Family Influence and Children’s Outcomes

In a recently posted working paper (NBER WP No. 19925) James Heckman and Stefano Mosso review what is known about the influence of family on children’s outcomes in adulthood. They discuss early and more recent models of family influence, and integrate that literature with the literature on the effects of early childhood interventions by presenting models based on what they call “the dynamic evolution of skills.” In light of the findings of these literatures, the researchers conclude that “Mentoring, parenting and human interaction are the unifying themes of successful skill development strategies across the entire life cycle.” Looking ahead to future research, they point specifically to the need for more in-depth knowledge about the dynamic interactions between parents and children.

See “The Economics of Human Development and Social Mobility

What is the effect of education on health and wages?

Here’s a new working paper on the economics of education by Heckman, Humphries, Veramendi, and Urzúa, which was recently posted on NBER (WP No. 19971). The authors estimate a new model of educational choices and consequences using data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

Abstract: This paper develops and estimates a model with multiple schooling choices that identifies the causal effect of different levels of schooling on health, health-related behaviors, and labor market outcomes. We develop an approach that is a halfway house between a reduced form treatment effect model and a fully formulated dynamic discrete choice model. It is computationally tractable and identifies the causal effects of educational choices at different margins. We estimate distributions of responses to education and find evidence for substantial heterogeneity in unobserved variables on which agents make choices. The estimated treatment effects of education are decomposed into the direct benefits of attaining a given level of schooling and indirect benefits from the option to continue on to further schooling. Continuation values are an important component of our estimated treatment effects. While the estimated causal effects of education are substantial for most outcomes, we also estimate a quantitatively important effect of unobservables on outcomes. Both cognitive and socioemotional factors contribute to shaping educational choices and labor market and health outcomes. We improve on LATE by identifying the groups affected by variations in the instruments. We find benefits of cognition on most outcomes apart from its effect on schooling attainment. The benefits of socioemotional skills on outcomes beyond their effects on schooling attainment are less precisely estimated.

See “Education, Health and Wages

Parental Involvement in High School

In a recent study published in Child Development Ming-Te Wang and Salam Skiekh-Khalil investigate how different types of parental involvement affect adolescent well being, specifically academic achievement and depression. Using data from three waves of a study of U.S. high school students in ten public schools, the researchers looked in particular at three dimensions of parental involvement: school-based involvement, home-based involvement, and academic socialization.

The researchers report that their findings indicate that parental involvement in 10th grade improved the academic and mental health outcomes of adolescents in 11th grade, and that behavioral and emotional engagement were the channels through which the effects occurred. Moreover, the researchers find that academic socialization is the type of parental involvement with the strongest effects, and that these effects differ by socioeconomic status. They also find that the effects of home-based and school-based involvement differed by both ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

See “Does Parental Involvement Matter for Student Achievement and Mental Health in High School?”

Children and Life Satisfaction

In a new paper published in the April 2014 edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family, economist Matthias Pollman-Schult presents an explanation for previous empirical findings about the effects of children on subjective well-being. As the author points out, prior literature has found that parents are no happier or even less happy than non-parents. In this paper, the author uses data from the German Socio-Economic Panel to test the hypothesis that satisfaction-enhancing effects of children exist, but are offset by the economic and time costs of parenthood. His findings confirm the hypothesis. Specifically, the three key findings from the study are as follows:  

(a) parenthood by itself has substantial and enduring positive effects on life satisfaction;

(b) these positive effects are offset by financial and time costs of parenthood; and

(c) the impact of these costs varies considerably with family factors, such as the age and number of children, marital status, and the parents’ employment arrangements.

See “Parenthood and Life Satisfaction: Why Don’t Children Make People Happy?

Parental Death and Children’s Well-being

A recent study published in the February 2014 edition of Demography investigates the effect of parental death on child well-being.

In this study, Ava Gail Cas, Elizabeth Frankenberg, Wayan Suriastini and Duncan Thomas used data from six waves of the Study of the Tsunami Aftermath and Recover (STAR), a longitudinal study of persons living in the Indonesian provinces directly hit by the December 2004 tsunami, before and after the disaster occurred.

Two of the contributions of this paper are especially notable. One is the examination of both shorter-and longer-term effects of parental death on child outcomes, specifically those related to human capital and time allocation. Another is the distinction of children’s outcomes by child gender and age, and of parental loss by parent gender.

From their study of these Indonesian children’s outcomes, the researchers find that “the impact of parental death varies with the age and gender of the child and that shorter-term impacts are not reliable indicators of the effects that emerge in the longer term.”

More specific findings reported in the paper include the following: “a father’s death in the tsunami has significant negative consequences for the educational attainment of older sons, whereas the impact of maternal death is more muted. The evidence suggests that both the children and the surviving parent substitute for the parent who died. However, the death of both parents has the largest and substantively most important impacts on older males, older females, and possibly younger females.”

See “The Impact of Parental Death on Child Well-being: Evidence From the Indian Ocean Tsunami”​