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The Impact of Childhood Circumstances on Long-Run Outcomes

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 5, 2024 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM (CST)

Convention Center, 303 B/C
Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: Jesse Rothstein, University of California-Berkeley

Divorce, Family Arrangement, and Children’s Adult Outcomes

Andrew Johnston
University of California-Merced
Maggie R. Jones
U.S. Census Bureau
Nolan G. Pope
University of Maryland


Families are a ubiquitous and basic unit of society, and they play a central role in child development. The last century has seen a rise in divorce, such that 28 percent of children born in the U.S. between 1988 and 1993 experienced a parental divorce before adulthood. We use linked U.S. tax and Census records to examine how divorce shapes the arrangement of family life and how it affects children’s adult outcomes. We find that at the onset of divorce, parents separate, household earnings fall, children move to poorer neighborhoods, and stepparents enter the family system. We estimate the effect of divorce on children’s adult outcomes by comparing siblings with varying years of exposure to divorce within the same family. Experiencing a parental divorce in childhood reduces adult earnings and college attendance while increasing the likelihood of teen birth and incarceration. The negative effects of divorce are larger for children who experience a divorce at younger ages and children of low-income families.

The Long-Run Effects of Residential Racial Desegregation Programs: Evidence from Gautreaux

Eric Chyn
University of Texas-Austin
Robert Collinson
University of Notre Dame
Danielle H. Sandler
U.S. Census Bureau


This paper provides new evidence on the long-run effects of residential racial desegregation policies by studying the Gautreaux Assisted Housing Program. From the late 1970s until the 1990s, Gautreaux assisted thousands of Black families to move to predominately white, mostly suburban neighborhoods. We link historical program records to administrative data and use plausibly exogenous variation in neighborhood placements to estimate the effects of Gautreaux on the long-run outcomes of children. Being placed in a white neighborhood significantly increases children’s future lifetime earnings, employment, and wealth. Gautreaux children placed in a white neighborhood are also significantly more likely to be married and twice as likely to be married to a white spouse. Moreover, placements through Gautreaux impact the neighborhood choices of children in adulthood. Children placed in white neighborhoods during childhood live in more racially diverse neighborhoods with higher rates of upward mobility nearly 40 years later.

Peer Death Exposure and High School Outcomes

Joshua Goodman
Boston University
Janelle Fouche
Harvard University


Researchers are increasingly interested in the role of trauma and loss in children’s lives. Linking the universe of Massachusetts public school students to the universe of Massachusetts death certificates, we document the death rates of school-aged children and explore the impact of student deaths on their peers’ high school outcomes. Annual death rates are steady through grades 1-8 but rise rapidly in high school, driven largely by boys and most starkly by Black boys. In any given year, 5 percent of high school students have a grademate die. School-grade fixed effects models suggest that experiencing a grademate’s death lowers test scores, attendance, GPA, and high school graduation rates. The effects are stronger the earlier in high school students experience a peer's death and are stronger for low income, Black and Hispanic students. Our results suggest that spillover effects from peer deaths extend beyond the relatively narrow focus of recent literature on school shootings.

Maggie E.C. Jones
Emory University
JEL Classifications
  • H0 - General
  • J0 - General