Working Papers

At least one of every five marriages is consanguineous (between couples who are second cousins or closer) in the Middle East and North Africa, and the rate is higher than 50 percent in some parts of the world. Consanguineous marriage generates serious health problems for the offspring, most of which cannot be offset by interventions and investments after birth. High prevalence of consanguinity, coupled with high fertility rate in developing countries constitutes an economic problem with its associated medical costs and its impact on human capital. Using data from Turkey and leveraging an education reform which increased mandatory schooling by three years, we find that the reform made women less likely to find consanguineous marriage an acceptable practice, and that the reform reduced women’s propensity to marry a first cousin or a blood relative. Women who are exposed to the reform marry older, are closer in age to their husbands, are less likely to be in an arranged marriage, and are less likely to have met their husbands through their family, relatives or neighbors. The reform changed women’s preferences in favor of an educated husband, it reduced women’s probability of having being forced into marrying someone they did not want to marry, and made women less likely to agree that only a son can ensure the continuation of the family blood line. These results indicate that educational attainment can alter behaviors and attitudes which may be rooted in culture. Policies which increase female education can be a vehicle through which the prevalence of consanguineous unions and the related health risks can be diminished. For example, in Turkey, there would have been 56,000 additional children born to consanguineous marriages each year in the absence of the education reform.

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In Chinese culture those who are born in the year of the Dragon under the zodiac calendar are believed to be destined for good fortune and greatness, and parents prefer their kids to be born in a Dragon year. Using provincial level panel data, we first show that the number of marriages goes up during the two years preceding a Dragon year and that births jump up in a Dragon year. Using three recently collected micro data sets from China we show that those born in a Dragon year are more likely to have a college education, and that they obtain higher scores at the university entrance exam. Similarly, Chinese middle school students have higher test scores if they are born in a Dragon year. We show that these results are not because of family background, student self-esteem or students’ expectations about their future. We find, however, that the “Dragon” effect on test scores is eliminated when we account for parents’ expectations about their children’s educational and professional success. We find that parents of Dragon children have higher expectations for their children in comparison to other parents, and that they invest more heavily in their children in terms of time and money. We also show that girls are about six cm shorter than boys, but that this height disadvantage is cut by about half if a girl is born in the year of the Dragon and that effect is twice as strong in rural areas. Given that childhood nutrition is related to adolescent height, this suggests that parents may also be investing in Dragon girls in terms of nutrition. The results are insensitive to model specification and estimation strategy, including using an RD design. These results show that even though neither the Dragon children nor their families are inherently different from other children and families, the belief in the prophecy of success and the ensuing investment become self-fulfilling.

Using information on more than 1,500 elected Members of the Parliament (MPs) and the votes received by political parties in five consecutive elections in Turkey (1991-2011), and exploiting the randomness generated by the seat allocation mechanism, we show that elected MPs are more likely to switch parties after an election if they faced electoral uncertainty and experienced a narrowly-won victory. A number of MP and party characteristics influence the decision to switch. Politicians switch parties after an election to improve their ex-ante re-election probability in the following election, and party-switching MPs are more likely to get elected in the next election. MPs switch parties to move towards the median voter. These results point to forward looking opportunistic behavior of politicians regarding their strategy to win future elections to have a longer tenure in the Parliament.

This paper presents the first analysis in the literature of the effect of test-based grade retention on adult criminal convictions. We exploit math and English test cutoffs for promotion to ninth grade in Louisiana using administrative data on all public K-12 students combined with administrative data on all criminal convictions in the state. Our preferred model uses the promotion discontinuity as an instrument for grade retention, and we find that being retained in eighth grade has large long-run effects on the likelihood of being convicted of a crime by age 25 and on the number of criminal convictions by age 25. Effects are largest for violent crimes: the likelihood of being convicted increases by 1.05 percentage points, or 58.44%, when students are retained in eighth grade. Our data allow an examination of mechanisms, and we show that the effects are likely driven by declines in high school peer quality and educational investments that result in lower non-cognitive skill acquisition. We find little effect on juvenile crime. Using the method proposed by Angrist and Rokkanen (2015), we also estimate effects of grade retention away from the promotion cutoff and show that our results are generalizable to a larger group of low- performing students. Our estimates indicate that eighth grade test-based promotion cutoffs lead to nontrivial private and social costs in terms of higher levels of long-run criminal convictions that are important to consider in the development and use of these policies