Drinking during pregnancy and children’s test scores
Sarah Lewis, Stephanie von Hinke Kessler Scholder, George L Wehby, Luisa Zuccolo 08 March 2014
Excessive drinking during pregnancy is known to harm the foetus, but estimating the effects of moderate prenatal alcohol consumption is difficult, since mothers who choose to drink may differ systematically from those who do not. This column presents recent research showing that a genetic variant in a maternal alcohol-metabolising gene (ADH1B) is negatively related to prenatal alcohol exposure, and unrelated to any of the background characteristics associated with prenatal drinking. Using this genetic variant as an ‘instrumental variable’, the authors find strong negative effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on child educational achievement.
The US Surgeon General first published a report on drinking during pregnancy in 1981, drawing attention to the link between prenatal alcohol consumption and birth defects (Office of the US Surgeon General 1981). The detrimental effects of excessive drinking during pregnancy are now well-known – it potentially leads to a pattern of mental and physical defects known as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The effects of low-to-moderate drinking, however, are less conclusive, and there is no consensus as to what level of exposure is toxic to the foetus.
education, alcohol, pregnancy
More time spent on television and video games, less time spent on studying?
Tomohiko Inui, Ryoji Matsuoka, Makiko Nakamuro 16 January 2014
Parents worry that their children waste too many hours playing video games or watching TV that would be better spent studying. Whereas past research has focused on teenagers, this column presents evidence on the causal effects of study and leisure hours for children of elementary school age, when key lifetime habits are being developed. Video entertainment is found to be a less significant determinant of time spent studying than parental involvement (such as supervision).
Many parents believe that TV and video games are ‘idiot boxes’ that rot their children’s minds and crowd out study time. We agree with this general perception, but add the caveat that less time spent on TV or video games does not automatically lead to more time spent on studying. It is easy to detect the correlation but harder to determine causality. If a causal effect is misattributed, keeping children away from idiot boxes and forcing them to their desks may be simply a waste of effort.
education, Japan, TV, videogames
Democracy in Africa
Thorvaldur Gylfason 17 November 2013
Based on statistical measures of different degrees of democracy vs. autocracy, this article briefly reviews the progress of democracy around the world during the past 212 years, and places democratic developments in Africa since 1960 in that context. Democracy is positively associated with education, which in turn is associated with lower fertility and greater longevity. Democracy is also associated with reduced corruption. Together, these effects suggest democracy should be good for growth – a hypothesis that is borne out by the data.
A man’s admiration for absolute government is proportionate to the contempt he feels for those around him.
― Alexis de Tocqueville
Until the second half of the 19th century, there were so few democratic states around the world that they could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Development Economic history Politics and economics
education, democracy, growth, Africa, Corruption, fertility, life expectancy, autocracy, anocracy
Understanding the mechanisms underlying peer group effects: The role of friendships in determining adolescent outcomes
Jason Fletcher, Stephen L. Ross 03 November 2013
There is a large and growing literature on peer effects, but much less is known about the role of friendships and social relationships in student outcomes. The best evidence on the mechanisms behind aggregate peer effects suggests an important role for discipline and disruption. Very recent research suggests that friends can also have a substantial effect on student outcomes, and in many cases the effect of friends appears to be independent of aggregate peer effects.
Over the last decade, research on peer effects in secondary education has flourished – in part because of the within-school/across-cohort design for identifying peer effects popularised in early work by Hoxby (2000), and partly due to the increasing availability of quality data on K-12 students in the US and internationally. The cohort approach to studying peer effects exploits the idea that when choosing schools, parents cannot easily observe the attributes of the specific cohorts to which their children will belong.
education, Peer Effects, discipline, disruption
Do elite universities admit the academically best students?
Debopam Bhattacharya 13 April 2013
Elite universities’ admission policies are perennially surrounded by controversy given the thorny efficiency and equity issues involved. This column discusses research into such policies focusing on the degree of meritocracy and non-academic bias. It suggests that men and private-school applicants have somewhat higher application success rates despite being held to higher academic admission standards.
The undergraduate admissions process at elite universities, owing to its implications for socioeconomic mobility, is subjected to significant public scrutiny in the UK. Social commentators and politicians routinely call for 'scientific assessment' of existing admission methods (Hewstone 2013) while news media and thinktanks regularly publish reports documenting what appear superficially to be 'unfair' admission practices at selective universities.
education, UK, elite universities
The trend reversal in income inequality and returns to education: How bad is this good news for Latin America?
Augusto de la Torre, Julián Messina 07 March 2013
The last decade has seen unprecedented economic and social achievements in Latin America. This column investigates the relationship between changes in the labour market and the drop in income inequality across the continent. There is certainly room for more research to help us better understand Latin America’s spectacular decline in income inequality, but what is clear is that the good news is tempered by the fact that the specialisation of the region’s economies are relatively low in skill intensity and therefore productivity.
Latin America witnessed unprecedented economic and social achievements during the last decade. In particular, the year 2003 appears as an important inflexion point for the region’s economic history, a point that we have highlighted in several World Bank publications1. Specifically, moderate poverty (less than US$4 purchasing power parity per capita, which leveled around 45% of total population during the 1990s and until 2003, steadily falls to less than 30% by 2011, allowing more than 70 million Latin Americans to leave poverty in less than a decade.
education, income inequality, Latin America
The long-run gains of not mixing genders in high-school classes
Massimo Anelli, Giovanni Peri 23 February 2013
What causes fewer women than men to choose high-earning potential subjects such as engineering, economics or science at undergraduate level? This column presents new evidence from an accidental natural experiment in Italy, suggesting mixed-gender classes at the high-school level reduce the number of women pursuing these subjects. These results suggest that gender-separated classrooms are an effective way to increase women’s career opportunities and salaries.
Gender gap in college majors and earnings
Education Gender Labour markets
Italy, education, wages, gender, women, labour
The reduction of school days in Japan increased educational inequality
Daiji Kawaguchi 02 February 2013
Japan switched to five-day weeks for its primary and junior high schools and saw an increase in educational inequality. This column discusses new evidence suggesting a loose tie between number of days at school and inequality. Importantly, this tie reflects the fact that homes with university-educated parents tend to offset the official reduction in hours with additional tuition.
One of the major objectives of compulsory education is to assure uniform educational opportunities for all children regardless of their socioeconomic background. For that reason, most advanced countries provide compulsory education as well as textbooks free of charge. Getting education policy right for those at an early age is also important for competitiveness in the global knowledge economy (Murtin and Viarengo 2013).
education, Japan, university
Simon Commander, Alexander Plekhanov 29 January 2013
Russia aims to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on natural resources. Despite laudable aims, this column argues that progress has been sluggish. Longstanding obstacles of corruption, low business-entry rates and weak competition afflict other countries that, like Russia, are in transition. Yet Russia comes pretty much bottom of the class. Crucially, the fact that economic diversification requires improvements to education and skills acquisition has been somewhat overlooked by the state. What attempts the state has made, such as supporting technology innovation, appear to have been ineffectual and, at times, counterproductive. Going forward, Russia would do well to focus on improving incentives for market-relevant research and development, complemented by private sector-led sources of finance for early-stage firms.
Russia aims to diversify its economy, thereby moving away from its dependence on oil and gas. Despite much political rhetoric, our research (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development 2012) indicates that, to date, relatively little has been achieved. Oil and gas still account for nearly 70% of total merchandise exports and around a half of the federal budget. Figure 1 shows the increasing share of minerals in total exports when measured in constant prices.
Figure 1. Russia: Structure of exports in real terms (at constant prices)
Russia, education, skills, oil, gas, economic diversification
The expansion and convergence of compulsory schooling: Lessons for developing countries
Fabrice Murtin, Martina Viarengo 18 January 2013
A workforce’s cognitive skills and ability to learn are regarded as crucial factors for countries hoping to develop and become competitive in the global knowledge economy. This column argues that many developing countries‘ basic educational attainment and learning outcomes remain wanting. Taking a look at Europe’s historical record can shed light on the developing-country context, and evidence suggests that simply expanding an ill-functioning educational system will be wasteful. It’s advisable for policymakers to pursue institutional reform aimed at cost-efficiency before they begin implementing school reforms.
One goal of the UN’s Millennium Declaration is “achieving universal primary education” by 2015 (UN 2012). Yet, according to recent statistics, 61 million children of primary school age are not enrolled in school (UNESCO 2012), and 12% do not complete primary education (World Bank 2012). Drop-off rates significantly increase in developing countries during the transition from primary to secondary school.
Development Labour markets
education, schooling, school leaving age, learning outcomes