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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Essays in Labor Economics

  • Author(s): McAdams, John M.
  • et al.

This dissertation consists of three essays in labor economics. The first chapter tackles a classic problem in labor economics: estimating the returns to schooling. Compulsory schooling laws have been used extensively as an instrument for years of completed schooling in estimating the causal effect of education on a number of outcomes. But pre-existing state-level trends in educational attainment induce a spurious positive relationship between educational attainment and compulsory schooling laws. An event study model reveals that the laws have no effect on the distribution of educational attainment, thus making them inappropriate as an instrument. The laws' ineffectiveness can be explained by non-compliance and by measurement error in the proxy used to assign the laws in typical micro datasets. The second chapter investigates the impact of school starting age policy on the propensity to commit crime. The timing of school entry will affect the maturity and readiness to learn of those whose entry decision is directly affected by the policy, and students who are not directly affected by changes in school entry policies may benefit from an older average cohort through positive peer effects. I find that a higher school starting age cutoff leads to lower rates of incarceration among both those directly affected by the laws and those who were only indirectly affected. However, the reduction in crime among those directly affected is smaller in magnitude, implying that delaying school entry is harmful with respect to crime outcomes. The third chapter examines whether expanding access to advanced coursework--in particular, Advanced Placement (AP) courses--in high school leads to greater student participation and changes in post-secondary outcomes. I study the receipt of two federal grants to expand student participation in AP within a large, urban school district. Exposure to the grant led to a 38 percent increase in average AP course taking, as well as higher enrollment at two-year colleges and persistence to the second year of college

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