NBER Working Paper No. 145 (Also Reprint No. r0422)
A common theme which runs through much of the investment literature is that private incentives may lead to sub-optimal levels of investment activity. The idea has been extended casually to consideration of human capital investment as well. It is sometimes contended that decisions, made by parents, have adverse effects on their offspring, which could be prevented if inter-generational contracts could be struck. If so, a case can be made for government intervention or subsidization programs to alleviate these intergenerational externalities. Specifically, the sub-optimal investment in offspring human capital may take such obvious forms as poor clothing, too little health care, or too few resources devoted to the child's education. Less obvious externalities may result when parents underinvest in themselves because they fail to consider spillover benefits to their children. Parental schooling, for example, may affect the child's ability (or desire) to learn. Dietary patterns established by parents for themselves may influence the child's eating habits and affect his health. More directly, healthy parents are less likely to transmit diseases to their offspring. This paper will examine the effects of these intergenerational externalities in greater detail.