Proposal preview

20th Century Dissertation Competition

Dissertation competition and presentations on topics from the 20th century to the present.

Organizer(s)

  • Joerg Baten Universität Tübingen joerg.baten@uni-tuebingen.de Germany

Session members

  • Johannes Norling, University of Michigan/Mount Holyoke College
  • Vellore Arthi, Oxford University/University of California, Irvine
  • Marlous van Waijenbur, Northwestern University/University of Michigan

Discussant(s)

  • Joerg Baten Universität Tübingen joerg.baten@uni-tuebingen.de

Papers

Panel abstract

1st half

Essays on the Economics of Fertility

Johannes Norling

The first chapter introduces a new framework for estimating heterogeneity in sex preferences using birth history records. The framework selects among many possible combinations of preferences over the sex and number of children to best match observed childbearing. Empirical estimates indicate that sex preferences are more widespread than previously reported and exhibit substantial heterogeneity within regions. The second chapter demonstrates that, following public provision of free family planning services in South Africa in 1970, fertility declined among African women who had access to these services. Deferral of childbearing into the 1980s partially explains this decline, but lifetime fertility fell by one child per woman. The third chapter provides new evidence that family planning programs in the U.S. are associated with decreases in poverty. Cohorts born after federal family planning programs began in the late 1960s and early 1970s were less likely to live in poverty in childhood and in adulthood.

The first chapter introduces a new framework for estimating heterogeneity in sex preferences using birth history records. The framework selects among many possible combinations of preferences over the sex and number of children to best match observed childbearing. Empirical estimates indicate that sex preferences are more widespread than previously reported and exhibit substantial heterogeneity within regions. The second chapter demonstrates that, following public provision of free family planning services in South Africa in 1970, fertility declined among African women who had access to these services. Deferral of childbearing into the 1980s partially explains this decline, but lifetime fertility fell by one child per woman. The third chapter provides new evidence that family planning programs in the U.S. are associated with decreases in poverty. Cohorts born after federal family planning programs began in the late 1960s and early 1970s were less likely to live in poverty in childhood and in adulthood.

Human Capital Formation and the American Dust Bowl

Vellore Arthi

I use variation in childhood exposure to the Dust Bowl, an environmental shock to health and income, as a natural experiment to explain variation in adult human capital. By marshalling evidence on factors including age at exposure, public spending programs, and the local demand for child farm labor, I also examine a variety of mechanisms by which the Dust Bowl influenced later-life wellbeing, and investigate the scope for recovery from this early-life shock. I find that exposure to the Dust Bowl in childhood has meaningful adverse impacts on a range of later-life outcomes. These results are primarily—but not wholly—concentrated amongst those exposed prenatally, and hold even after accounting for potential confounders such as the Great Depression, migration, and selective fertility and mortality. Importantly, I show that the New Deal partially remediated these effects. In so doing, I provide new evidence on the possibility of compensating for early-life crisis.

I use variation in childhood exposure to the Dust Bowl, an environmental shock to health and income, as a natural experiment to explain variation in adult human capital. By marshalling evidence on factors including age at exposure, public spending programs, and the local demand for child farm labor, I also examine a variety of mechanisms by which the Dust Bowl influenced later-life wellbeing, and investigate the scope for recovery from this early-life shock. I find that exposure to the Dust Bowl in childhood has meaningful adverse impacts on a range of later-life outcomes. These results are primarily—but not wholly—concentrated amongst those exposed prenatally, and hold even after accounting for potential confounders such as the Great Depression, migration, and selective fertility and mortality. Importantly, I show that the New Deal partially remediated these effects. In so doing, I provide new evidence on the possibility of compensating for early-life crisis.

Financing the African Colonial State: Fiscal Capacity Building and Forced Labor

Marlous van Waijenburg

The renewed scholarly interest in the connections between taxation, state building efforts, and long-term economic development has revitalized the study of historical tax systems. In my dissertation, I take a broad empirical and conceptual approach to mapping the evolution of African colonial tax systems, integrating the largely overlooked, but critically important contributions from forced labor practices. Not only did such labor taxes immediately alleviate budget constraints, they also enabled colonial governments to pursue their longer-term fiscal capacity objectives. Although the topic of labor coercion runs like a red thread through the historiography of colonial Africa, its place and value as a form of taxation have so far received scant attention. By approaching forced labor from a fiscal perspective, my dissertation not only broadens the conceptual framework of the fiscal capacity literature, but also deepens conversations in African history about the nature and effects of colonial labor coercion practices.

The renewed scholarly interest in the connections between taxation, state building efforts, and long-term economic development has revitalized the study of historical tax systems. In my dissertation, I take a broad empirical and conceptual approach to mapping the evolution of African colonial tax systems, integrating the largely overlooked, but critically important contributions from forced labor practices. Not only did such labor taxes immediately alleviate budget constraints, they also enabled colonial governments to pursue their longer-term fiscal capacity objectives. Although the topic of labor coercion runs like a red thread through the historiography of colonial Africa, its place and value as a form of taxation have so far received scant attention. By approaching forced labor from a fiscal perspective, my dissertation not only broadens the conceptual framework of the fiscal capacity literature, but also deepens conversations in African history about the nature and effects of colonial labor coercion practices.

2nd half