Out of a manger

Kevin Lewis

December 24, 2018

Early childhood investment impacts social decision-making four decades later
Yi Luo et al.
Nature Communications, November 2018

Early childhood educational investment produces positive effects on cognitive and non-cognitive skills, health, and socio-economic success. However, the effects of such interventions on social decision-making later in life are unknown. We recalled participants from one of the oldest randomized controlled studies of early childhood investment - the Abecedarian Project (ABC) - to participate in well-validated interactive economic games that probe social norm enforcement and planning. We show that in a repeated-play ultimatum game, ABC participants who received high-quality early interventions strongly reject unequal division of money across players (disadvantageous or advantageous) even at significant cost to themselves. Using a multi-round trust game and computational modeling of social exchange, we show that the same intervention participants also plan further into the future. These findings suggest that high quality early childhood investment can result in long-term changes in social decision-making and promote social norm enforcement in order to reap future benefits.

The unintended effects of place based programs: Fertility and health effects of urban empowerment zones
Daniel Grossman
Journal of Health Economics, January 2019, Pages 114-127

Whether place-based welfare programs affect fertility and health outcomes is an understudied question. I estimate the health impacts of the Empowerment Zone (EZ) program - a federal program that gave sizeable grants and tax breaks to certain high-poverty census tracts in selected cities. Using difference-in-differences methods, I find that the EZ program decreased fertility rates by 11 percent and improved birth outcomes. Compositional changes in fertility likely cannot explain changes in infant health. Recent research on the later-life impacts of low birth weight suggest that the health impacts of this program may have substantial long-term benefits.

SNAP Benefits and Pregnancy-Related Emergency Room Visits
Irma Arteaga, Colleen Heflin & Leslie Hodges
Population Research and Policy Review, December 2018, Pages 1031-1052

Pregnant women are likely to be sensitive to daily fluctuations in nutritional intake. To see if income constraints at the end of the month limit food consumption and trigger health problems, we examine how the date that benefits are issued for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) changes the probability that a woman will go to the Emergency Room (ER) for pregnancy-related conditions using administrative data from SNAP and Medicaid from Missouri for 2010-2013. SNAP benefits in Missouri are distributed from the 1st through the 22nd day of the month based on the birth month and the first letter of the last name of the head of the household, making timing of SNAP issuance exogenous. We estimate probit models of the calendar month and SNAP benefit month on the probability of a pregnancy-related ER visit for women age 17-45, or the sample at risk of being pregnant. We also examine the relationship between SNAP benefit levels and ER visits. We found that women who received SNAP benefits in the second or third week of the calendar month were less likely to receive pregnancy-related care through the ER in the week following benefit receipt. Results suggest that SNAP benefits might be related to patterns of pregnancy-related medical care accessed through the ER. Since SNAP issuance date is within state control in the United States, states may want to consider the health effects of their choice.

WIC Participation and Relative Quality of Household Food Purchases: Evidence from FoodAPS
Di Fang et al.
NBER Working Paper, November 2018

We examine the effect of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) on the quality of household food purchases using the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) and propensity score matching. A healthy purchasing index (HPI) is used to measure nutritional quality of household food purchases. WIC foods explain the improvement in quality of food purchases, not self-selection of more nutrition-conscious households into the program. The improvement in purchase quality was driven entirely by WIC participating households who redeemed WIC foods during the interview week. There was no significant difference between WIC-participants who did not redeem WIC foods and eligible non-participants. In this sample, there is no evidence that lack of access to clinics has adverse effects on participation nor is there evidence that HPI depends on supermarket access. A supervised machine learning process supports our main conclusion on the importance of WIC foods.

From Paper to Plastic: Understanding the Impact of eWIC on WIC Recipient Behavior
Andrew Hanks et al.
NBER Working Paper, October 2018

Evidence shows that the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is underutilized. WIC enrolls only sixty percent of eligible persons. Participants claim only a fraction of available benefits. Researchers suggest that people underutilize WIC because of the time needed to enroll in and use WIC and because participants may believe that, if others notice them participating in WIC, community members will stigmatize them. Recently enacted policies may reduce both time costs and potential for stigma associated with WIC. Congress mandated that, by 2020, all states disburse WIC benefits through an Electronic Benefits Transfer (eWIC) system. The eWIC potentially reduces the time required for each transaction and makes it more difficult to identify beneficiaries. We analyze data on grocery expenditures of 11,887 WIC-participating households in one state over the period it implemented eWIC. We find that, after beneficiaries began redeeming WIC benefits through eWIC, spending on non-WIC eligible foods did not change but redemptions of WIC benefits increased.

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