Working papers

Socioeconomic Status Shapes Parental Beliefs about Child Academic Achievement: Evidence from India, the USA, Kenya, and Ghana (Job Market Paper)

Abstract: Parental beliefs about child academic achievement guide educational investment decisions and shape eventual outcomes. Less well known is whether such beliefs differ by socioeconomic status, or whether socioeconomic status causally shapes beliefs. To make progress on these questions, this study combines datasets from India, the USA, Kenya, and Ghana, each featuring three core elements: (i) parental beliefs about child academic achievement, (ii) measures of actual child performance, and (iii) measures of socioeconomic status. A core finding of the study documents that socioeconomically advantaged parents are more likely to believe their child is above average, while socioeconomically disadvantaged parents are more likely to believe their child is below average, a pattern common across countries. Critically, this pattern persists after accounting for performance, revealing that disparities in beliefs outpace any disparities in performance along socioeconomic lines. Further, evidence from India and Kenya suggests these empirical patterns reflect what is partly a causal relationship, where socioeconomic circumstances fundamentally shape parental beliefs. Beliefs respond negatively to adverse rainfall shocks (that reduce farm income) in India, and positively to a randomized intervention (that improves economic circumstances) in Kenya. Finally, this study documents disparities in math- and reading-specific beliefs by child gender in the USA. Disparities in parental beliefs along socioeconomic lines could contribute to perpetuating inequalities, if such beliefs contribute to disparities in investments.

Other: Ideas for India article

Complementarities in Human Capital Production: Causal Evidence on Intergenerational Impacts in Kenya (with Lia Fernald, Joan Hamory, Patricia Kariger, Edward Miguel, Eric Ochieng, and Michael Walker)

Abstract: There is limited experimental evidence on the intergenerational transmission of human capital, and little understanding of how parent human capital and the local schooling environment interact in child cognitive and non-cognitive human capital production.This study exploits experimental variation in parent human capital (through earlier school-based deworming) together with a large shock to schooling availability (through extended Covid-related closures) to estimate intergenerational impacts and assess the degree of complementarity between home- and school-based investments. The study first documents improvements in psychological well-being in a sample of over 4,000 Kenyans who received additional exposure to a human capital investment in childhood (in addition to an extensive set of gains in material well-being documented in previous research). Sizeable cognitive gains are estimated among a sample of 3,500 of the adult sample’s 3-8 year old children, with effects concentrated among older (schoolage) children. These effects average +0.27 standard deviation units on academic test scores and are only evident during the pre-Covid period. Following extended school closures, average cognitive performance declines for school-age children, and there are no longer gains among children of parents who received the human capital investment. There are meaningful gains of +0.2 standard deviation units along non-cognitive dimensions among the older children (including fewer emotional problems and greater prosociality), and suggestive evidence of health gains among both older and younger (preschool age) children throughout. These patterns, together with the absence of treatment effects on cognitive performance among children too young to attend school, are consistent with the existence of meaningful complementarity between parent human capital and school-based investments in producing child cognitive human capital, while non-cognitive and health gains appear less sensitive to child school attendance.

Preparing for an Aging Africa: Data-Driven Priorities for Economic Research and Policy (with Edward Miguel, Amos Njuguna, Daniela Pinto Veizaga, and Michael Walker)

Abstract: The over-60 population in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow rapidly in the coming decades, tripling between 2020 and 2050. Despite this explosive projected growth, few countries in the region have implemented policies designed to support older populations. Further, little research in economics has specifically examined aging in Sub-Saharan Africa, though many opportunities exist for economists to generate research evidence to inform the design of effective policies in this area. This paper combines insights from a cross-disciplinary review with original data analysis to characterize the challenges and opportunities facing older Sub-Saharan Africans in domains such as health and financial security. Informed by these findings, the paper identifies directions for future economic research and discusses how research evidence can inform the design of health care systems, pensions, and other public support programs to prepare for an aging Africa.

Other works in progress

Income Shocks and Female Labor Supply in India (with Emily Breza, Supreet Kaur, and Yogita Shamdasani)

Parent Risk and Protective Factors, Parent Investments, and Children’s Cognitive and Socioemotional Skills among Families in Kenya (with Amber Beisly, Kyung Ah Kwon, Edward Miguel, Ye Rang Park, and Michael Walker)