NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Abstracts of Selected Recent NBER Working Papers

NBER Working Paper 12954
Sara Bleich, David Cutler, Christopher Murray, Alyce Adams
Why Is the Developed World Obese?

Obesity has risen dramatically in the past few decades. However, the relative contribution of energy intake and energy expenditure to rising obesity is not known. Moreover, the extent to which social and economic factors tip the energy balance is not well under-stood. In this longitudinal analysis of developed countries, we estimate the relative contribution of increased caloric intake and re-duced physical activity to obesity using two methods of energy accounting. Results show that rising obesity is primarily the result of consuming more calories. We estimate multivariate regression models and use simulation analysis to explore technological and sociodemographic determinants of this dietary excess. Results indicate that the increase in caloric intake is associated with techno-logical innovations such as reduced food prices as well as changing sociodemographic factors such as increased urbanization and increased female labor force participation. The study findings offer useful insights to future research concerned with the etiology of obesity and may help inform the development of obesity-related policy. In particular, our results suggest that policies to encourage less caloric intake may help reverse past trends in increased consumption.

NBER Working Paper 12958
Alan Gustman, Thomas Steinmeier
Projecting Behavioral Responses to the Next Generation of Retirement Policies

This paper examines retirement and related behavioral responses to policies that on average are actuarially neutral. Many conven-tional models predict that actuarially neutral policies will not affect retirement behavior. In contrast, our model allows those with high time preference rates to find that the promise of an actuarially fair increase in future rewards does not balance the loss from foregone current benefits. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, we find that from age 62 through full retirement age, the earnings test reduces full-time work by married men by about four percentage points, or by about ten percent of married men at full-time work. Abolishing the requirements on many jobs that an individual work full-time or not at all, what we term a minimum hours constraint on employment, would induce more than twice as many people to enter partial retirement as would leave full-time work, so that total full-time equivalent (FTE) employment would increase, although by a modest amount. If all benefits from personal accounts could be taken as a lump sum, the fraction not retired at age 62 would fall by about 5 percentage points compared to a system where there is mandatory annuitization of benefits.

NBER Working Paper 12981
Jonathan Skinner
Are You Sure You're Saving Enough for Retirement?

Many observers believe current aging baby boomers are woefully unprepared for retirement. Others raise the prospect that Ameri-cans are saving too much for retirement. This paper attempts to reconcile these contrasting views using a simple life cycle model and a more sophisticated retirement program, ESPlanner, with special reference to retirement prospects for economists. I find most households with post-graduate degrees fall short of the wealth needed to smooth spending through retirement. Of course, there are ways to economize during retirement: stepping up household production (cooking at home rather than eating out), selling one's house, or maintaining the modest individual consumption levels from when children still roamed the house. But ultimately, I argue these laudable strategies to reduce retirement expenses will be dwarfed by rapidly growing out-of-pocket medical expenses. The combination of eroding retiree health benefits and the risk of catastrophic future out-of-pocket health spending suggests that even conventional retirement planning recommendations could be too low.

NBER Working Paper 12987
Alix Peterson Zwane, Michael Kremer
What Works in Fighting Diarrheal Diseases in Developing Countries? A Critical Review

The Millennium Development Goals call for reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. This goal was adopted in large part because clean water was seen as critical to fighting diarrheal disease, which kills 2 million children annually. There is compelling evidence that provision of piped water and sanitation can substantially reduce child mortality. However, in dispersed rural settlements, providing complete piped water and sanitation infrastructure to households is expensive. Many poor countries have therefore focused instead on providing community-level water infrastructure, such as wells. Various tradi-tional child health interventions have been shown to be effective in fighting diarrhea. Among environmental interventions, handwash-ing and point-of-use water treatment both reduce diarrhea, although more needs to be learned about ways to encourage house-holds to take up these behavior changes. In contrast, there is little evidence that providing community-level rural water infrastructure substantially reduces diarrheal disease or that this infrastructure can be effectively maintained. Investments in communal water in-frastructure short of piped water may serve other needs and may reduce diarrhea in particular circumstances, but the case for priori-tizing communal infrastructure provision needs to be made rather than assumed.

NBER Working Paper 13045
Melissa Kearney, Phillip Levine
Subsidized Contraception, Fertility, and Sexual Behavior

This paper examines the impact of recent state-level Medicaid policy changes that expanded eligibility for family planning services to higher income women and to Medicaid clients whose benefits would expire otherwise. We begin by establishing that the income-based policy change led to a substantial increase in the number of program recipients. We then examine Vital Statistics birth data from 1990 to 2003 and determine that it also reduced overall births to non-teens by about two percent and to teens by over four per-cent. Our estimates suggest a nearly nine percent reduction in births to women age 20-44 made eligible by the policy change. We supplement our state-level analysis with an investigation of individual-level data from the 1988, 1995, and 2002 National Surveys of Family Growth (NSFG) to examine the impact of these policies on sexual behavior and contraceptive use. Evidence from this analy-sis suggests that the reduction in fertility associated with raising income thresholds for eligibility was accomplished via greater use of contraception. Our calculations indicate that allowing higher income women to receive federally-funded family planning cost on the order of $6,800 for each averted birth.

NBER Working Paper 13083
James Poterba, Steven Venti, and David Wise
New Estimates of the Future Path of 401(k) Assets

Over the past two and a half decades there has been a fundamental change in saving for retirement in the United States, with a rapid shift from employer-managed defined benefit pensions to defined contribution saving plans that are largely controlled by em-ployees. To understand how this change will affect the well-being of future retirees, we project the future growth of assets in self-directed personal retirement plans. We project the 401(k) assets at age 65 for cohorts attaining age 65 between 2000 and 2040. We also project the total value of assets in 401(k) accounts in each year through 2040 and we project the value of 401(k) assets as a percent of GDP over this period. We conclude that cohorts that attain age 65 in future decades will have accumulated much greater retirement saving (in real dollars) than the retirement saving of current retirees.

NBER Working Paper 13133
Christopher Carpenter
How Do Workplace Smoking Laws Work? Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Local Laws in Ontario, Canada

There are very large literatures in public health and economics on the effects of workplace smoking bans, with most studies relying on cross-sectional variation. We provide new quasi-experimental evidence on the effects of workplace bans by using the differential timing of adoption of over 100 very strong local smoking by-laws in Ontario, Canada over the period 1997-2004. We employ re-stricted-use repeated cross section geocoded outcome data to estimate reduced form models that control for demographic charac-teristics, year fixed effects, and county fixed effects. We first show that the effects of the local laws on actual worksite smoking policy (i.e. the "first stage") were not uniform; specifically, local laws were only effective at increasing ban presence among blue collar workers. Among blue collar workers, adoption of a local by-law significantly reduced the fraction of worksites without any smoking restrictions (i.e. where smoking is allowed anywhere at work) by over half. The differential effect of local policies also improved health outcomes: we find that adoption of a local by-law significantly reduced SHS exposure among blue collar workers by 25-30 percent, and we confirm that workplace smoking laws reduce smoking. We find plausibly smaller and insignificant estimates for white collar and sales/service workers - the vast majority of whom worked in workplaces with privately initiated smoking bans well before local by-laws were adopted. Overall our findings advance the literature by confirming that workplace smoking bans reduce smoking, documenting the underlying mechanisms through which local smoking by-laws improve health outcomes, and showing that the ef-fects of these laws are strongly heterogeneous with respect to occupation.

NBER Working Paper 13188
Michael Baker, Kevin Milligan
Maternal Employment, Breastfeeding, and Health: Evidence from Maternity Leave Mandates

Public health agencies around the world have renewed efforts to increase the incidence and duration of breastfeeding. Maternity leave mandates present an economic policy that could help achieve these goals. We study their efficacy focusing on a significant in-crease in maternity leave mandates in Canada. We find very large increases in mothers' time away from work post-birth and in the attainment of critical breastfeeding duration thresholds. However, we find little impact on the self-reported indicators of maternal and child health captured in our data.

 

 
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