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Essays in Health Economics and Labor Economics


Chapter I: The Impact of Occupation on Health

Participation in meaningful occupations contributes to good health and well-being. Workers are more likely to derive satisfaction from participating in occupations well-suited to their skills and training. This project provides causal evidence of the impact of occupation on health among college graduates. In particular, I estimate the health effect of participation in occupations well-suited to their education level, that is, occupations that value college education. Valuation of college education in an occupation is measured by occupation-specific college earning premium: the adjusted percentage difference in earnings between workers with and without college degrees in this given occupation. The causal inference relies on estimation with instrumental variables, which are constructed in the spirit of Hausman’s price instrumental variables. The result suggests that college educated individuals participating in occupations with higher college earning premiums have better self-reported health, even after accounting for income, occupational prestige, and within-occupation hierarchy. This is the first paper to establish the causal impact of occupation on health. I also show that this causal impact remains significant across various specifications.

Chapter II: The Power of Propaganda

Since the 1950s, China’s central government’s gender equality propaganda is widely accepted as the explanation for China’s high female labor force participation rate. In an effort to provide empirical evidence for this viewpoint, this project shows that early exposure to propaganda promoting gender equality affects individuals’ attitudes towards women in the workforce. We gauge variation in the political climate between 1952 and 2008 by using the official newspaper of the central government, People's Daily, which has been under the direct control of the Chinese Communist Party's top leadership. For causal inference, we exploit provincial variation in propaganda intensities, proxied by provincial level radio and television signal coverage. In addition, we use the timing of exogenous events to generate an instrumental variable for intensity peaks of the gender-equality propaganda. First, we exploit the exogenous timing of a series of national and international Women’s Conference as one set of instrumental variables. Second, we utilize the timing of Jiang Qing’s (Mao’s wife) coming into prominence and her sudden removal by a political coup towards the end of the Cultural Revolution. We find that women with more intense exposure to propaganda promoting gender equality before age 26, and men with more intense exposure before age 18 tend to endorse women’s participation in the workforce. The effect of propaganda is more pronounced on women than men. It is worth noting that while propaganda encourages women’s participation in the workforce, it does not emphasize men’s responsibility in the household. We indeed find evidence of the “superwoman complex”: women are expected to strive for a career and do the bulk of the housework. This further evidence suggests that propaganda is able to transmit a more nuanced message, rather than a singularly progressive one. This is the first paper to empirically establish the long-term effect of early exposure to propaganda on individual’s preference formation.

Chapter III: Do Food Stamps Need More Restrictions?

Given the high prevalence of obesity in low income population, several times in the history of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Congress has considered placing limits on the types of food that could be purchased with program benefits. This study provides empirical evidence on the effectiveness of such potential restriction by examining the impact of income on calorie consumption patterns. The intuition is that if limited budget is the main reason why low-income households choose calorie dense food items, then subsidy without any restriction, acting as an upward shift in income, would reduce the likelihood of obesity. Using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2007-2014, I compare individuals from households who were recently dropped from SNAP, most likely due to a positive income shock, to individuals who are still participating in the program. I find little income effect on calorie consumption patterns. Whereas reduced grocery store accessibility is significantly correlated with an increase in total calorie intake, and calorie intake from sugar and fat. The result of this study suggests that placing limits on the types of food that could be purchased would be effective in curbing the obesity pandemic in low income population, and it also confirms the importance of eliminating food deserts.

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