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The Effects of Parental Job Loss on Children’s Outcomes  

Jenifer Ruiz-Valenzuela

Severe economic downturns are typically characterized by a high incidence of job losses. The available evidence suggests that job losers suffer short-run earning losses that persist in the long run, are more likely to remain unemployed, suffer negative health impacts, and experience an increased likelihood of divorce. Job losses have therefore the potential to generate spillover effects for other members of the household, including children. This comes about because most of the negative consequences of job loss have a direct effect on variables that enter both the production function of cognitive achievement and the health production function. Workers who lose their jobs are likely different from those who remain employed in ways that are unobserved to the researcher and that might, in turn, affect child outcomes. Omitted variable bias poses a challenge to obtaining causal estimates of parental job loss. The way the literature has tried to approximate the ideal experiment has mainly depended on whether the child outcome under analysis could be observed both before and after the shock (i.e., both before and after parental job loss), normally relying on job losses coming from plant closures or downsizes and/or individual fixed effects. A survey of the literature shows that father’s job losses seem to have a detrimental impact on outcomes measuring children’s health and school performance. The impact of mother’s job losses on these same outcomes is mixed (including negative, null, and positive impacts). The impact on more long-term outcomes is less clear, with very mixed findings when it comes to the effect of parental job loss on college enrollment, and small impacts on earnings. In many studies, though, average effects mask important differences across subgroups: the negative impact of parental job loss seems to be mostly concentrated on disadvantaged households.