Abortion and Access to Better Schools in Romania

According to the literature on human capital, family and school environments have a significant impact on an individual’s development and future success. However, there is not much evidence on how the interaction between family and school environments affects individuals. Indeed, some of the advantages of accessing early education or having a nurturing family might be undone if either parents or teachers give less attention to a child because of his or her initial successful performance in school.

In their paper, Ofer Malamud, Cristian Pop-Eleches, and Miguel Urquiola examine whether a positive interaction between family and school environments exists in Romania. To measure the effects of family environments, they use the shock caused by the legalization of abortion in 1989 (after the fall of Communism). Their hypothesis is that families of children born after this policy change were potentially better prepared to support their children’s development through a nurturing environment. As for school environments, the shock is measured by students’ test scores, which can allow them access to better high schools.

First, the authors compare the academic outcomes for children born before and after the legalization of abortion. Children’s academic outcomes were measured by their transition scores to enter high school and their scores on the Baccalaureate exam. The pre- and post-legalization cohorts transitioned from middle school to high school in 2005 and 2006, respectively. The results show that the children who were born after the legalization of abortion had transition scores that were 0.1 points higher than those who were born before it.

The researchers then examine whether school environment also has an effect by measuring the impact of access to a better high school. The researchers rank the high schools within each city and set a cutoff equal to the lowest transition score of a student in the highest-performing high school in each city. This allows them to compare the outcomes for students just above and below the cutoff through a regression discontinuity design. The researchers find that, if a child scores just above the cutoff, the peer quality that he or she experiences in high school is 0.1 points better on average. Also, students who have access to better schools perform 0.03 standard deviations better on the subsequent Baccalaureate exam.

Finally, the researchers examine the interaction between family and school environments by analyzing whether having access to a better school (a shock of school environment) is associated with academic performance among students who were raised in different family environments induced by the legalization of abortion (a shock of family environment). Controlling for seasonality of births, they find that access to a better high school had the largest effect on the Baccalaureate score for those who were born before abortion was legalized. Thus, individuals who came from “better” families through the legalization of abortion and who had access to better high schools did not have better academic performance. Instead, the students who were born to “worse” families before the ban on abortion, but that were able to access better high schools, performed better on the Baccalaureate exam.

In the Romanian context, these results suggest that access to better high schools delivers positive results, despite the more disadvantaged context of some students. While the authors are unable to show a positive interaction between family and school environments, it must be noted that they only explore one shock to each setting, the legalization of abortion and access to better high schools. Further study of the interactions of human capital investments at different developmental stages is needed to better understand how to allocate economic resources. Better understanding the dynamic between family and school environments can inform policymakers about the efficacy of interventions to eliminate the academic disadvantages of vulnerable children.

Article Source: Malamud, Ofer, Cristian Pop-Eleches, and Miguel Urquiola. “Interactions between Family and School Environments: Evidence on Dynamic Complementarities?” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 22112, 2016.

Featured Photo: cc/(vladbaciu, photo ID: 23639705, from iStock by Getty Images)

Marlene Saint Martin
Marlene ('17) is a staff writer for Child & Family. She is interested in education, family policy and evaluation.

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