Proposal preview

Early-life Conditions and Human Capital Formation

A simple model of human capability formation predicts that investments at different developmental stages of childhood matter differently for later-life outcomes (Heckman, 2007; Almond and Currie, 2011). Dynamic complementarities and self-productivity in the process of skill-formation call for (public) interventions to help economically disadvantaged children and to mitigate income, health, and environmental shocks experienced in childhood which many studies found to matter for individuals’ well-being later in life (e.g., Barker, 1990; Almond 2006; Cutler, Miller and Norton, 2007; Maccini and Yang, 2009). While most studies focus on evaluating recent interventions, the increase in availability of high quality micro level historical data, such as the historical full count data of the US Census, sparked the interest of economic historians in this topic (e.g., Bleakley, 2007; Aaronson and Mazumder, 2011; Feyrer et al., 2016). The participants of this session present and discuss recent papers of economic historians working on this topic.

Organizer(s)

  • Philipp Ager University of Southern Denmark phag@sam.sdu.dk Denmark

Session members

  • Philipp Ager, University of Southern Denmark
  • Katherine Eriksson, UC Davis
  • Brian Beach, College of William & Mary
  • Vellore Arthi, University of Essex
  • Casper Worm Hansen, University of Copenhagen
  • Lauren Hoehn Velasco, Boston College
  • Kadeem Noray, Harvard University
  • Ethan Schmick, Washington & Jefferson College

Discussant(s)

  • Philipp Ager University of Southern Denmark phag@sam.sdu.dk
  • Katherine Eriksson UC Davis kaeriksson@ucdavis.edu
  • Brian Beach College of William & Mary bbbeach@wm.edu
  • Vellore Arthi University of Essex v.arthi@essex.ac.uk
  • Casper Worm Hansen University of Copenhagen casper.worm.hansen@econ.ku.dk
  • Lauren Hoehn Velasco Boston College hoehnl@bc.edu
  • Kadeem Noray Harvard University knoray@g.harvard.edu
  • Ethan Schmick Washington & Jefferson College eschmick@washjeff.edu

Papers

Panel abstract

1st half

Fetal shock or selection? The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and Human Capital Development

Brian Beach (College of William & Mary), Joe Ferrie (Northwestern University), Martin Saavedra (Oberlin College)

Almond (2006) argues that in utero exposure to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic lowered socioeconomic status in adulthood, whereas Brown & Thomas (2016) find that the effect disappears after controlling for parental characteristics of the 1919 birth cohort. We link microdata from the 1920 Census to WWII enlistment records and city-level influenza data. The result is a data set with much more precisely measured influenza exposure and parental characteristics. Results indicate that in the absence of the Pandemic, the 1919 birth cohort would have been more likely to graduate from high school and would have obtained more years of schooling. The impact of high school graduation is largely unaffected by including parental controls and city-specific time trends. Adding household fixed effects (and thus exploiting variation among brothers) yields similar but somewhat larger results.

Almond (2006) argues that in utero exposure to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic lowered socioeconomic status in adulthood, whereas Brown & Thomas (2016) find that the effect disappears after controlling for parental characteristics of the 1919 birth cohort. We link microdata from the 1920 Census to WWII enlistment records and city-level influenza data. The result is a data set with much more precisely measured influenza exposure and parental characteristics. Results indicate that in the absence of the Pandemic, the 1919 birth cohort would have been more likely to graduate from high school and would have obtained more years of schooling. The impact of high school graduation is largely unaffected by including parental controls and city-specific time trends. Adding household fixed effects (and thus exploiting variation among brothers) yields similar but somewhat larger results.

Sewage Infrastructure, Labor Markets, and Inequality in 19th Century London

Vellore Arthi (University of Essex), Myra Mohnen (University of Essex)

This project explores the capacity of public health infrastructure to reshape the local labor force, and consequently, the geography of inequalities in health and income. These questions are not only central to historical debates on city growth and urban living standards, but they are also relevant to understanding modern processes of urbanization in low-income and industrializing settings. The Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, formed in 1848, was one of London's first steps towards creating a uniform sewage network and drainage infrastructure. Using newly-collected archival sewer maps and documentation on the system's construction, we exploit variation in the spatial and temporal rollout of this new infrastructure to study its effects on highly localized outcomes in the short and long run, including through the channel of residential sorting. In particular, we investigate age-specific complementarities between investments in sanitation and those in education, and patterns in fertility and female labor force participation arising from...

This project explores the capacity of public health infrastructure to reshape the local labor force, and consequently, the geography of inequalities in health and income. These questions are not only central to historical debates on city growth and urban living standards, but they are also relevant to understanding modern processes of urbanization in low-income and industrializing settings. The Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, formed in 1848, was one of London's first steps towards creating a uniform sewage network and drainage infrastructure. Using newly-collected archival sewer maps and documentation on the system's construction, we exploit variation in the spatial and temporal rollout of this new infrastructure to study its effects on highly localized outcomes in the short and long run, including through the channel of residential sorting. In particular, we investigate age-specific complementarities between investments in sanitation and those in education, and patterns in fertility and female labor force participation arising from changes in the cost of child quality.

The Long-term Impact of Public Health Measures Targeting Children

Lauren Hoehn Velasco (Boston College)

This paper estimates the long-run impact of childhood exposure to public health initiatives on adult human capital. From 1908 to 1933, local governments in the United States instituted county-level health departments (CHDs) that provided sanitation and health services geared toward children. To estimate the long-term benefits, I exploit variation in the timing, location, and age of CHD exposure. Children treated under the age of five show later-life earnings improvements of three to four percent. I investigate the mechanisms underlying this effect and demonstrate that higher earnings emerge from better adult health, measured by cognition, body mass index, and the probability of living to age 80.

This paper estimates the long-run impact of childhood exposure to public health initiatives on adult human capital. From 1908 to 1933, local governments in the United States instituted county-level health departments (CHDs) that provided sanitation and health services geared toward children. To estimate the long-term benefits, I exploit variation in the timing, location, and age of CHD exposure. Children treated under the age of five show later-life earnings improvements of three to four percent. I investigate the mechanisms underlying this effect and demonstrate that higher earnings emerge from better adult health, measured by cognition, body mass index, and the probability of living to age 80.

The Long-run Effects of Water and Milk Quality: Evidence from the Early 20th Century in the United States

Kadeem Noray (Harvard University)

In the early 20th century, new water and milk purification interventions led to mortality declines. These interventions include water supply treatments (e.g., chlorination) that have been associated with reduced typhoid mortality, milk pasteurization requirements that were aimed at decreasing mortality due to non-pulmonary tuberculosis. While reduced mortality due to these interventions has been documented, there is little evidence on the long-term effects of these policy changes. In this paper, I attempt to identify the causal effect of early-life exposure to higher quality milk and water on human capital formation, adult income, homeownership, and geographic mobility. My identification strategy relies on comparing infants and young children who were exposed to these interventions to those who grew up without clean water or milk. To implement this strategy, I merge city-level data on local milk ordinances and water treatment interventions to individuals linked between 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 U.S. Censuses.

In the early 20th century, new water and milk purification interventions led to mortality declines. These interventions include water supply treatments (e.g., chlorination) that have been associated with reduced typhoid mortality, milk pasteurization requirements that were aimed at decreasing mortality due to non-pulmonary tuberculosis. While reduced mortality due to these interventions has been documented, there is little evidence on the long-term effects of these policy changes. In this paper, I attempt to identify the causal effect of early-life exposure to higher quality milk and water on human capital formation, adult income, homeownership, and geographic mobility. My identification strategy relies on comparing infants and young children who were exposed to these interventions to those who grew up without clean water or milk. To implement this strategy, I merge city-level data on local milk ordinances and water treatment interventions to individuals linked between 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 U.S. Censuses.

2nd half

Controlling Tuberculosis? Evidence from the Mother of all Community-Wide Health Experiments

Karen Clay (Carnegie Mellon University), Peter Juul Egedesø (University of Southern Denmark), Casper Worm Hansen (University of Copenhagen), Peter Sandholt Jensen (University of Southern Denmark)

This paper studies the immediate and long-run mortality effects of the first community-based health intervention in the world, which had a particular focus on controlling tuberculosis -- the so-called Framingham Health and Tuberculosis Demonstration. Comparing death and TB-mortality rates between Framingham and seven (pre-selected) control towns during the Demonstration period between 1917 and 1923, the contemporary official evaluation committee concluded that the Demonstration was highly successful in controlling TB and reducing mortality The Framingham Demonstration subsequently became a health example for the world. The findings in our paper question this very positive assessment. We collected and digitized causes-of-death data for towns/cities in Massachusetts and the United States for the period 1901-1934, allowing us to extend the number of control towns (or cities) and study whether the Demonstration reduced mortality in the long run. Compared to the official seven controls towns, we find that TB mortality in Framingham was on average...

This paper studies the immediate and long-run mortality effects of the first community-based health intervention in the world, which had a particular focus on controlling tuberculosis -- the so-called Framingham Health and Tuberculosis Demonstration. Comparing death and TB-mortality rates between Framingham and seven (pre-selected) control towns during the Demonstration period between 1917 and 1923, the contemporary official evaluation committee concluded that the Demonstration was highly successful in controlling TB and reducing mortality The Framingham Demonstration subsequently became a health example for the world. The findings in our paper question this very positive assessment. We collected and digitized causes-of-death data for towns/cities in Massachusetts and the United States for the period 1901-1934, allowing us to extend the number of control towns (or cities) and study whether the Demonstration reduced mortality in the long run. Compared to the official seven controls towns, we find that TB mortality in Framingham was on average lower between 1917 and 1923. In the extended control samples, these immediate TB mortality differences are smaller and often more than reversed by 1934. However, we do find robust evidence that the Demonstration reduced infant mortality, and these improvements persisted even after the Demonstration ended.

Long-run effects of agricultural shocks: Evidence from the boll-weevil in the US South

Richard Baker (The College of New Jersey), John Blanchette (UC-Davis), Katherine Eriksson (UC Davis)

We examine how the arrival of the boll weevil affected the long-term outcomes of those who were children when the pest arrived by utilizing variation in the timing of arrival across the U.S south. The boll weevil had large negative impacts on cotton yields, which decreased incomes, but also decreased the opportunity cost of attending school. Using a sample of linked census records and an event-study research design we find that black children exposed while still in school attended school for an additional .15 years on average relative to those who had most likely graduated before the boll weevil arrived. The estimated effects are stronger for those whose father was a farmer, and for those who lived in counties that produced more cotton.

We examine how the arrival of the boll weevil affected the long-term outcomes of those who were children when the pest arrived by utilizing variation in the timing of arrival across the U.S south. The boll weevil had large negative impacts on cotton yields, which decreased incomes, but also decreased the opportunity cost of attending school. Using a sample of linked census records and an event-study research design we find that black children exposed while still in school attended school for an additional .15 years on average relative to those who had most likely graduated before the boll weevil arrived. The estimated effects are stronger for those whose father was a farmer, and for those who lived in counties that produced more cotton.

The Kindergarten Movement and the US Demographic Transition

Philipp Ager (University of Southern Denmark), Francesco Cinnirella (University of Southern Denmark), Peter Sandholt Jensen (University of Southern Denmark)

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was a widespread diffusion of kindergartens across U.S. cities which allowed young children to attend preschool. We examine how the roll-out of kindergartens during the period 1880-1910 (commonly referred to as the Kindergarten Movement) contributed to the fertility transition in U.S. cities. Our main finding is that the roll-out of kindergartens significantly contributed to the fertility decline in U.S. cities. Consistent with a quantity-quality trade off model, we document that one underlying mechanism behind this decline is that kindergartens substantially increased the returns to education due to strong complementarities between preschool and school education.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was a widespread diffusion of kindergartens across U.S. cities which allowed young children to attend preschool. We examine how the roll-out of kindergartens during the period 1880-1910 (commonly referred to as the Kindergarten Movement) contributed to the fertility transition in U.S. cities. Our main finding is that the roll-out of kindergartens significantly contributed to the fertility decline in U.S. cities. Consistent with a quantity-quality trade off model, we document that one underlying mechanism behind this decline is that kindergartens substantially increased the returns to education due to strong complementarities between preschool and school education.

The Impact of Early Investments in Urban School Systems in the United States

Ethan Schmick (Washington & Jefferson College), Allison Shertzer (University of Pittsburgh)

Urban school systems in the United States increased their per pupil expenditures by nearly two-thirds over the 1920s, an investment in public education that was unprecedented in American history at the time. We compile a novel dataset of city-level school expenditure data from the early twentieth century and follow students forward in time using to assess the impact of these inputs on the educational attainment and wages of workers in their prime earning years. To address the potential endogeneity of schooling inputs, we instrument expenditures using anti-German hysteria around World War I. Increasing per pupil spending by 10 percent increased wages by about 5 percent. However, exogenous investments in education – which largely took the form of increased instructional expenditures rather than new schools – appear to have primarily benefited the students who were already the most advantaged.

Urban school systems in the United States increased their per pupil expenditures by nearly two-thirds over the 1920s, an investment in public education that was unprecedented in American history at the time. We compile a novel dataset of city-level school expenditure data from the early twentieth century and follow students forward in time using to assess the impact of these inputs on the educational attainment and wages of workers in their prime earning years. To address the potential endogeneity of schooling inputs, we instrument expenditures using anti-German hysteria around World War I. Increasing per pupil spending by 10 percent increased wages by about 5 percent. However, exogenous investments in education – which largely took the form of increased instructional expenditures rather than new schools – appear to have primarily benefited the students who were already the most advantaged.