Essays on the Determinants of Human Capital

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Essays on the Determinants of Human Capital

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Title: Essays on the Determinants of Human Capital
Author: Adelman, Melissa
Citation: Adelman, Melissa. 2012. Essays on the Determinants of Human Capital. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation consists of three empirical essays broadly concerned with the determinants of human capital. The first essay estimates the causal effect of exposure to maternal psychological stress generated by the 9/11 attacks on the cohort in utero that day. The analysis finds that cohorts exposed during the first or second trimester in New York City weighed less at birth and had shorter gestation lengths. Male and female newborns were affected similarly. At age six, boys were more likely to be in special education and more likely to be in kindergarten rather than first grade, with no effect on girls. Births outside New York City were not affected. The results suggest that psychological stress is an important channel through which adverse conditions experienced by pregnant women negatively impact the early life outcomes of in utero cohorts. The second essay (joint with Katherine Baldiga) presents experimental evidence of a gender difference in the valuation of job training as an explanation for the female advantage in human capital investment that has emerged in many high income countries. In an online labor market, we find that when subjects have limited experience with an unfamiliar task, women are more willing to pay for training than men, and women estimate that the returns to training are higher than men do. We find that task performance, the return to training, self-confidence, and risk aversion cannot explain the gender gap in valuing training. We present suggestive evidence that training may be valued by women for increasing their willingness to take on a challenge. The third essay tests the prediction of several biological theories that maternal condition impacts the sex ratio at birth and causes differential investment by child's sex with data from the Dominican Republic, a developing country with relatively neutral offspring sex preferences. The analysis finds that more educated women are more likely to give birth to sons, and women in the middle of the maternal age distribution are less likely to have a male child die during infancy. These results provide evidence that maternal condition is correlated with the sex composition of children.
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