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Essays in Applied Microeconomics

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This dissertation contains three essays in Applied Microeconomics. Chapter 1 provides the first causal estimates of the effect of children’s access to computers and the internet on adult educational outcomes such as schooling and choice of major. I exploit cross-cohort variation in access to technology among primary and middle school students in Uruguay, the first country to implement a nationwide one-laptop-per-child program. Despite a notable increase in computer access, educational attainment has not increased. However, college students who had been exposed to the program as children, were more likely to select majors with good employment prospects. Chapter 2 provides the first empirical evidence of the historical effects of natural disasters on economic activity in the United States. Although the literature has focused on salient natural disasters, more than one hounded strike the country every year, causing extensive property destruction and loss of life. My coauthors and I construct an 80 year panel data set that includes the universe of natural disasters in the United States from 1930 to 2010 and study how these shocks affected migration rates, home prices and poverty rates at the county level. Severe disasters increased out-migration rates by 1.5 percentage points and lowered housing prices/rents by 2.5–5.0 percent, but milder disasters had little effect on economic outcomes. Chapter 3 exploits the 1962 publication of Silent Spring, the first successful environmental science book, to investigate whether public information can influence popular demand for environmental regulation. Protecting the environment is often plagued by collective-action problems, so it is important to understand what motivates politicians to act. Combining historical U.S. congressional roll-call votes and census data, I find that the propensity of politicians to vote in favor of pro-environmental regulation increased by 5 to 33 percentage points after the publication of the book. The response to the informational shock varies with the constituency’s level of education, income, and exposure to pollution.

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