Date of Award

8-11-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Economics

First Advisor

Rusty Tchernis

Second Advisor

Charles Courtemanche

Third Advisor

Barry T. Hirsch

Fourth Advisor

Sara Markowitz

Abstract

This dissertation explores issues on women’s employment and children’s health in economics.

In chapter I, I investigate the causal effects of maternal employment on childhood obesity. Empirical analysis of the effects of maternal employment on childhood obesity is complicated by the endogeneity of mother’s labor supply. A mother’s decision to work likely reflects underlying factors – such as ability and motivation – that could directly influence child health outcomes. To address this concern, this study implements an instrumental variables (IV) strategy which utilizes exogenous variation in maternal employment coming from the youngest sibling’s school eligibility. With data on children ages 7-17 from the 1979 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth linked to the Child Supplement, I explore the effects of maternal employment on children’s BMI z-score and probabilities of being overweight and obese. OLS estimates indicate a moderate association, consistent with the prior literature. However, the IV estimates show that an increase in mothers’ labor supply leads to large weight gains among children, suggesting that not addressing the endogeneity of maternal employment leads to underestimated causal effects.

Chapter II examines the effects of Walmart Supercenters on household and child food insecurity. Walmart Supercenters may reduce food insecurity by lowering food prices and expanding food availability. Our food insecurity-related outcomes come from the 2001-2007 waves of the December Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement. We match these data to our hand-collected data of Walmart Supercenters at the census tract-level. First, we estimate a naïve linear probability model and find that households and children who live near Walmart Supercenters are more likely than others to be food insecure. Since the location of Walmart Supercenters might be endogenous, we then turn to instrumental variables models that utilize the predictable geographic expansion patterns of Walmart Supercenters outward from Walmart’s corporate headquarters. The IV estimates suggest that the causal effect of Walmart Supercenters is to reduce food insecurity among households and children. The effect is largest among low-income families.

In the third paper, I investigate the effects of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) on women’s labor market outcomes. The FMLA is a federal policy that aims to help workers balance job and family responsibilities. However, it may have unintended consequences on employment because it imposes costs on firms. In this study, I investigate the impact of the FMLA with labor market flows—i.e., hires, separations and recalls. Focusing on labor market flow outcomes is crucial to identifying the immediate impact of the policy because employment and wages adjust slowly when there is a policy change while labor market flows are flexible. Using data from the Quarterly Workforce Indicators and adopting a triple-difference model, I get results that are unlikely to be interpreted as causal because the data are insufficient to obtain precise estimates. However, the idea of using labor market flows can be easily applied to a broad range of topics relate to workplace mandates.

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