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Three Essays in Health and Development Economics

  • Author(s): Xue, Yuhan
  • Advisor(s): Dobkin, Carlos E
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License
Abstract

The main focus of this dissertation is on social issues affecting people's health and welfare, within both the developed world and developing world. Particularly, policy changes are employed as natural experiments, to identify the health and social impacts of policies and welfare. This dissertation consists of three chapters.

Chapter 1 analyzes the health effects of China's centralized home heating infrastructure. The primary health mechanism is that recipients of centralized heating do not need to use traditional fuels to heat their homes, and thus suffer from less exposure to indoor air pollution. A secondary mechanism is the increased quality of modern heating leads to improvement in health. I exploit spatial and time variation in the implementation of China's centralized heating program. Spatial variation takes the form of a discrete geographical cutoff between regions that receive centralized home heating, and those that do not. I compare areas near the geographical cutoff, before and after the provision of centralized heat using a difference-in-differences framework. My outcomes of interest are perinatal mortality and prevalence of low birth weight infants, since existing research suggests this sub-population is most vulnerable to indoor air pollution. I find that areas with centralized heating have a 0.13% decrease in perinatal deaths and a decrease of 1.17% in the proportion of low birth weight infants. This translates to about 7,000 fewer deaths and about 60,000 fewer low birth weight infants each year.

Chapter 2 investigates EBT card reforms in California's food stamp program, and the impact on food insecurity. Our hypothesis is that EBT cards will reduce food insecurity by reducing the food costs associated with loss and theft of benefits, as well as decreasing fraudulent sales of benefits. We use the California Health Interview Survey, and the roll-out of EBT card reforms across California counties, to conduct an event study. Our findings suggest no evidence for a decrease in food insecurity. We do, however, find evidence of a transitory increase in food insecurity immediately following EBT card reforms. Reforms increase the likelihood of food insecurity by about 2% for 1-2 months depending on the measure of food insecurity used. The result is distinguishable from zero, and robust to changes in specification, inclusion of controls, and measurement choices. We posit the increase was due to a less than perfectly smooth transition to the EBT card system.

Chapter 3 uses large, national surveys to investigate individual attributes associated with probability of divorce. In recent years China's divorce rate has risen rapidly. With this rapid rise has come a large number of potential explanations, both those grounded in economic theory, and those widely discussed in the public discourse. We investigate which individual attributes are associated with an increased probability of divorce, and to explain which explanations are not empirically substantiated. We find that Western attitudes and a sense of relative affluence are predictive of divorce. Furthermore, most popular explanations are not empirically confirmed. Finally, we find that previous results suggesting divorce is associated with worse mental health outcomes are applicable in China and not only Western nations.

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