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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Essays on Technological Change, Human Capital Accumulation and Economic Growth

  • Author(s): Vidart, Daniela
  • Advisor(s): Lagakos, David
  • et al.

This dissertation consists of three chapters. The first two chapters revisit the link between electrification and the rise in female labor force participation (LFP) during the first half of the 20th century in the United States. Jointly, these two chapters provide theoretical and empirical evidence that one key and previously overlooked way through which electrification led to a rise in female LFP was by increasing market opportunities for skilled women. In the first chapter, I formalize my theory in an overlapping generations model with endogenous human capital accumulation. I find that my mechanism explains one-third of the rise in female LFP during the rollout of electricity in the United States from 1880 to 1960, and helps explain the slow change in female home production hours and work hours during this period. In the second chapter, I present micro evidence that supports my theory using newly digitized data on the electrification of the United States in the 1910s. Consistent with the theory, I find that higher levels of educational attainment increased the response of young women's employment to electrification in this period, particularly for those with post-secondary education, and that electrification raised the educational attainment of subsequent generations of women. In the third chapter, in work joint with Remy Levin, we present evidence for a new channel linking the low rates of individual risk-taking ubiquitous in developing countries, to lifetime experiences of macroeconomic growth and volatility. We combine two panel data sets from Indonesia and Mexico, containing elicited measures of risk aversion, with state-level real GDP growth time series capturing their lifetime macroeconomic experiences. We find that living through periods of increasing macroeconomic volatility increases measured risk aversion, while living through periods of increasing average macroeconomic growth decreases measured risk aversion. However, the aforementioned effects of macroeconomic volatility are 2-4 times larger than those of average macroeconomic growth. These effects are robust to controlling for changes in income, wealth, savings, and exposure to violence and natural disasters. Moreover, these effects are economically significant, translating into changes in outcomes that closely depend on risk attitudes, like borrowing, migration and crop choice.

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