Essays on policy, health, and education




Shea, Meghan Elizabeth

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The first paper provides an economic analysis of how school lunches impact the parents of low-income school-aged children. Because households share food, even if not every member of a household directly participates in a food assistance program like the free school lunch program, it is still feasible that every member of a household benefits from the program. I find that the receipt of free school lunches is associated with an increase in average BMI for low-income adults compared with other adults with children of the same age. The results show that adults in low-income households experience a 0.265 point increase in BMI and an increase of 1.5 percentage points in the likelihood of being obese when a school-aged child receives free school lunches. The second paper, co-authored with Lauren Schudde, investigates the impact on wages of accumulating different types of credits, including academic, technical, and developmental credits, for two-year college students. In particular, we focus on the impact of credits for individuals that do not earn a degree and how that may differ from the returns to credits for individuals that do earn a degree. Using administrative data from the state of Texas, we employ a series of fixed effect models to follow students over time. Our results illustrate how average estimates of returns to credits obscure the patterns of returns for two-year college students as those who do not earn a credential experience different returns to credits when compared with their peers who do earn a credential. The third paper provides a descriptive analysis of the change in average BMI for women in India. First I look at overall trends in average BMI, proportion underweight, and proportion overweight that have changed between 2005 and 2015. Then I break out these changes by different demographic characteristics associated with health and BMI including age, wealth, education, and location. Finally, I look at how this change has affected a particularly important population in when it comes to health - prepregnant women. Here, I find a large increase in average BMI across the female population in India between 2005 and 2015. Where the results found in the first paper are concerning given the high average BMI for low income adults in the US, a large increase in average BMI is a positive outcome in this environment. The proportion of prepregnant women that were underweight decreased from 39.0% to 26.7% between 2005 and 2015. This is a positive result not only for the women in India, but for the health of their pregnancies and children. Together these papers provide analyses of policies that impact vulnerable populations. The first paper looks at the impact of a food assistance program on low income adults. The second paper explores the choices community college students make, in terms of types of credits taken and degrees earned, and how those choices impact their wages. Finally, the third paper evaluates how the health of the female and maternal populations in India has changed in recent years.



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