The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic led to school closures around the world, affecting almost 1.6 billion students. This caused significant disruption to the global education system. Even short interruptions in a child’s schooling have significant negative effects on their learning and can be long lasting. The capacities of education systems to respond to the crisis by delivering remote learning and support to children and families have been diverse and uneven. In response to this disruption, education researchers are beginning to analyze the impact of these school closures on student learning loss. The term learning loss is commonly used in the literature to describe declines in student knowledge and skills. Early reviews of the first wave of lockdowns and school closures suggested significant learning loss in a few countries. A more recent and thorough analysis of recorded learning loss evidence documented since the beginning of the school closures between March 2020 and March 2022 found even more evidence of learning loss. In 36 identified robust studies, the majority identified learning losses that amount to, on average, 0.17 of a standard deviation (SD), equivalent to roughly a one-half school year’s worth of learning. This confirms that learning loss is real and significant and has continued to grow after the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most studies observed increases in inequality where certain demographics of students experienced more significant learning losses than others. The longer the schools remained closed, the greater were the learning losses. For the 19 countries for which there are robust learning loss data, average school closures were 15 weeks, leading to average learning losses of 0.18 SD. Put another way, for every week that schools were closed, learning declined by an average of 0.01 SD. However, there are also outliers—countries that managed to limit the amount of loss. In Nara City, Japan, for example, the initial closures had brought down test scores, but responsive policies largely overcame this decline. In addition, a decreased summer vacation helped. In Denmark, children received good home support and their reading behavior improved significantly. In Sweden, where primary schools did not close during the pandemic, there were no reported learning losses. Further work is needed to increase the quantity of studies produced, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, and to ascertain the reasons for learning loss. Finally, the few cases where learning loss was mitigated should be further investigated to inform continued and future pandemic responses.
An Analysis of COVID-19 Student Learning Loss
Harry Patrinos, Emiliana Vegas, and Rohan Carter-Rau
The 1918–1919 Influenza Pandemic in Economic History
Martin Karlsson, Daniel Kühnle, and Nikolaos Prodromidis
Due to the similarities with the COVID–19 pandemic, there has been a renewed interest in the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic, which represents the most severe pandemic of the 20th century with an estimated total death toll ranging between 30 and 100 million. This rapidly growing literature in economics and economic history has devoted attention to contextual determinants of excess mortality in the pandemic; to the impact of the pandemic on economic growth, inequality, and a range of other outcomes; and to the impact of nonpharmaceutical interventions. Estimating the effects of the pandemic, or the effects of countermeasures, is challenging. There may not be much exogenous variation to go by, and the historical data sets available are typically small and often of questionable quality. Yet the 1918–1919 pandemic offers a unique opportunity to learn how large pandemics play out in the long run. The studies evaluating effects of the pandemic, or of policies enacted to combat it, typically rely on some version of difference-in-differences, or instrumental variables. The assumptions required for these designs to achieve identification of causal effects have rarely been systematically evaluated in this particular historical context. Using a purpose-built dataset covering the entire Swedish population, such an assessment is provided here. The empirical analysis indicates that the identifying assumptions used in previous work may indeed be satisfied. However, the results cast some doubt on the general external validity of previous findings as the analysis fails to replicate several results in the Swedish context. These disagreements highlight the need for additional studies in other populations and contexts which puts the spotlight on further digitization and linkage of historical datasets.
Business Cycles and Apprenticeships
Samuel Muehlemann and Stefan Wolter
The economic reasons why firms engage in apprenticeship training are twofold. First, apprenticeship training is a potentially cost-effective strategy for filling a firm’s future vacancies, particularly if skilled labor on the external labor market is scarce. Second, apprentices can be cost-effective substitutes for other types of labor in the current production process. As current and expected business and labor market conditions determine a firm’s expected work volume and thus its future demand for skilled labor, they are potentially important drivers of a firm’s training decisions. Empirical studies have found that the business cycle affects apprenticeship markets. However, while the economic magnitude of these effects is moderate on average, there is substantial heterogeneity across countries, even among those that at first sight seem very similar in terms of their apprenticeship systems. Moreover, identification of business cycle effects is a difficult task. First, statistics on apprenticeship markets are often less developed than labor market statistics, making empirical analyses of demand and supply impossible in many cases. In particular, data about unfilled apprenticeship vacancies and unsuccessful applicants are paramount for assessing potential market failures and analyzing the extent to which business cycle fluctuations may amplify imbalances in apprenticeship markets. Second, the intensity of business cycle effects on apprenticeship markets is not completely exogenous, as governments typically undertake a variety of measures, which differ across countries and may change over time, to reduce the adverse effects of economic downturns on apprenticeship markets. During the economic crisis related to the COVID-19 global pandemic, many countries took unprecedented actions to support their economies in general and reacted swiftly to introduce measures such as the provision of financial subsidies for training firms or the establishment of apprenticeship task forces. As statistics on apprenticeship markets improve over time, such heterogeneity in policy measures should be exploited to improve our understanding of the business cycle and its relationship with apprenticeships.
COVID-19 and Mental Health: Natural Experiments of the Costs of Lockdowns
Climent Quintana-Domeque and Jingya Zeng
The global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been profound, leaving a significant imprint on physical health, the economy, and mental well-being. Researchers have undertaken empirical investigations across different countries, with a primary focus on understanding the association between lockdown measures—an essential public health intervention—and mental health. These studies aim to discern the causal effect of lockdowns on mental well-being. Three notable studies have adopted natural experiments to explore the causal effect of lockdowns on mental health in diverse countries. Despite variations in their research methodologies, these studies collectively support the conclusion that lockdowns have had detrimental consequences on mental health. Furthermore, they reveal that the intensity of these negative effects varies among distinct population groups. Certain segments of the population, such as women, have borne a more profound burden of the mental health costs associated with lockdown measures. In light of these findings, it becomes imperative to consider the implications for mental health when implementing public health interventions, especially during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. While rigorous measures like lockdowns are essential for safeguarding public health, striking a balance with robust mental health support policies becomes crucial to mitigating the adverse impacts on mental well-being.
Central Bank Monetary Policy and Consumer Credit Markets
Xudong An, Larry Cordell, Raluca A. Roman, and Calvin Zhang
Central banks around the world use monetary policy tools to promote economic growth and stability; for example, in the United States, the Federal Reserve (Fed) uses federal funds rate adjustments, quantitative easing (QE) or tightening, forward guidance, and other tools “to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.” Changes in monetary policy affect both businesses and consumers. For consumers, changes in monetary policy affect bank credit supply, refinancing activity, and home purchases, which in turn affect household consumption and thus economic growth and price stability. The U.S. Fed rate cuts and QE programs during COVID-19 led to historically low interest rates, which spurred a huge wave of refinancings. However, the pass-through of rate savings in the mortgage market declined during the pandemic. The weaker pass-through can be linked to the extraordinary growth of shadow bank mortgage lenders during the COVID-19 pandemic: Shadow bank mortgage lenders charged mortgage borrowers higher rates and fees; therefore, a higher market share of them means a smaller overall pass-through of rate savings to mortgage borrowers. It is important to note that these shadow banks did provide convenience to consumers, and they originated loans faster than banks. The convenience and speed could be valuable to borrowers and important in transmitting monetary policy in a timelier way, especially during a crisis.