Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Theodore Joyce

Committee Members

Michael Grossman

David Jaeger

Subject Categories

Health Economics | Labor Economics


Human Capital, Health, Education, War


This dissertation explores dynamics related to the formation of human capital. In the two chapters contained within, my work investigates how human capital is formed and maintained through either individual decisions or historic events. In particular, the first chapter analyzes the long-term health effects of a large-scale bombing campaign on the population of a developing country up to two generations after the event occurred; the second chapter analyzes how attending a public honors college in the U.S. affects the degree completion of students and their college quality choice. In these two different contexts, I approach the common topic of human capital from the perspectives of different subfields within economics: that of health and development economics in the first chapter, and that of the economics of education in the second chapter. A well-established body of literature assesses the health effects of \textit{in utero} and early life exposure to harmful events such as violence, pollution, or famine. Such large-scale negative shocks have also been shown to affect long-run economic growth through the emergence of poverty traps that result from a rapid decline in human capital. Although there are several channels through which adverse situations might have effects that persist over time, the vast majority of existing work estimates the effects of exposure to such events on the first generation born after the shock. Effects on those not directly affected by the shock are often difficult to identify empirically, however, so far less work has been done on whether such shocks can persists across generations. The first chapter in this dissertation begins to address this gap in the literature. In particular, I ask whether the exposure of women born during the 1970 to 1974 U.S. Bombing campaign in Cambodia had effects on the health of their children \textemdash a generation born between 1995 and 2005. I combine a dataset containing the timing and GPS location of the bombing campaign with the household location of Cambodian women in the Demographic and Health Survey. I then create a measure of exposure of these women during their \textit{in utero} period and in early life. Using this measure and the fact that the DHS sample captures women who were born at different times in the same location, I exploit within-location birth cohort variation to identify the effect of mothers' exposure to the bombing campaign on the health of their children --- who were born more than two decades after the bombing. The results provide robust empirical evidence that a harmful shock that affects health capital can persist across generations. By showing the lasting legacy of the bombing campaign, these findings shed new light on current-day concerns regarding the persistent low levels of health among women and children in Cambodia. Given the well-established relationship between health and future educational attainment and labor market outcomes, these legacy effects are likely to continue to affect measures of human capital and economic development into the future. My second dissertation chapter, ``An Honor and a Privilege: Effects of an Honors College on Completion and College Quality" explores human capital from a different angle: investment in education. College quality and one's performance in tertiary education is a major determinant of labor market success, and in many countries applicants and their parents face various financial options when considering college options. Some populations are more financially sensitive to these trade offs than others, and the availability of merit aid or scholarships frequently factor heavily into enrollment and college choice decisions. As of 2018, there are more than 700 honors college programs at 4-year institutions in the U.S., and these programs aim to attract high-caliber students by offering full scholarships together with smaller honors classes and seminars, special advising, and encouraging of research and studying abroad among other benefits. These characteristics make honors colleges a competitive alternative to more expensive schools, although a common concern is that such financial incentives can cause students to delay degree completion and forgo college quality. This is of particular concern for those who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who, from a social mobility standpoint, have the most to gain from attending a high-quality school but are also most likely to be sensitive to financial considerations in weighing college options. In this chapter I exploit administrative cutoffs applied to applicants' SAT scores in offering them admission to the honors college to estimate the causal effect of admission to and attendance in an honors college on students' degree completion and college quality. This approach implements a regression discontinuity design, which relies on the assumption that individuals around an eligibility threshold are similar in their observable and unobservable characteristics except for their acceptance into the program; that is, the essential comparison is based on the idea that individuals just under the admission threshold are a viable comparison group to individuals just over the threshold. I use administrative data of applicants provided by the partnering institution, combined with National Student Clearing House data and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System on school characteristics. The results show that the marginal applicant who enrolls in the public honors college studied does not experience differences in graduation time compared to the applicant just below the threshold. This suggests that the benefits of the scholarship do not generate perverse incentives for students to delay their degree completion compared to marginal non-admits. I also find that enrollment in the honors college induces gains in college quality at a relatively low cost. These results contrast with previous findings where merit-based aid induces delay in graduation and students forgo college quality by enrolling in the institution that offers the scholarship, and provide evidence that an honors college at a public institution can be a competitive alternative to more expensive selective private schools. In other words, the opportunity cost that the high-caliber applicants face when making the human capital investment of attending college is lower for the honors college alternative compared to private selective institutions. Taken together, these two chapters provide novel empirical evidence on two topics in the economics of health and human capital. I exploit rich datasets and implement different econometric strategies to investigate these questions, and beyond a purely academic contribution, the findings can inform policymakers concerned with the determinants of health and human capital in these different contexts.

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