in terms of health outcomes and children’s long-term outcomes. Furthermore, longer leaves have little, or even adverse, influence on mothers’ labor market outcomes. However, evidence suggests that there may be underlying heterogeneous effects from extended leave among different socioeconomic groups. The literature on the effect of earmarked paternity leave indicates that these policies are effective in increasing fathers’ leave-taking and involvement in child care. However, the evidence on the influence of paternity leave on gender equality in the labor market remains scarce and is somewhat mixed. Finally, recent studies that focus on the effect of parental leave policies for firms find that in general, firms are able to compensate for lost labor when their employees go on leave. However, if firms face constraints when replacing employees, it could negatively influence their performance.

Article

Mismatch in Higher Education  

Gill Wyness

The first studies of higher education mismatch were motivated by a desire to understand the consequences of affirmative action policies, which lowered academic admission requirements for underrepresented students (typically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups). This is the so-called “mismatch hypothesis,” which suggests that affirmative action may actually be harmful because it enables students to attend colleges they are academically underprepared for (“mismatched” to) while squeezing out students who would otherwise have enrolled and succeeded. At its heart, the study of mismatch is motivated by the proposed existence of complementarities between students and courses—the assumption that the highest-achieving students would get the most benefit from attending the highest-quality schools, and vice versa. Both undermatch—where high-attaining students attend low-quality universities—and overmatch—where low-attaining students attend high-quality universities—have been studied. Only a very small number of studies have been able to causally examine the impact of mismatch. A major challenge is that unobserved factors that influence individuals’ decisions to attend a particular college (and for the college to accept them) are likely to affect their likelihood of completion and their probability of doing well in the labor market. Several recent studies have made progress in this area, but the evidence on the impact of mismatch still shows mixed results, suggesting that more research is needed, for example, in studying different policy shocks (e.g., natural experiments such as the use of affirmative action bans, which create exogenous variation in mismatch) for students at different margins. There is also a need to expand the study of mismatch beyond the United Kingdom and the United States, which has been the main focus of studies so far, and also beyond higher education into other contexts such as further education colleges.

Article

Race, Ethnicity, and Retirement Security in the United States  

Dania V. Francis and Christian E. Weller

U.S. workers need to save substantial amounts to supplement Social Security, a near-universal but basic public retirement benefit. Yet wealth inequality is widespread by race and ethnicity, so that households of color often have less wealth than White households. This wealth inequality is reflected in a massive retirement savings gap by race and ethnicity, so that households of color often have less wealth than White households. In 2016 Black households had a median retirement savings account balance of $23,000, compared to $67,000 for White households. Many people of color will face substantial and potentially harmful cuts to their retirement spending. They may, for example, find it more difficult to pay for housing or healthcare. This retirement gap is the result of several factors. Households of color, especially Black and Latino households, are less likely to receive large financial gifts and inheritances from their families. They have less wealth decades and often centuries of discrimination and exploitation in society. They thus have to save more for retirement on their own. Yet Black, Latino, and many Asian American workers face greater obstacles in saving for retirement than is the case for White workers. These obstacles are especially pronounced in retirement savings accounts. People of color have less access to these retirement benefits through their employers, contribute less due to greater concurrent economic risks, and build less wealth over time due to less stable earnings and more career disruptions. As a result, people of color often use home equity as a form of retirement savings, but they also face more financial risks associated with homeownership. In addition, many people of color face higher costs during retirement, especially higher healthcare costs and more widespread caregiving and financial responsibilities for family members. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many of the obstacles and risks associated with retirement saving for people of color, who experienced sharper increases in unemployment and more widespread healthcare challenges due to greater exposure to the virus. Many Black, Latino, and Asian families had to rely more heavily on their own savings during the pandemic than was the case for White households. A range of public policies have been proposed or implemented, especially at the state level, to address some of the obstacles that people of color face in saving for retirement. Retirement researchers will need to investigate whether and how the pandemic has affected racial differences in retirement security as well as analyze how new policy efforts could shrink the racial differences in retirement wealth.

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.