Revise & Resubmit:

The Economic Value of Breaking Bad: Misbehavior, Schooling and the Labor Market. [pdf]

         -  joint with Nicholas Papageorge and Yu Zheng. 

         -  Round 2 R&R at Journal of Political Economy.

Press Coverage: [JHU Magazine][Brookings Institution][Frankfurter Allgemeine]

Abstract: Prevailing research argues that childhood misbehavior in the classroom is bad for schooling and, presumably, bad for labor market outcomes. In contrast, we argue that some childhood misbehavior represents underlying socio-emotional skills that are valuable in the labor market. We follow work from psychology and categorize observed classroom misbehavior into two underlying latent factors. We then estimate a model of educational attainment and earnings outcomes, allowing the impact of each of the two factors to vary by outcome. We find that one of the factors, labeled in the psychological literature as externalizing behavior (and linked, for example, to aggression), reduces educational attainment yet increases earnings. For men, it increases wages, while for women it increases hours. Unlike most models where skills that increase human capital through education also increase earnings, our findings illustrate how some socio-emotional skills can be productive in some economic contexts and not only unproductive, but counter-productive in others. Using a task model, we extend our results to show heterogeneity in returns for males, but not for females. We also find that different kinds of secondary schools exhibit different externalizing penalties, suggesting the tasks schools emphasize can affect how externalizing behavior interacts with education.

Family Disadvantage, Gender and the Returns to  Genetic Human Capital.[pdf]   

           - first author - joint with Esben Agerbo, Dorthe Bleses, Preben Bo Mortensen, Anders Børglum, David
M. Hougaarde, Ole Morse, Merete Nordentofte, Thomas Wergee and Michael Rosholm.

           - R&R at Scandinavian Journal of Economics.

Abstract: This paper relies on a large-scale sample of genotyped individuals linked with detailed register data in Denmark to investigate the context-dependence of genetic influences on human capital formation. We show that the returns to genetic endowments, measured by a polygenic score for educational attainment, are significantly attenuated by childhood disadvantage. We replicate the findings in a within-family analysis, where we exploit exogenous genetic variation across siblings to control for unobserved family influences. We also explore gender differences in the context-dependence of genetic influences and find the attenuation effect of childhood disadvantage on educational attainment to be significantly stronger for males than for females. We show our findings extend to a representative sample of the Danish population. Our results highlight an important mechanism driving the persistence of disadvantage across generations. We show that children who experience childhood disadvantage are not able to fully realize their educational potential, even in the context of the generous Danish welfare-state.

Submitted Papers:

Intergenerational Effects of Early-Life Advantage: Lessons from a Primate Study. - [pdf]​

          - joint with Amanda M. Dettmer, James J. Heckman, Juan Pantano and Stephen J. Suomi.

Abstract: This paper uses three decades of studies with Rhesus monkeys to investigate the magnitude and mechanisms of the intergenerational effects of early life advantage in the form of maternal rearing. Monkeys and their offspring were each randomly assigned to be reared together or apart from their mothers. We document significant intergenerational effects of maternal presence that start very early and persist until adulthood. Offspring of mother-reared females are more likely to survive in the first month of life, are less likely to suffer from health problems between ages 1 and 3 years, and are more likely to achieve a high social rank in adulthood than offspring of females reared apart from their mothers. The repeated experiment allows us to estimate for the first time the intergenerational complementarity of early life advantage, and to identify the mechanisms of intergenerational transmission. We find no positive intergenerational effect of maternal rearing for offspring that were reared apart from their mothers. This finding suggests that parenting, via mother-offspring interactions, is the primary mechanism driving the intergenerational effects. Given their close biological and behavioral resemblance to humans, studies of primates are informative about human development. They also present several advantages that make them essential complements to human studies. In this paper, we demonstrate how primate studies allow us to cleanly identify mechanisms in a way that is not possible in human studies, and to identify parameters never previously estimated.

Working Papers:

The Effect of Maternal Psychological Distress on Children's Cognitive Development. [pdf]

Abstract: This paper investigates how maternal mental health, measured by psychological distress, affects family investments and shapes children’s cognitive skills. I provide a model that incorporates ideas from both sociology and psychology into a fairly standard economic model of maternal investments. This model allows me to separate the different mechanisms that relate maternal mental health to children’s cognition. In order to estimate the causal effect of mental health, I control for the endogeneity of mental health as well as the inherent measurement error in mental health constructs. For the former, I use variation among U.S. states in mental health insurance coverage laws. For the latter, I use an item response theory approach. Using a longitudinal data set from the U.S., the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and its Child Development supplement (PSID-CDS), I find that maternal psychological distress mainly affects children through a decrease in the productivity (quality) of maternal time investments. My findings support two policy interventions that mitigate this effect. My findings suggest that mental health treatment for at-risk mothers can have significant payoffs for children and is significantly more cost-effective than comparable income transfers. Moreover, my findings suggest that programs that improve maternal parenting can have large benefits for children of at-risk mothers.

The Nurture of Nature: How Genes and Investments Interact in the Formation of Skills. - [pdf]

          - joint with Mikkel Houmark and Michael Rosholm.

Abstract: We study the interplay between genetics and family investments in the process of skill formation. We model the joint evolution of skills and parental investments throughout early childhood. We observe child and parental genetic endowments. This allows us to estimate the causal effect of the child's genes on skill formation and estimate the importance of parental genes. We document the importance of parental and child genes for child development, and that genetic influences operate via parental investments. Our findings show that the existence of genetic effects is not at odds with the value of social policies in reducing inequality.