PhD Defense of Esmée Zwiers on Thursday 4 July 2019

On Thursday 4 July 2019, Esmée Zwiers will defend her PhD thesis entitled: 'About Family and Fate: Childhood Circumstances and Human Capital Formation'. Esmée's supervisors are Dr Anne Gielen and Prof. Dr. Dinand Webbink.

In her PhD thesis, Esmée studies how three different childhood factors influence the child's human capital formation, and focuses on the role of family in fate.

In the first study, Esmée focuses on childhood circumstances before conception by examining how improved socioeconomic conditions affect parental selection. She uses regional variation in the timing of the liberation of the Netherlands at the end of WWII to, as this liberation caused a birth peak in the area that experienced the largest improvements in socioeconomic conditions. Esmée finds that growing up in a less stable family environment does not lead to poorer long-term labor market and health outcomes.

In the second study, Esmée looks at childhood circumstances after conception but before birth. In this study, Esmée examines - in collaboration with Dr. Anne Gielen - whether biology, and more specifically parental testosterone, can explain gender differences in educational performance. They exploit exogenous variation in prenatal testosterone exposure resulting from a natural experiment in twins. Esmée and Anne find that girls with a twin brother score about 7% of a standard deviation lower on math in primary school. No effects are found for reading,

In the third study, Esmée focuses on childhood circumstances after birth. Esmée examines how a preference against being in last place shapes the child's educational outcomes by studying a Dutch educational reform that merged the two lowest educational tracks. She exploits that only children who are expected to attend the lower track are affected by this and she analyses how the reform impacts the track recommendation made by the teacher and children's performance on a high-stakes standardized test. Esmée finds that children who are expected to attend the lowest track are less likely to receive a track recommendation above the lowest track, and perform worse on the high-stakes standardized cognitive test. 


About Esmée

Esmée Zwiers finished her MSc in Economics and Business Economics (specialisation: Policy Economics) at Erasmus School of Economics in 2015. After obtaining her Master, she started a PhD at the Tinbergen Institute. As an applied microeconomist, Esmée works primarily in the fields of family economics, labor economics, and health economics. In her work, she examines how market conditions affect parental selection, and consequently the child’s labor market and health outcomes in late adulthood.  

In September 2019, Esmée wil join the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University as a Postdoctoral Research Associate.


Time and location

The PhD defence will take place on Thursday 4 July 2019 at 13:30, in the Senate Hall of Erasmus University Rotterdam (Campus Woudestein).

More information


For more information about this ceremony, please contact Ronald de Groot, Communications Officer of Erasmus School of Economics (+31 10 408 17 62 or email: