Date of Award

Spring 2015

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Reagan Baughman

Second Advisor

Le Wang

Third Advisor

Andrew Houtenville


This dissertation is composed of three independent essays that focus on the economics of child health and development.

The first chapter explores whether availability of the SBP has affected maternal labor supply by using variation in the SBP mandates within-state over time to identify the effect. To increase the availability of the School Breakfast Program (SBP), between 1989 and 2012, 21 states passed laws that require schools to provide the SBP if the fraction of students eligible for free or reduced-price breakfast in their school districts exceeds a certain threshold. Using the CPS Food Security Supplement data between 1995 and 2012, I first show that the SBP mandates significantly increase program participation among mothers with a high school degree or below and among single mothers. Then I estimate the effects of mandates on maternal labor supply using March CPS 1990 to 2013 surveys. The findings suggest that among less-educated mothers and single mothers, a mandate that requires all schools to provide the SBP is associated with an increase in the probability of being employed and working full time, and an increase in weekly hours of work. However, weaker mandates do not have the same maternal labor supply effects.

The second chapter examines the effects of smoking bans on birth outcomes. Prenatal smoking has serious adverse consequences on infant health. Among the newest policies developed to reduce smoking and second-hand smoke are smoking bans. Using individual-level birth certificate data from the Natality Detail File between 1995 and 2009, which is matched to county-level data on smoking bans, we investigate the impacts of smoking bans in bars, restaurants and workplaces on infant birth weight, gestations, 5-minute APGAR scores and incidences of cleft lip/palate. In general, bans are not associated with changes in birth weight or weeks of gestation. Surprisingly, we find small increases in rates of low birth weight and very low birth weight infants born to young women in counties that adopted at least one type of ban during the study period. We also show that the negative infant health effects associated with smoking bans appear among babies born to mothers who reported not smoking during pregnancy; this suggests that increased exposure to second-hand smoke is likely to be the mechanism.

The third chapter examines the impact of a heretofore relatively unexplored input in the educational process—language environment at home—on student academic achievement during early childhood. Using the confidential data from Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Class (1998-99), we are able to exploit cross-sectional geographic variation in local language environment, augmented with the recently developed instrumental variable strategy in Lewbel (2012), to identify the causal effect. Our results show that speaking a language other than English at home has a sizable, negative impact on reading test scores in both third and fifth grades, but has no effect on math scores in either grade. We find no evidence that speaking a language other than English at home has any effect on the growth rate of test scores from the third to the fifth grade, regardless of the subject.