Date of Award

12-15-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Economics

First Advisor

Charles Courtemanche

Second Advisor

H. Spencer Banzhaf

Third Advisor

Rusty Tchernis

Fourth Advisor

Roby Greenwald

Abstract

This dissertation consists of three essays studying the economics of risky health behaviors. Essay 1 estimates the effects of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) restrictions on weight status among adolescents aged 14 to 17 in the U.S. The findings suggest that a night curfew significantly raises adolescents’ probability of being “overweight or obese” by 1.32 percentage points, corresponding to an increase in “overweight or obesity” rate of 4.8%. A night curfew combined with a passenger restriction increases this rate by 5.8%. Overall, I estimate that nearly 16% of the rise in “overweight or obesity” rate among teenagers aged 14 to 17 in the U.S from 1999 to 2015 can be explained by the presence of the GDL restrictions. In addition, the restrictions reduce teenagers’ exercise frequency while increasing their time spent watching TV, which may help to explain the adverse effects on obesity.

Essay 2 exploits the effects of the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) restrictions on youth smoking and drinking. It finds that being subject to minimum entry age, a learner stage, or only a night curfew has no statistically significant effect whereas, interestingly, a night curfew combined with a passenger restriction reduces youth smoking and drinking. The estimated effects become more statistically significant and larger in magnitude in the medium run, which is in line with the addictive nature of these substances.

Essay 3 investigates the underlying causes of suicide. It uses data from the U.S. at the county level and the primary methodology is a two-level Bayesian hierarchical model with spatially correlated random effects. The results show that the significant effects of observable factors on suicides found by earlier research may partially stem from excluding small area effects and time trends, without controlling for which the true contribution of unobserved propensities and time trends can be hidden within observable factors. Most importantly, a lot can be learned from unobserved yet persistent propensity toward suicide captured by the spatially correlated county specific random effects. Resources should be allocated to counties with high suicide rates, but also counties with low raw suicide rates but high unobserved propensities of suicide.

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