Little problems

Kevin Lewis

November 30, 2019

Labor demand shocks at birth and cognitive achievement during childhood
Krishna Regmi & Daniel Henderson
Economics of Education Review, forthcoming


As epidemiological studies have shown that conditions during gestation and early childhood affect adult health outcomes, we examine the effect of local labor market conditions in the year of birth on cognitive development in childhood. To address the endogeneity of labor market conditions, we construct gender-specific predicted employment growth rates at the state level by interacting an industry’s share in a state’s employment with the industry’s national growth rate. We find that an increase in employment opportunities for men leads to an improvement in children’s cognitive achievement as measured by reading and math test scores. Additionally, our estimates show a positive and significant effect of male-specific employment growth on children’s Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test scores and in home environment in the year of birth. We find an insignificant positive effect of buoyancy in females’ employment opportunities on said test scores.

Decline of “the American Dream”? Outlook toward the Future across Three Generations of Midwest Families
Jeylan Mortimer, Arnaldo Mont’Alvao & Pamela Aronson
Social Forces, forthcoming


Expansion of higher education and long-term economic growth have fostered high aspirations among adolescents. Recently, however, deteriorating labor force opportunities, particularly since the “Great Recession,” and rising inequality have challenged the “American Dream.” To assess how parental and adolescent outlooks have evolved over time, we examine shifts in future orientations across three generations of Midwest American families. Our unique data archive from the Youth Development Study includes 266 Generation 1 and Generation 2 parent-child dyads and 422 Generation 3 children. We assess change over two decades in parental expectations for their children’s educational attainments (comparing G1 and G2) and in adolescents’ socioeconomic aspirations, life course optimism, and anticipated work-family conflict (comparing G2 and G3). An initial between-families analysis examines aggregate change across generations; a second fixed-effects analysis assesses attitudinal differences between parents and children in the same families and the extent to which generational shifts in family circumstances and adolescents’ educational performance account for change in adolescents’ future orientations. We find that “millennial” adolescents had more positive outlooks than “Gen X” parents did at the same age. Generational increase in adolescent socioeconomic aspirations held even when socioeconomic origin, parent-child relationship quality, adolescent school performance, and other predictors were controlled. We find evidence that growing adolescent optimism across generations is attributable to rising parental educational expectations, increasing adolescent grades in school, and higher-quality parent-child relationships. We conclude that the “American Dream” is still alive for many contemporary parents and their adolescent children.

Adolescent Intergenerational Relationship Dynamics and Leaving and Returning to the Parental Home
Brian Joseph Gillespie
Journal of Marriage and Family, forthcoming

Method: Based on data spanning nearly 2 decades from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (N = 5,201), event history analysis was employed to assess how intergenerational family dynamics correlate with young adults' risk of leaving (n = 4,519) and returning to (n = 2,749) the parental home.

Results: The results indicate that, net of individual, household, and other contextual factors, parent-child closeness is significantly and positively associated with leaving the parental home. This suggests that close parent-child relationships can help launch children into adulthood. Looking at returns to the parental home, closeness becomes significant for daughters only and is moderated by parent gender. In addition, measures of parenting style indicate a significant and negative association between more‐passive styles and children's return to the parental home.

Is Paid Family Leave a Pro-Natal Policy? Evidence from California
Eleanor Golightly
University of Texas Working Paper, November 2019


This paper provides the first evidence of the effects of paid family leave on fertility in the United States. I exploit variation in access to paid leave introduced by the first paid family leave mandate in the country, which was implemented in California in 2004. By guaranteeing six weeks of paid leave to new parents, this policy, while not necessarily intended as pro-natal, could encourage increased childbearing. I use data containing the universe of U.S. births from Vital Statistics alongside survey data from the March Current Population Survey. I compare probability of childbirth and state fertility rates before and after policy implementation and between California and other states. Because the policy was introduced in only one state at one time, I employ several methods of inference, including randomization tests with synthetic control methods, to infer causality. Additionally, I exploit variation in county female labor force participation in an intensity-of-treatment framework. I find that as a result of the policy, probability of childbirth increases significantly, and that this is driven by increases in rates of second and higher parity childbearing. Fertility effects are concentrated amongst women in their 30s, with pronounced effects for married women and women with below median family income. Moreover, women likely to have been eligible for leave at the time of their first childbirth are more likely to have a second child.

Pubertal stress recalibration reverses the effects of early life stress in postinstitutionalized children
Megan Gunnar et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 26 November 2019, Pages 23984-23988


Nonhuman animal models reveal that the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis calibrates to the harshness of the environment during a sensitive period in infancy. Humans exposed to depriving institutional care in infancy show reduced HPA axis responsivity, even years after they are placed in supportive, well-resourced families. This study examined whether puberty opens a window of opportunity to recalibrate the HPA axis toward more typical reactivity when children shift from harsh deprived conditions in infancy into supportive conditions in childhood and adolescence. Participants (n = 129 postinstitutionalized, 68.2% female; n = 170 comparison, 52.4% female) completed 3 annual sessions beginning at ages 7 to 15 (M = 11.28, SD = 2.31). Each session assessed pubertal stage via nurse examination and cortisol reactivity to the Trier social stress test for children. The linear mixed-effects model controlling for sex and between-individual differences in pubertal stage showed a significant group by pubertal stage interaction: within-individual increases in pubertal stage were associated with increases in cortisol stress reactivity for postinstitutionalized youth but not nonadopted comparison youth. This study indicates that pubertal development reopens a window of opportunity for the HPA axis to recalibrate based on significant improvements in the supportiveness of the environment relative to that in infancy. The peripubertal period may be an important time in development where the caregiving environment has a substantial impact on the HPA axis and, perhaps, other stress-mediating systems. Future research is needed to examine the mechanisms of recalibration and whether HPA recalibration impacts physical and psychological health.

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