Research

Working Papers

"The Post-War Baby Boom Did Not Make Up for the Pre-War Baby Bust: Evidence From Lifecycle Fertility" (Job Market Paper) - Working paper coming soon


This paper explores the effects of the Second World War (WWII) and the Great Depression on lifecycle fertility in the Netherlands. I document an immediate and unprecedented baby boom after the end of WWII that followed the baby bust of the 1930s. It is unclear whether these events just shifted the timing of fertility or changed women’s completed fertility. I combine administrative data on births with historical data and show that women experienced the crisis and war at different ages and differentially across locations. This variation in the timing and spacing of these events across maternal birth cohorts is exploited in order to estimate counterfactual distributions of births using a bunching methodology. I show that the Great Depression had a larger effect on lifecycle fertility than WWII. Further, the rise in fertility after the liberation did not make up for the “missing” births that did not take place because of the war and the Great Depression. The magnitude of these “missing births” is largest for women who were between the ages of 16 to 31 at the height of the Great Depression. These findings shed new light on the importance of economic factors in influencing fertility decisions.


"Moral Barriers to Birth Control Access: How the Pill Changed Dutch Women's Lives - When Religion Did Not Get in the Way" (with Olivier Marie)


This study asks how religious beliefs affected the take up of the birth control pill and affected women’s outcomes using the 1970 liberalization of oral contraceptives in the Netherlands. We first document a massive and immediate drop in fertility among minor women, aged 21 or younger, for whom access restrictions were most drastically reduced. We show that area level social norms – as proxied by votes for political parties opposed to contraception for religious reasons – influenced pill adoption by examining its impact on female fertility control and human capital formation. After liberalization, younger women who grew up in more liberal areas were much less likely to experience a birth or marriage as a minor, invested more in education, and ended up in wealthier households. However, having a larger proportion of religiously opposed health professionals – GPs and pharmacists – around a woman at the time of liberalization canceled out the short- and long-run benefits from pill access.


"Medication of Postpartum Depression and Maternal Outcomes: Evidence from Geographic Variation in Dutch Prescribing" (with Janet Currie) - Working paper coming soon


Using data on over 420,000 first time Dutch mothers, we examine the effects of postpartum antidepressant use on a wide range of maternal outcomes including further treatment for severe mental illness, labor market outcomes, and family formation. We exploit rules which state that Dutch general practitioners (GPs) must be available to make house calls to their patients. In practice many therefore use postal code boundaries to limit their practices. We instrument a woman’s receipt of antidepressants with the propensity to prescribe antidepressants to women aged 46 to 65 among GPs in her postal code. Ordinary Least Squares estimates suggest highly negative effects of postpartum antidepressant treatment but this is mainly due to selection into treatment. Instrumental variable estimates suggest that the marginal patient treated with postpartum antidepressants is much more likely to continue taking antidepressants long-term, with little evidence of effects on other outcomes.


"Biology and the Gender Gap in Educational Performance - The Role of Prenatal Testosterone in Test Scores" (with Anne Gielen) - IZA DP No. 11936


This paper aims to better understand the persistence of gender gaps in adult economic outcomes by studying the influence of pre-birth factors on educational performance early in life. We exploit natural variation in prenatal testosterone exposure between fraternal twins. Such exposure has been shown to affect the organization of the brain in the developing fetus. The twin design helps control for postnatal factors and we also examine interactions between prenatal exposure and postnatal factors. Girls with a twin brother have higher mean birth weights than girls with a twin sister, leading us to predict that they should have higher test scores. However, they lag behind their brothers in terms of math scores by the end of primary school. Our findings suggest that post-birth factors are driving this result, and that these offset any direct biological advantage of prenatal testosterone on test scores. Overall, these results suggest that gender differences in test scores are strongly socially determined.


Publications

"Technology and Big Data Are Changing Economics: Mining Text to Track Methods" (with Janet Currie and Henrik Kleven), AEA Papers and Proceedings, 110, 42-48, 2020 (online appendix/data and code)

The last 40 years have seen huge innovations in computing and in the availability of data. Data derived from millions of administrative records or by using (as we do) new methods of data generation such as text mining are now common. New data often requires new methods, which in turn can inspire new data collection. If history is any guide, some methods will stick and others will prove to be a flash in the pan. However, the larger trends toward demanding greater credibility and transparency from researchers in applied economics and a 'collage' approach to assembling evidence will likely continue.


Works in Progress

"The Effects of Must-Access PDMP Laws on Heterogeneity in Opioid Prescribing" (with Janet Currie and Molly Schnell)

"The Children of the Dutch Pill" (with Olivier Marie)

"The Effects of Being Born during the Great Depression and the Second World War"