Lifecycle Working Group

The Lifecycle Working Group, organized by James Heckman, Steven Durlauf, Jin Zhou and Evan Taylor, invites faculty, researchers and graduate students to present work that applies the comprehensive lifecycle approach to the study of human flourishing. The workshop takes place on Tuesdays at 5:15PM and is located at 5750 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Conference Room 180. This interdisciplinary workshop is open to the campus research community.

This workshop is sponsored by the The Research Network On The Determinants Of Life Course Capabilities And Outcomes.

Working Group Schedule 2018-2019

March 19, 2019

Separating Skills from Effort in the Identification of Factor Models and Implications for the Gender Gap

Jake Torcasso, The University of Chicago

Abstract: We apply new results in the identification of factor models to separate the effects of effort and skills in measures of task performance. We provide two empirical applications. First, we utilize detailed data on test scores, grades and self-reports of personality from Project Talent, a national longitudinal survey representative of the U.S. high school population in 1960. For our second example, we use the computer-based test of the 2015 PISA study. In both cases, we compare estimates of skill gaps among demographic groups before and after adjusting for effort.



March 12, 2019

Grandparents, Moms, or Dads? Why Children of Teen Mothers Do Worse in Life

Kjell Salvanes, NHH Norwegian School of Economics

Abstract: Women who give birth as teens have worse subsequent educational and labor market outcomes than women who have first births at older ages. However, previous research has attributed much of these effects to selection rather than a causal effect of teen childbearing. Despite this, there are still reasons to believe that children of teen mothers may do worse as their mothers may be less mature, have fewer financial resources when the child is young, and may partner with fathers of lower quality. Using Norwegian register data, we compare outcomes of children of sisters who have first births at different ages. Our evidence suggests that the causal effect of being a child of a teen mother is much smaller than that implied by the cross-sectional differences but that there are still significant long-term, adverse consequences, especially for children born to the youngest teen mothers. Unlike previous research, we have information on fathers and find that negative selection of fathers of children born to teen mothers plays an important role in producing inferior child outcomes. These effects are particularly large for mothers from higher socio-economic groups.



March 5, 2019

Human Capital, Child Well-being, and Child Protection

Fred Wulczyn, Chapin Hall

Abstract:In this paper, we propose a framework that adds human capital and human capital formation to the list of outcomes child welfare agencies think about when their attention turns to child well-being. Human capital and human capital formation, we argue, offer a conceptual language for bringing greater focus to well-being as an inherently developmental construct. The framework also provides a useful guide to research.



Feburary 26, 2019

Childhood Investments, Ability, and Endogenous Maternal Age

Sadegh Eshaghnia, Arizona State University

Abstract: The maternal age has been increasing in the US over the past few decades, which has raised concerns about the health impacts on children. To assess the effect of a mother’s age at childbirth on the child’s skill level, I develop and estimate a life-cycle model of child development that endogenizes the timing of childbearing. When choosing the timing of childbearing, women balance the impacts of fertility decisions on their labor market outcomes with the potential negative effects of bearing children at a later age on the child’s ability. Mothers also make labor supply decisions and provide time and money as inputs into the child’s skill formation process. Although delayed childbearing negatively affects a child’s ability to acquire skills, postponing parenthood benefits children by providing them with more resources during childhood. This trade-off determines both childbearing age and the amount of investments in the child. Using the estimated model, I decompose the impacts of postponement on the child into the negative effect of reproductive aging and the positive effect of higher investments. The results indicate that a five-year (1 std) decrease in the maternal age of educated women, ceteris paribus, results in over 11% (0.5 std) increase in the child's skill level, and 15% increase in the child's future earnings, which is due to a higher ability to acquire skills. However, if one adjusts child investments according to individuals' wage profile conditional on the reduced maternal age, then the average child's skill level decreases by 1.6%. This reduction in children's skill highlights the impact of lower inputs that children of younger mothers receive from their parents. The negative effect of foregone wages may be reduced through policy approaches. My policy analysis indicates that implementing a maternity leave policy that freezes mothers' wages at the level before childbirth can reduce average maternal age at the first birth by about two years, while also increasing the average child's skill level by about 5% and future earnings by over 6%. This increase in skill stems from both the lower maternal age and the higher child investments.



Feburary 19, 2019

Prosociality: Hard to Build but Easy to Destroy

Fabian Kosse, LMU Munich & briq

Abstract: A large literature indicates the importance of prosocial behavior and beliefs for the success of groups or countries, e.g., regarding growth and tax compliance, but also for the well-being of individuals, e.g., regarding health, happiness and even income. While recent studies indicate that intensive interaction with positive role models is able to foster prosociality, little is known about aspects of the social environment which potentially diminish prosocial behavior and beliefs. Psychological and economic theories suggest that competitive environments could potentially lower prosociality. To test this hypothesis, we analyze the effects of a large scale RCT in the education context in Chile which increased the level of competition as part of an affirmative action program. We show that students in treated school are less prosocial at the end of high school. Our results show that even policies which were designed in order to support the development of children can negatively affect prosocial behavior and beliefs.

Please register for this lecture here.


Feburary 12, 2019

Relative Age and Investment in Human Capital

Pablo Pena, World Bank


February 5, 2019

Lowering Welfare Benefits: Intended and Unintended Consequences for Migrants and their Families

Rasmus Landersø, Rockwool Foundation Research Unit

Abstract: We study the effects of Denmark's Start Aid welfare reform for refugee immigrants, which reduced benefits by 50 percent for those granted residency after the reform. While leading to a sharp increase in labor earnings and employment, the reform also caused a persistent withdrawal of women from the labor force, and a large drop in average disposable income for the majority of households. A particular feature of the reform is randomization of couples into two treatments where the same overall transfer reduction on the household level is differently distributed across partners, which leads to large differences in responses. Studying the reform's unintended consequences, we show that it increases property crime among females and property and violent crime among males. Children's likelihood of being enrolled in childcare or preschool, their performance in Danish language tests, and the number of years of education obtained decrease, while teenagers' likelihood of claiming welfare and the likelihood that youths commit crime increase.



January 24, 2019

Are Economists' Preferences Psychologists' Personality Traits

Tomas Jagelka, École Polytechnique - CREST

Abstract: This paper establishes an empirical mapping between economic preferences and psychological personality traits. I use the Random Preference Model to estimate distributions of risk and time preferences complete with their individual-level stability and people’s propensity to make mistakes from unique experimental data. Using factor analysis to extract information on individuals’ ability and personality, I show that their link with preferences is much stronger than previously documented. I explain up to 50% of the variation in both average preferences and in individuals’ capacity to make consistent rational choices using four factors related to cognitive ability and three of the Big Five personality traits.



January 8, 2019

The Socio-Economic Consequences of Housing Assistance

Winnie Van Dijk, The University of Chicago

Abstract: This paper analyzes the effect of Europe’s largest public housing program on socio-economic outcomes for low-income households. Using lotteries for housing units in the Netherlands and data linking national registers to application choices, I show that the average move into public housing negatively affects labor market outcomes and proxies for neighborhood quality, and increases public assistance receipt. However, consistent with a model of labor supply responses to conditional in-kind transfers, average impacts miss substantial heterogeneity both across neighborhoods and, within neighborhood, across recipients. Moves into high-income neighborhoods generate positive effects, which are driven by ‘upward’ moves made by individuals previously living in low- or middle-income neighborhoods. Lateral and ‘downward’ moves have the opposite effect. To evaluate whether these results generalize to non-recipients, I develop a model of application behavior that utilizes panel data on application choices and exploits variation induced by the housing allocation mechanism. Using the model, I recover the distribution of heterogeneity that drives selection into and returns from lotteries, and estimate that selection on gains is limited. This suggests that targeting public housing in high-income neighborhoods based on observable characteristics can increase economic self-sufficiency.



December 11, 2018

Complementarities in High School and College Investments

Gregory F. Veramendi, Arizona State University

Abstract: The process of skill specialization starts before college, with different skills affecting students’ choice of major and later labor market returns. This paper studies the role of multi-dimensional ability and high school track choices in college preparedness and labor market outcomes. We do so by estimating a sequential choice model of education using Swedish administrative data. Individuals sort at each stage based on prior choices and three dimensions of ability: cognitive, interpersonal, and grit. We find strong absolute and differential sorting on abilities in both high school and college choices. Both abilities and high school track choices are important determinants of college enrollment, college major choice, college graduation, and labor market outcomes. The labor market returns to abilities and high school track choices vary considerably by degree and major. Not accounting for multidimensional abilities and high school choices can overstate the role of preferences and understate selection on gains and the heterogeneous returns to different abilities across different college majors. While high school track choices tend to exacerbate inequality, we show that policies encouraging students to take more challenging high school tracks can help ameliorate it.



November 27, 2018

Causality in the Time of Cholera: John Snow as a Prototype for Identification and Causal Inference

Thomas Coleman, Harris School of Public Policy

Abstract: Snow's 1855 treatise "On the mode of communication of cholera" can be viewed as a sustained effort to convince skeptics, through argument and a wide variety of evidence, of the waterborne theory of cholera that he articulated in his 1849 essay of the same name. Snow's data and analysis provide a prototype for how to convincingly demonstrate causal effects, as applicable today as in 1855. I consider two of strands of Snow's evidence - the Broad Street outbreak and the south London "Grand Experiment" - as pedagogical examples for using non-experimental data as evidence in support of a causal effect. In doing so I discuss extensions to Snow's south London analysis using modern techniques and tools: difference-in-differences regression and quasi-randomized treatment designs. These provide clear and compelling examples of the modern techniques and tools, while confirming and strengthening Snow's original conclusion on the causal effect of water supply on cholera mortality.



November 20, 2018

Breaking the Links: Natural Resource Booms and Intergenerational Mobility

Kjell Salvanes, Norwegian School of Economics

Abstract: Do large economic shocks increase intergenerational earnings mobility through creating new economic opportunities? Alternatively, do they reduce mobility by reinforcing the links between generations? In this paper, we estimate how the Norwegian oil boom starting in the 1970s affected intergenerational mobility. We find that this resource shock increased intergenerational mobility for cohorts entering the labor market at the beginning of the oil boom in those labor markets most affected by the growing oil industry. In particular, we show that individuals born to poor families in oil-affected regions were more likely to move to the top of their cohort's earnings distribution. Importantly, we reveal that preexisting local differences in intergenerational mobility did not drive these findings. Instead, we show that changes in the returns to education offer the best explanation for geographic differences in intergenerational mobility following the oil boom. In addition, we find that intergenerational mobility was significantly higher in oil-affected labor markets across three generations and that the oil boom broke the earnings link between grandfathers and their grandsons.



November 6, 2018

Social Capital and the Local Structure of Human Mobility in Chicago

James Saxon, Harris School of Public Policy

Abstract: A vast literature establishes the importance of social capital to neighborhoods. Jane Jacobs famously argued that this capital is maintained through “cross-use of space,” and James Coleman formalized it as the “closure” of human interactions. Many of these interactions require human mobility, so neighborhoods with higher social capital should be distinguishable by more cohesive mobility networks. To test this hypothesis, I observe the mobility of Chicago residents through a large dataset of smartphone users. I construct a neighborhood-level mobility network for the city and characterize neighborhoods according to their local graph structure. Neighborhoods that are well integrated with their surroundings have higher income and educational attainment. Consistent with social capital theory and routine activity theory in criminology, higher local network integration independently predicts lower rates of violent and property crime. Outliers with higher integration than their neighbors are comprehensible through their social, economic, institutional, and historical context. The methodologies presented provide a new, meaningful, replicable, and inexpensive approach to the structural measurement of neighborhood social capital.



October 30, 2018

Parental Rearing Practices, Cultural Transmission, and Cognitive Development

Avner Seror, Chapman University

Abstract: This paper presents a theory of child development and parental rearing practices. In the model, a benevolent parent seeks to transmit cultural norms to her child, who acquires cognitive skills and develops a capital of appreciation for adopting behaviors that accord with these norms. Our cultural perspective on the issue of cognitive development provides an interpretation grid for various results established in the empirical literature. It also permits to identify the parental characteristics that are conducive to various parenting styles, to child neglect and to child maltreatment.



October 23, 2018

Gender Development and the Brain

Lise Eliot, The Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science

Abstract: Dr. Eliot’s research is centered on brain and gender development, especially the role of neuroplasticity in shaping neural circuitry and behavior. She received an A.B. degree in History & Science from Harvard University, a Ph.D. in Cellular Physiology & Biophysics from Columbia University, and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Division of Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine. Her studies range from cellular neurophysiology to meta-analyses of brain sex difference and include two highly-praised trade books, What's Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, and Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps. Through both empirical and scholarly research, Dr. Eliot analyzes the interplay between innate biology, sociocultural factors, and individual experience in molding our brains and behavior across the lifespan.



October 16, 2018

Understanding Peer Effects in Educational Decisions: Evidence from Theory and a Field Experience

Karen Ye, The University of Chicago

Abstract:While a large literature documents the presence of peer effects in teenage decision-making, researchers know very little about the underlying mechanisms. In this paper, I focus on the decision to participate in an educational program for high school students. I use a field experiment conducted in three Chicago high schools to disentangle two peer effect channels: social learning (where a peer’s decision is informative about the value of a program) and social utility (where a peer’s participation directly affects the value of a program). I measure students’ sign-up rates for an educational program when I randomize (a) whether a student sees a peer’s decision, and (b) which type of peer’s decision they see. I find large peer effects in the participation decision that are entirely driven by seeing a peer choose not to participate – seeing a peer choose “No” decreases the sign-up rate by 26.9 percentage points. The peer effects are driven by social utility, and seeing a peer choose “No” informs students about the social norms of participation. In this context, smart students’ decisions are especially influential. Finally, while students want to conform to the social norm, I find that they have very biased beliefs about (they drastically underestimate) their peers’ participation.



October 12, 2018

Early Childhood Development in Low Income Settings

Alexandra Brentani, University of Sao Paulo

Abstract: The present study aims to analyze the psychometric properties and general validity of the Caregiver Reported Early Development Instruments (CREDI) short form for the population-level assessment of early childhood development for Brazilian children under age 3. The study analyzed the acceptability, test-retest reliability, internal consistency and discriminant validity of the CREDI short-form tool. The study also analyzed the concurrent validity of the CREDI with a direct observational measure (Inter-American Development Bank's Regional Project on Child Development Indicators; PRIDI). The full sample includes 1,265 Brazilian caregivers of children from 0 to 35 months (678 of which comprising an in-person sample and 587 an online sample). Results from qualitative interviews suggest overall high rates of acceptability. Most of the items showed adequate test-retest reliability, with an average agreement of 84%. Cronbach's alpha suggested adequate internal consistency/inter-item reliability (α > 0.80) for the CREDI within each of the six age groups (0–5, 6–11, 12–17, 18–23, 24–29 and 30–35 months of age). Multivariate analyses of construct validity showed that a significant proportion of the variance in CREDI scores could be explained by child gender and family characteristics, most importantly caregiver-reported cognitive stimulation in the home (p < 0.0001). Regarding concurrent validity, scores on the CREDI were significantly correlated with overall PRIDI scores within the in-person sample at r = 0.46 (p < 0.001). The results suggested that the CREDI short form is a valid, reliable, and acceptable measure of early childhood development for children under the age of 3 years in Brazil.



October 9, 2018

Multi-Generational Approaches to the Study of Social Mobility

Xi Song, The University of Chicago


October 2, 2018

Economics of Parent-Child Interactions and Child Development

Jun Hyung Kim, The University of Chicago

Abstract: Parent-child interactions are determined endogenously by child behavior, making identification of causal effects challenging. We overcome this endogeneity by analyzing a randomized, universal parent-training intervention on parents of preschool children. Evaluation of adolescent outcomes 10 years after the program suggests improvements to externalizing behaviors and wellbeing of children in the intervention group, mediated by changes to parenting during early childhood. These outcomes are not explained adequately by extant models of parent-child interactions, and so we explore alternative explanations. We show that benefits of early childhood interventions extend beyond low-socioeconomic households.



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