Essays on health and human capital development
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This dissertation consists of three essays on historical and contemporary topics in health and human capital development. Chapter One examines the effects of the Great Depression on the educational outcomes of the 1918 influenza pandemic birth cohorts. I construct a novel dataset linking World War II draftees to the federal population censuses of 1920 - 1940 and newly digitized county-level data on pandemic severity. Using geographic variation in Great Depression exposure, pandemic severity, and their interaction, I find that the larger economic swings dampened the flu's negative effect on educational attainment. I present suggestive evidence that the underlying mechanism was the added-worker effect. Chapter Two collects and imputes data on the elementary and secondary school schedules, which can be linked to infectious disease patterns before and during the current SARS-COV-2/COVID-19 pandemic. Variation in school opening and closing dates during the academic year are shown to have been important drivers of infectious disease, consistent with schools constituting the primary locus of most social interactions among children. The literature on intergenerational transmission usually studies the top-down relationship from parents to their descendants. Chapter Three takes a backward approach and studies the effect of children’s education on parental longevity. Using the exogenous variation in the compulsory attendance laws, child labor laws, and continuation schooling laws in different states from 1880 to 1930 among different states, I estimate the causal effect of children’s education on parents’ longevity and mortality for the American Civil War veterans. To address the endogeneity of children's education, I instrument for actual years of schooling using required years of schooling. The instrumental variable is constructed from geographic variation in exposure to compulsory schooling, child labor, and continuation schooling laws.