NBER Publications by Christopher A. Neilson

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Working Papers and Chapters

November 2014Gray Matters: Fetal Pollution Exposure and Human Capital Formation
with Prashant Bharadwaj, Matthew Gibson, Joshua Graff Zivin: w20662
This paper examines the impact of fetal exposure to air pollution on 4th grade test scores in Santiago, Chile. We rely on comparisons across siblings which address concerns about locational sorting and all other time-invariant family characteristics that can lead to endogenous exposure to poor environmental quality. We also exploit data on air quality alerts to help address concerns related to short-run time-varying avoidance behavior, which has been shown to be important in a number of other contexts. We find a strong negative effect from fetal exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) on math and language skills measured in 4th grade. These effects are economically significant and our back of the envelope calculations suggest that the 50% reduction in CO in Santiago between 1990 and 2005 increase...
July 2013Are Some Degrees Worth More than Others? Evidence from college admission cutoffs in Chile
with Justine S. Hastings, Seth D. Zimmerman: w19241
Understanding how returns to higher education vary across degree programs is critical for effective higher education policy. Yet there is little evidence as to whether all degrees improve labor market outcomes, and whether they do so for students from different types of backgrounds. We combine administrative and archival data from Chile with score-based admissions rules at more than 1,100 degree programs to study how the long-run earnings effects of college admission depend on selectivity, field of study, and student characteristics. Our data link admissions outcomes for 30 cohorts of college applicants to administrative records of labor market outcomes up to 30 years post-application. We estimate regression discontinuity specifications for each degree, and describe how threshold-crossing ...
October 2012The Gender Gap in Mathematics: Evidence from Low- and Middle-Income Countries
with Prashant Bharadwaj, Giacomo De Giorgi, David Hansen: w18464
We establish the presence of a gender gap in mathematics across many low- and middle-income countries using detailed, comparable test score data. Examining micro level data on school performance linked to household demographics we note that first, the gender gap appears to increase with age. Indeed, the gap nearly doubles when comparing 4th grade and 8th grade test scores. Second, we test whether commonly proposed explanations such as parental background and investments, unobserved ability, and classroom environment (including teacher gender) explain a substantial portion of the gap. While none of these explanations help in substantially explaining the gender gap we observe, we show that boys and girls differ significantly in perceptions about their own ability in math, conditional on math...
August 2012The Effect of School Choice on Intrinsic Motivation and Academic Outcomes
with Justine S. Hastings, Seth D. Zimmerman: w18324
Using data on student outcomes and school choice lotteries from a low-income urban school district, we examine how school choice can affect student outcomes through increased motivation and personal effort as well as through improved school and peer inputs. First we use unique daily data on individual-level student absences and suspensions to show that lottery winners have significantly lower truancies after they learn about lottery outcomes but before they enroll in their new schools. The effects are largest for male students entering high school, whose truancy rates decline by 21% in the months after winning the lottery. We then examine the impact attending a chosen school has on student test score outcomes. We find substantial test score gains from attending a charter school and some ev...

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