Essays on education, inequality and society
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This dissertation consists of three chapters on labor economics. The first two chapters focus on education, and the third examines inequality and incarceration. Chapter one explores whether college students strategically delay exiting college in response to poor labor market conditions. It exploits variation in U.S. state unemployment rates to identify the causal impact of unemployment rates on time to graduation. Strategic delay is observed among both men and women. Results indicate that students delay graduation by approximately 0.4 months for each percentage point increase in junior-year unemployment rates, implying the average student delays by approximately half a semester during a typical recession. Effects are greatest for men with freshman majors in education, professional and vocational technologies, the humanities, business, and the sciences, and for women in education, the sciences, or undeclared. Delays are robust to fluctuations in students’ in-school work hours, earnings, and job market conditions. Chapter two assesses the impact of over-the-counter access to emergency contraception on women’s educational attainment using variation in access produced by state legislation since 1998. Approximately 5% of American women of reproductive age experience an unintended pregnancy annually, indicating a significant unmet need for contraception. Results indicate that cohorts with greater access to emergency contraception are more likely to graduate from high school and attain the associate’s degree. Effects for high school graduation are most pronounced among black women, while increases in associate’s degree attainment are driven primarily by white and Hispanic women. Chapter three explores the relationship between incarceration and generational inequality. Using a calibrated OLG model of criminal behavior with race, inheritance and endogenous education, I calculate how much longer prison sentences, and a higher likelihood of capture and conviction contribute to income inequality. Results indicate that changes to criminal policy mirroring those of the “tough on crime” legislation of the 1980s and 1990s, including an 18% increase in criminal apprehension and a 68% increase in prison sentence length, have little impact on inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient. Instead, the model provides evidence that these enhanced enforcement measures deter crime and decrease incarceration rates.