Essays in Labor Economics

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This dissertation examines the effects of social and economic context on civic participation, human capital accumulation, and labor market outcomes. In the first chapter, "Labor Market Conditions and Civic Participation", I examine the impact of prime-age individuals' employment opportunities on U.S. voter turnout from 1984-2016. I leverage a Bartik-style (shift-share) strategy that uses variation in industry and occupation composition across demographic groups and states to predict changes in employment opportunities. The effects of statewide versus own-group economic conditions are asymmetric: while improved statewide economic conditions decrease turnout, improved own-group conditions increase turnout. The magnitude indicates that a one standard deviation increase in labor demand for an individual's own group increases turnout by about 0.8 percentage points. This impact does not differ significantly by gender, but is stronger for non-Hispanic whites than non-Hispanic blacks. Rising own-group labor demand increases interest in voting and may increase individuals' sense that voting is a civic duty. Finally, I also find suggestive evidence that increased own-group labor demand is associated with greater participation in community projects. In the second chapter, "The Brother Earnings Penalty", we examine the impact of sibling gender on adolescent experiences and adult labor market outcomes for a recent cohort of U.S. women. We document an earnings penalty from the presence of a younger brother (relative to a younger sister), finding that a next-youngest brother reduces adult earnings by about 7 percent. Using rich data on parent-child interactions, parents' expectations, disruptive behaviors, and adult outcomes, we provide a first step at examining the mechanisms behind this result. We find that brothers reduce parents' expectations and school monitoring of female children while also increasing females' propensity to engage in more traditionally feminine tasks. These factors help explain a portion of the labor market penalty from brothers. In the third chapter, "Girls, Boys, and High Achievers", we study the effect of exposure to female and male "high-achievers" in high school on the long-run educational outcomes of their peers. Using data from a recent cohort of students in the United States, we identify a causal effect by exploiting quasi-random variation in the exposure of students to peers with highly-educated parents across cohorts within a school. We find that greater exposure to "high-achieving" boys, as proxied by their parents' education, decreases the likelihood that girls go on to complete a bachelor's degree, substituting the latter with junior college degrees. It also affects negatively their math and science grades and, in the long term, decreases labor force participation and increases fertility. We explore possible mechanisms and find that greater exposure leads to lower self-confidence and aspirations and to more risky behavior (including having a child before age 18). The girls most strongly affected are those in the bottom half of the ability distribution (as measured by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test), those with at least one college-educated parent, and those attending a school in the upper half of the socio-economic distribution. The effects are quantitatively important: an increase of one standard deviation in the percent of "high-achieving’’ boys decreases the probability of obtaining a bachelor’s degree from 2.2-4.5 percentage points, depending on the group. Greater exposure to "high-achieving” girls, on the other hand, increases bachelor’s degree attainment for girls in the lower half of the ability distribution, those without a college-educated parent, and those attending a school in the upper half of the socio-economic distribution. The effect of "high-achievers’’ on male outcomes is markedly different: boys are unaffected by "high-achievers" of either gender.

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Economics; Labor; Gender; political economy


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Union Local


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Blau, Francine D.

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Patacchini, Eleonora
Miller, Douglas L.

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Ph.D., Economics

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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