Essays on Development Economics: Families, Child Human Capital, and Migration
This dissertation consists of 3 essays on development economics, with an overarching theme that relates to the economics of the family, child human capital, and migration. The three essays combine rigorous empirical strategies with the use of uniquely rich longitudinal data, the Mexican Family Life Survey, to advance our understanding of individual, household and family behavior.
Using these population-level data, the first chapter is an evaluation of a prominent anti-poverty program, Oportunidades, on child nutrition. Oportunidades was a leading intervention in targeting resources towards women and linking public transfers to investments in child human capital, and currently serves about one quarter of the Mexican population. To isolate the impact of the program, I draw on evidence from the nutrition and biology literatures regarding the biology of child growth, in combination with the timing of the roll-out of the program and the panel dimension of the data. Consistent with previous evidence, this analysis finds positive and sizable effects on children who live in rural communities incorporated at the beginning of the intervention. In contrast, the impact of the program in rural localities incorporated later in time and in suburban and urban communities are, at best, very modest.
The second chapter uses extensive information on non-co-resident family members, and variation in the spatial dispersion among them, to study the extent to which Mexican families share resources across households and test different models of family behavior. I extend previous work by explicitly looking at families with different degrees of spatial dispersion among their members, including families with members spread across international borders. I adapt the collective model developed in the intra-household literature to model the family decision problem, and I analyze family behavior with respect to two sets of outcomes: household budget shares and child human capital indicators. The results suggest that the combination of looking at different degrees of spatial dispersion within families and different dimensions of family behavior is crucial to a precise understanding of inter-household decision-making.
The third chapter offers an in-depth description and analysis of the determinants of the incidence and magnitude of cross-border remittances by Mexican migrants living in the United States. While the investigation of international remittances has a long history in both the scientific and policy literatures, developing a full understanding of the motivations for and the impact of these transfers has been constrained by inadequate data. In this analysis I use recently-collected and extremely rich longitudinal data on migrants, and their families in Mexico, to predict transfers behavior. Results suggest that important differences exist between male and female transfers patterns, and that key variables related to the degree of connection of the migrant with Mexico (and the U.S.), such as the location of family members, expectations about returning to Mexico, or savings/assets holdings, are all important in explaining remittances patters.
As a member of the team that implemented the third wave of the Mexican Family Life Survey, this thesis is part of a broader collaborative research agenda with both colleagues and advisors. In particular, Chapter 1 is in collaboration with Maria Genoni, Graciela Teruel, Luis Rubalcava, and Duncan Thomas. The programming, analysis, and writing of this chapter, as well as any errors in this work, are my own.
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