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CSMGEP Dissertation Session

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 3, 2020 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM (PST)

Marriott Marquis, Grand Ballroom 4
Hosted By: American Economic Association & Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession
  • Chair: Kalena E. Cortes, Texas A&M University

Food Assistance Take-Up and Infant Health: Evidence from the Adoption of EBT

Leah Shiferaw
University of California-Berkeley


More than 7 million individuals who were eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in 2017 did not participate in the program. Incomplete take-up is common in many transfer programs, and may limit their effectiveness in reducing economic disparities. In this paper, I use a unique setting to shed light on the role that participation costs play in determining food assistance take-up, and to quantify the effects of increasing take-up on infant health at birth. I do this by studying a reform that made it easier to receive and use food assistance benefits in the US: the adoption of the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) debit card for food stamp benefit disbursement. I estimate event study regressions using the county level rollout of EBT in California between 2002 and 2004 and find that EBT adoption led to a large and persistent increase in caseloads and applications for the program, as well as higher retailer participation in high poverty neighborhoods. I document that this rise in food stamp benefit take-up led to a meaningful increase in average birth weight for births most likely impacted by the policy, with effects concentrated in the bottom half of the birth weight distribution. These estimates provide new evidence that reducing the barriers to participation in food assistance programs can lead to potentially large gains in health for disadvantaged children.

The Effect of Teenage Pregnancy on Schooling and Labor Force Participation: Evidence From Urban South Africa

Natalia Cantet
University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign


Policy makers often express concerns over the lasting implications of teenage pregnancy, due to the observation that young mothers have worse health, less schooling, and poorer job market performance in adulthood. However, because there is selection into early motherhood, the causal impact of teenage pregnancy on human capital investments is difficult to estimate. Additionally, the majority of the literature has focused on high-income settings. I examine the impact of teenage pregnancy in Cape Town, South Africa, on educational outcomes and future labor-force participation using two main identification strategies. I use an instrumental variable strategy that relies on the number of fertile teenage years as an instrument for teenage pregnancy and exploit differences among a subsample of sisters in which one sister reported a teenage pregnancy and at least one did not. I find an increase of approximately 50 percentage points in the likelihood of failing a grade and an increase of 27\% (10 percentage points) in the probability of dropping out of school. As for overall school attainment, teenagers who report a pregnancy are, on average, less educated by 1.8 fewer years. Finally, two specific South African characteristics mitigate the negative effects of teenage pregnancy. My findings suggest that strong familial networks, measured by the presence of the mother of the teenage mother, and attendance at a school with higher rates of grade repetition are associated with an attenuation effect of 0.5 and 0.4 years, respectively.

Of IVs and IUDs: Assessing the Effect of LARC Use on Pregnancies Using an Instrumental Variables Approach

Lorissa Pagán
University of North Carolina-Greensboro


Effective contraceptives have increased women’s welfare by allowing better control of the timing of fertility and the number of children born. Many forms of contraceptives rely on correct and consistent use to achieve low failure rates, potentially leaving benefits of fertility control forgone due to user error. Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) are very effective and do not rely on user adherence, thus increased LARC use may be welfare improving for women. Whether or not LARCs increase fertility control depends on the type of contraceptive the woman would have otherwise used and how well she would have used it. In this paper, I use exogenous variation in LARC use due to a change in provider recommendations to estimate the causal impact of long-acting methods on pregnancies and births. The instrumental variables results indicate that LARC use substantially decreases the probability of pregnancy and birth in the subsequent year.

School Spending and Student Outcomes: Evidence from Revenue Limit Elections in Wisconsin

E. Jason Baron
Florida State University


This study examines the causal impact of additional school spending on student outcomes. State-imposed revenue limits cap the total amount of revenue that a school district in Wisconsin can raise. If a district wishes to exceed this cap, it must hold a local referendum. I leverage close elections in a dynamic regression discontinuity framework to identify the impact of additional spending on educational outcomes. Importantly, Wisconsin law requires school districts to hold separate referenda for operational purposes (e.g., instruction and support services) and for bond issues targeted to fund school facility investments. This allows me to estimate the independent effects of additional operational and capital expenditures. I find that narrowly passing an operational referendum leads to a 5% increase in per-pupil spending. Districts allocate most of these additional resources to instruction, yielding increases in teacher experience and compensation, and reductions in class sizes and teacher turnover. Increases in operational funds result in a 25% reduction in the dropout rate, an increase in test scores of approximately 30% of a standard deviation, and a 15% increase in postsecondary enrollment. In contrast, narrowly approving a bond referendum leads to a sharp and immediate increase in capital outlays. These additional funds are primarily used to repair, maintain, or upgrade existing structures and are not associated with improvements in student outcomes.
Susan Dynarski
University of Michigan
Marie T. Mora
University of Missouri-St. Louis
Heather Royer
University of California-Santa Barbara
Laura Giuliano
University of California-Santa Cruz
Manuela Angelucci
University of Texas-Austin
JEL Classifications
  • I0 - General
  • J0 - General