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Causal inference in social policy evidence from education, health, and immigration

Heller Sahlgren, Gabriel (2019) Causal inference in social policy evidence from education, health, and immigration. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Separating causation from correlation in empirical studies is crucial for drawing the right conclusions for social-policy development. In the last decade, the emergence of increasingly sophisticated econometric techniques has opened up new ways to draw causal inferences in studies analysing observational data. This thesis contains four papers employing such techniques to answer important research questions in three different areas of social policy: education, health, and immigration. The first paper analyses the impact of retirement on mental health in ten European countries. It exploits thresholds created by state-pension ages in an individual-fixed effects instrumental-variable set-up, borrowing intuitions from the regressiondiscontinuity design literature, to deal with endogeneity in retirement behaviour. The results display no short-term effects of retirement on mental health, but a large negative longer-term impact. This impact survives a battery of robustness tests, and applies to women and men as well as people of different educational and occupational backgrounds similarly. The findings suggest that reforms inducing people to postpone retirement are not only important for making pension systems solvent, but with time could also pay a mental-health dividend among the elderly and reduce public health-care costs. The second paper studies whether independent-school competition involves a tradeoff between pupil wellbeing and academic performance. To test this hypothesis, it analyses data covering pupils across the OECD, exploiting historical Catholic opposition to state schooling for exogenous variation in independent-school enrolment shares. The paper finds that independent-school competition decreases pupil wellbeing but raises achievement and lowers educational costs. The analysis and balancing tests indicate these findings are causal. In addition, it finds several mechanisms behind the trade-off, including more traditional teaching and stronger parental achievement pressure. The third paper analyses the impact of refugee inflows on voter turnout in Sweden in a period when shifting immigration patterns made the previously homogeneous country increasingly heterogeneous. Analysing individual-level panel data and exploiting a national refugee placement programme to obtain plausibly exogenous variation in immigration, it finds that refugee inflows significantly raise the probability of voter turnout. Balancing tests on initial turnout as well as placebo tests regressing changes in turnout on future refugee inflows support the causal interpretation of our findings. The results are consistent with group-threat theory, which predicts that increased out-group presence spurs political mobilisation among in-group members. The fourth paper investigates the impact of adult education and training (AET) on employment outcomes in Sweden. Exploiting unusually rich data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies and using an inverse-probability weighted regression-adjustment estimator to deal with selection bias, it finds that AET raises the probability of doing paid work by 4 percentage points on average. This impact is entirely driven by non-formal, job-related AET, such as workshops and on-the-job training. The paper also finds that the effect – which increases with training intensity – is very similar across different types of non-formal, job-related AET. Specification and robustness tests indicate the estimates are causal. The results suggest that policies stimulating relevant AET take-up have promise as a way to secure higher employment rates in the future.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Gabriel Heller Sahlgren
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
L Education > L Education (General)
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: Silva, Olmo and Le Grand, Julian

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