Well folks.... it's #NBERday !!! I didn't do it last week so a few papers will be from last week's batch.
We're going to start with papers about what I know you'll all agree is the most important topic: fertility and family! #NBERday
And we get to START with the economic history of fertility! So fun!

Q: Which came first in a random French village: cultural or economic modernization?

A: Cultural. Fertility transition LONG predated sectoral shift or education.
#NBERday nber.org/papers/w25490
This paper uses super-detailed archival records from the village of Saint-Germaine d'Anxure to track the changing family and economic behaviors of the people who lived there. Very neat data! And another in a long line of "French village studies." #NBERday
This figure shows a good summary of their findings. Fertility fell to replacement rate by 1810, long before any appreciable increase in literacy, and when class immobility was still very high. The transition *was truly cultural* not about economic development. #NBERday
Strikingly, fertility actually RISES during the first period of booming education! The big change comes once literacy is rising *and class immobility falls* simultaneously. Btw, agriculture share of local economy is stable across this window. #NBERday
Now, one has to be careful not to extrapolate too much from France's experience to other countries. France is widely recognized to have had an unusually early, and oddly "shaped", fertility transition. Maybe culture played a smaller role in other countries. #NBERday
But, what this DOES show is that, in at least some countries and contexts, there can be radical changes in fertility rates uncorrelated with underlying economic fundamentals, and closely associated with cultural shocks (e.g. French Revolutionary sentiment). #NBERday
IN OTHER WORDS, culture matters for fertility. For more riffing on that, see my piece here: #NBERday ifstudies.org/blog/culture-m…
Still on fertility:

Q: Fertility has fallen a LOT in the US in the last 10 years! But.... is that maybe just because of lower UNINTENDED births?

A: Nope. Lower unintended births account for just a third of the decline. #NBERday nber.org/papers/w25521
This paper does the invaluable work of rigorously mapping NSFG intendedness characteristics onto CDC births by demographic group. Below is what they get from 2002 coefficients; but the results are very similar for whatever base year you use. #NBERday
There are, I think, two interesting high-level meta-commentary things to note about this paper. First, that it explicitly is engaging in the natalist conversation. See the clip below. Second, that it phrases its findings quite curiously. #NBERday
I'm glad to see good researchers explicitly engaging with the question of natalist policymaking.

What is weird to me is that a paper finding unintended births only account for 1/3 of the decline spent its whole text talking about *the decline in unintended births.* #NBERday
Yes, the decline in unintended births has been somewhat larger than the decline in intended births. But solidly 2/3 of the decline is because intended births have declined too. #NBERday
So what they've really proven is that ***fertility did not decline primarily due to improvements in birth control and reproductive health***. Declining abortion rates mean it didn't decline due to more abortion either. #NBERday
If anything, this paper reads to me as a green light on pro-natalist policymaking.

Most of the recent decline has NOT been driven by women avoiding unwanted births! That simply is NOT the main story! #NBERday
So if most of the decline isn't about preventing unwanted births, then there's probably a lot of pent-up demand for childbearing. So we *should* be able to do something about that with good pro-natal policymaking. Huzzah! #NBERday
Next up is a shot at @bryan_caplan .

Q: Does parent quality matter?

A: Yes. Exploiting divorce, parent death, etc, a child's outcomes are more correlated with the parents' outcomes the longer they co-reside. #NBERday nber.org/papers/w25495
One of their most compelling findings showing that parents matter is from a robustness test: they show that maternal death matters MORE than paternal death for child outcomes, consistent with the idea that it's parent investment, not income earning, that matters here. #NBERday
The sample here is the full census of all Israeli children who attended secular schools over a nearly 20-year period. They've got tens of thousands of death/divorce events included, so a pretty solid sample to work with. #NBERday
Now, two caveats that sprang to mind quickly while reading.

1. Israel may not be the US.
2. They assume a parent's death post-matriculation-exam could not have causally altered pre-exam interactions. But chronic diseases absolutely could matter! #NBERday
A parent suffering from end-stage cancer for the year before the exam and dying after the exam should NOT cause any effect on exam performance in their model. In reality, it would. #NBERday
However, if anything, this should strengthen their result: some of the "treated" group are accidentally included in the "untreated" comparison, reducing estimated effect size. #NBERday
Their effects are robust to family size as well, and to within-household specialization. Whoever spends the most time with kids, their traits, so to speak, are most replicated in the kids. #NBERday
There aren't any pretty charts for this one. But the point is, having an educated parent spend a lot of time with a kid causally improves that kid's chance at passing a high-stakes exam. In Israel. #NBERday
This is one of the better demonstrations of parental time investment as a causal agent in child outcomes that I've seen. #NBERday
Also, a note, this is a neat article to give a peripheral cite to if you want to talk about whether having parents spend time at home with their kids is a worthwhile objective of social policy. #NBERday
Next paper I will briefly mention: it's a description of survey data on what kinds of investments in education parents *think* are valuable. They seem to think $45 in weekly tutoring is worth as much as 3 hours of parent time, either is worth more than school switching. #NBERday
Oh, didn't link. HEre's link:

I might buy that 3 hours of parent attention might matter as much as a school switch but not that $45 in tutoring is worth as much. #NBERday
Their method was basically to give parents various hypothetical education scenarios for their kid, and say what they expect their kid will end up earning. Here's outcomes (British pounds): #NBERday
British parents really don't care much about school quality. Weird. #NBERday
Speaking of school quality!

Q: Does locating a school downwing of a polluter reduce student outcomes?

A: Yep. #NBERday nber.org/papers/w25489
The polluter here, btw, is just a major highway. So we're not talking about billowing smokestacks; just cars. And being downwind does indeed lower student performance. #NBERday
They test this within-student transfers between middle/high school where the feeders aren't 1-to-1, so you get some variation. #NBERday
This nudges my priors a bit. And I'm already a true believer that air pollution matters. However, I have to say, that effect size estimate is not WILDLY compelling. #NBERday
Oh, crap, folks, I misordered a paper! I meant to do this one back with the parenting bit!

Q: Does daddy getting shot by the Confederates impact a kid's later-in-life outcomes?

A: For girls, yes. It made them poorer and more likely to die. #NBERday nber.org/papers/w25480
Practically speaking, this is *actually* a measure of whether a father being hit with a physical disability in a manual labor economy impacts childrens' outcomes. Put another way: do negative income shocks matter.

Yeah, they do. #NBERday
And who do negative income shocks hit the hardest? Whichever member of the family was already the most marginal, of course! In this case, daughters. #NBERday
The next paper is only indirectly about births. But it IS about families.

Q: Does aging reduce growth? Can that be prevented?

A: Yes it does, and.... maybe?
This paper is a complicated formal model of a type that is not my expertise. But *basically* they show that you can describe peoples' behavior decently well by assuming young people derive some utility from informal, uncompensated care of their elders. #NBERday
But, as the number of elders rises, and especially sick elders, and as there are fewer young people, the demands on young peoples' uncompensated time rise, while each elder gets less time. Everybody is poorer and also lonelier. #NBERday
However, if you can reduce the disease burden among elders, everybody is a LITTLE bit richer but a LOT bit happier. SO the model says. The model assumes UN medium-variant population change. #NBERday
The authors suggest compensating informal elder care could be greatly welfare-improving. Basically: pay people to hang out with their grandparents and take care of them. Okay. I get that. I agree elder care is important.

Buuuuuuut.... #NBERday
I think the model has a big problem.

It assumes the rate of population growth is fixed, when it isn't. Notably curing Alzheimers, the central question of the paper would save a large number of elder lives. The elder share of the population would grow more. #NBERday
For a while, the total disease burden among elders would fall. Yay! But *something kills you eventually*. The disease burden would eventually rise again. #NBERday
The key here is the authors assume a steady state after 2096, and assume no population feedback. But if we actually extend elder lifespans, boosting elder population, and unchain the 2096 steady state, my guess is their cautious optimism falls apart. #NBERday
Because they aren't looking at population's dynamic response, it strikes me that they also miss that the actual fix here isn't paying young people to hang with olds. It's just making more youngs through births or immigration. #NBERday
And in the long run, just births, because immigration will decline by late 21st, and also allowing in tons of adult immigrants with low fertility will worsen the problem in the 22nd. #NBERday
ALL THAT TO SAY.... this paper is interesting. It clearly shows the big problem with an aging society: eventually, there aren't enough youngs to provide meaningful informal care. The whole system has to be on the market. It eats up economic resources. Growth slows. #NBERday
But I think the authors are too optimistic (in that dire scenario, I bet fertility desires fall too!). Old-age disease cures don't actually balance the equation, and population feedback is a big deal in the long run. #NBERday
(To be clear: we SHOULD cure Alzheimers. We just shouldn't convince ourselves that doing so provides a meaningful solution to population aging) #NBERday
On that immigration question, btw, it's worth noting another paper shows that immigrants tend to retire later than natives, which means immigration really does help even old-age system solvency in the near term. #NBERday nber.org/papers/w25518
Speaking of immigrants, nice descriptive paper here: immigrants make heavier use of a big startup incubator, and form bigger, more diverse networks through it. #NBERday nber.org/papers/w25509
Speaking of networks....

Q: Does shutting off your Facebook make you happier?

A: Yes. But from there, things get complicated.
#NBERday nber.org/papers/w25514
So how did people spend their time after researchers got them to shut down their Facebook accounts for 4 weeks?

They tweeted more!

Oh, also watched more TV, hung out with friends and family, did offline activities.... so lots of different responses! #NBERday
The political outcomes are likewise confusing. Perhaps depressing.

Shutting off Facebook reduced the likelihood people voted and reduced political knowledge. But it also reduced partisan anger, polarization, and distrust! #NBERday
IN OTHER WORDS, the polarization doesn't come from fake news.

It comes from the real news. Negatively shocking how informed people are makes them less polarized and angry. It's actual facts that make people angry. #NBERday
This effect was bigger for Democrats it seems like. Shutting down Facebook didn't impact Republicans much; maybe a SMALL shift to the left. But unplugging Facebook shifted Democrats a *lot* to the RIGHT. #NBERday
Finally, shutting off Facebook did make people a bit happier. Whoop-doo! #NBERday
Overall, this is pretty pessimistic stuff. I dunno guys. Unplugging might make you happier. But it also might make you a worse, less informed, less engaged citizen. Or, *gasp* it might make you conservative. #NBERday
It's Chinese New Year's Eve here in Hong Kong, so I'm gonna call it here for the day. There are also some interesting tax papers, and one on voter ID. None of them tickled my fancy after review. I'm a bit pre-emptive here, but, 新年快樂 ! #NBERday
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