Essays on the Economics of Health and Education

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Virginia Tech

This dissertation brings new causal evidence on three topics in education and health. In the first chapter, I study how in-utero exposure to floods affects the education and health outcomes of individuals. I focus on the 1982-1983 El Niño event in Peru to exploit a natural experiment. I assess the impacts of plausible and exogenous in-utero exposure to excess rainfall on education achievement at adulthood. I find that individuals exposed in-utero to the 1982-1983 El Niño floods, have less chances to have completed primary education at adulthood with different effects by place of residence and gender. In the second chapter, I study how a low-cost face-to-face intervention, that exposed senior-year high school students to female role models affects career preferences and reduces the gender preference gap for STEM programs in Peru in a randomized controlled trial. I find that exposure to role models increased preference for engineering majors only for those girls in the top math ability quartile; and that the effect was stronger for those who reside geographically close to the role models' university. Finally, in the third chapter, I investigate how to optimally allocate students to academic programs. I evaluate external signals of ability transmitted to students by academic probation rules in Peru using a regression discontinuity design. The analysis suggests that academic probation is associated with higher drop-out rates from programs and a deterioration in subsequent academic performance. I conclude that in a society with predominant gender norms, signals of ability could aid to the retention of only qualified students in selected programs with further implications on aggregate productivity and the allocation of talent.

STEM gender gap, role models, career choices, academic probation, environmental conditions.