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Parents and communities
Recent expansions of child tax, food assistance and health insurance programs have made American families’ need for a robust social safety net highly evident, while researchers and policymakers continue to debate the best way to support families via the welfare state. How much do children – and which children – benefit from social spending? Using the State-by-State Spending on Kids Dataset, linked to National Vital Statistics System birth data from 1998-2017, we examine how state-level child spending affects infant health across maternal education groups. We find that social spending has benefits for both low birth weight and preterm birth rates, especially among babies born to mothers with less than a high school education. The stronger benefits of social spending among lower-educated families lead to meaningful declines in educational gaps in infant health as social spending increases. Finally, mediation analyses suggest that social spending benefits infant health through mothers’ increased access to prenatal services, as well as improvements in health behaviors. Our findings are consistent with the idea that a strong local welfare state benefits child health and increases equality of opportunity, and that spending on non-health programs is equally beneficial for child health as investments in health programs.
Families and governments are the primary sources of investment in children, proving access to basic resources and other developmental opportunities. Recent research identifies significant class gaps in parental investments that contribute to high levels of inequality by family income and education and, potentially, to inequality in children’s development. State-level public investments in children and families have the potential to reduce class inequality in children’s developmental environments by affecting parents’ behavior. Using newly assembled administrative data from 1998-2014, linked to household-level data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, we examine how public sector investment in income support, health and education is associated with the private expenditures of low and high-SES parents on developmental items for children. Are class gaps in parental investments in children narrower in contexts of higher public investment for children and families? We find that more generous public spending for children and families is associated with significantly narrower class gaps in private parental investments. Moreover, we find that equalization is driven by bottom up increases in low-SES household spending for the progressive investments of income support and health, and by top down decreases in high-SES household spending for the universal investment of public education.
Policy debate on refugee resettlement focuses on perceived adverse effects on local communities, with sparse credible evidence to ascertain its impact. This paper examines whether attending school with refugees affects the academic outcomes of non-refugee students. Leveraging variation in the share of refugees within schools and across grades, I find that increasing the share of grade-level refugees by 1 pp results in a 0.01 sd increase in average math scores. While I find no effect on average English Language Arts scores, using nonlinear-in-means specifications I estimate negative spillovers in ELA performance among low-achieving students and positive spillovers among high-achieving students.
We examine the effects of disseminating academic performance data—either status, growth, or both—on parents’ school choices and their implications for racial, ethnic, and economic segregation. We conduct an online survey experiment featuring a nationally representative sample of parents and caretakers of children age 0-12. Participants choose between three randomly sampled elementary schools drawn from the same school district. Only growth information—alone and not in concert with status information—has clear and consistent desegregating consequences. Because states that include growth in their school accountability systems have generally done so as a supplement to and not a replacement for status, there is little reason to expect that this development will influence choice behavior in a manner that meaningfully reduces school segregation.
Can families in low-income contexts “pull themselves up by their bootstraps?” In rural Gambia, caregivers with high aspirations for their children, measured before the child starts school, invest substantially more in their children’s education. Despite this, essentially no children are literate or numerate three years later. In contrast, a bundled supply-side intervention administered in these same areas generated large literacy and numeracy gains. Crucially, conditional on receipt of this intervention, high-aspirations children are 25 percent more likely to attain literacy/numeracy than low-aspirations children. We also show how the test score SD metric can mislead when counterfactual learning levels are low.
In the United States, people with more education vote more. But, we know little about why education increases political participation or whether higher-quality education increases civic participation. We study applicants to Boston charter schools, using school lotteries to estimate charter attendance impacts for academic and voting outcomes. First, we confirm large academic gains for students in the sample of charter schools and cohorts investigated here. Second, we find that charter attendance boosts voter participation. Voting in the first presidential election after a student turns 18 increased substantially, by six percentage points from a base of 35 percent. The voting effect is driven entirely by girls and there is no increase in voter registration. Rich data and the differential effects by gender enable exploration of multiple potential channels for the voting impact. We find evidence consistent with two mechanisms: charter schools increase voting by increasing students’ noncognitive skills and by politicizing families who participate in charter school education.
We study sibling spillover effects on the school performance of the elder sibling from the younger sibling using data on multi-children households in rural China. We use the variation in the younger sibling’s schooling status to parse out the spillover effects and exploit the arbitrary school enrollment eligibility cutoff dates imposed by the Chinese Law of Compulsory Education as exogenous variation in the timing of school enrollment. We find a significant increase in school test scores of elder siblings when their younger siblings begin school. The strongest spillover effects occur when the younger sibling is a girl. Such increases in test scores come from a more intense academic atmosphere within a household when both children enroll in school and are not attributed to differential parental education investments or attitudes. Our findings suggest that policies promoting girls’ education, pre-elementary school age education programs, and after school public resources can have multiplier effects through sibling spillovers.
Many educational interventions encourage parents to engage in their child’s education as if parental time and attention is limitless. Sadly, though, it is not. Successfully encouraging certain parental investments may crowd out other productive behaviors. A randomized field experiment (N = 2,212) assessed the impact of an intervention in which parents of middle and high school students received multiple text messages per week encouraging them to ask their children specific questions tied to their science curriculum. The intervention increased parent-child at-home conversations about science but did not detectably impact science test scores. At the same time, the intervention decreased parent engagement in other, potentially productive, behaviors, such as turning off the television or monitoring their child’s studying. These findings illustrate that parent engagement interventions are not costless: there are opportunity costs to shifting parental effort.
During the 2020-21 school year, families' access to--and desire to participate in--in-person schooling was highly stratified along racial and income lines. Research to date suggests that "school hesitancy" was driven by concerns about "fit" and safety, as well as simple access to in-person opportunities. In the context of a nationally-representative survey study, we tested the impact of targeted messaging on parents' reported willingness to send their children back for in-person learning in the 2021-22 school year. Our results suggest that specific messages focused on either fit or safety issues outperform generic messages--they substantially increase the reported likelihood for previously-unsure parents to send their children back for in-person learning (while having no effect on parents who already reported they would or would not send their children back). The results have direct implications for education agencies seeking to address school hesitancy as the pandemic continues.
We study the effects of informal social interactions on academic achievement and behavior using idiosyncratic variation in peer groups stemming from changes in bus routes across elementary, middle, and high school. In early grades, a one standard-deviation change in the value-added of same-grade bus peers corresponds to a 0.01 SD change in academic performance and a 0.03 SD change in behavior; by high school, these magnitudes grow to 0.04 SD and 0.06 SD. These findings suggest that student interactions outside the classroom—especially in adolescence—may be an important factor in the education production function.