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, World Bank Development Impact Blog Post

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 little understanding of how parent human capital and the local schooling environment interact in the production of child cognitive and non-cognitive human capital. This study exploits experimental variation in parent human capital (through earlier school-based deworming) with a large shock to schooling (through extended Covid-related closures) to estimate intergenerational impacts of the parental human capital intervention and to assess complementarity between parent human capital and schooling. The study first documents improvements in psychological well-being among a sample of over 4,000 Kenyans who received additional exposure to a human capital investment in childhood (in addition to extensive gains in household living standards as documented in previous research). Next, the study documents evidence suggestive of health gains among a sample of 3,500 of the adult sample’s 3-8 year old children, and meaningful gains of +0.21 standard deviation units in non-cognitive dimensions among older (school-age) children. Further, the study estimates sizable cognitive gains of +0.26 standard deviations units among older children, gains which are only evident during the pre-Covid period. Following school closures, average cognitive performance declines for all school-age children, with no gains among children of parents who received the human capital intervention. We interpret these findings through the lens of a model of child human capital production featuring complementarity between parent human capital and school-based investments. The observed patterns are consistent with the existence of meaningful complementarities in child cognitive development, while health and non-cognitive development appear less sensitive to schooling availability.

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 Well-being, Home Learning Environment, and Child Development among Families in Kenya (with Amber Beisly, Kyung Ah Kwon, Edward Miguel, Ye Rang Park, and Michael Walker)