'About family and fate'
Promotion: Esmée Zwiers
In her dissertation, Esmée Zwiers states that circumstances in childhood are important for someone's outcomes in education and the labour market. This means that inequality between children at birth can lead to greater inequality when they are adults. On 4 July, Zwiers defends her thesis 'About Family and Fate: Childhood Circumstances and Human Capital Formation'.
Many childhood conditions are correlated with each other, making it difficult to determine the individual contribution of each factor. Zwiers therefore uses quasi-experimental methods in her research and studies three factors in childhood that can influence the formation of human capital: varying from before the conception of the child to long after birth.
Factor 1: External circumstances
In the first study, Zwiers focuses on a factor for the conception of the child. How do external circumstances influence which type of parents a child will have? And, how does this affect the long-term outcomes of their children? She studies an improvement of conditions that arose from the end of the Second World War in the Netherlands.
Zwiers states that there is no evidence for parental selection: children who were conceived just after the war, during better circumstances, have no different labour market or health outcomes than children who were conceived fifty years later. She also states that growing up in a less stable family does not lead to worse results at a later age.
Factor 2: Hormonal differences
In the second study, Zwiers examines whether another prenatal factor, hormonal differences, has an effect on educational outcomes. The focus is on the role of prenatal testosterone, a hormone whose concentrations are higher in men than in women. It uses exogenous variation in exposure to prenatal testosterone in twins and states that higher prenatal testosterone leads to lower mathematical scores for girls.
Factor 3: Environment
In the third study, Zwiers examines how another environmental factor after birth, the design of the education system, influences school performance.
This dissertation brings us one step closer to understanding the factors that are important for the formation of human capital in childhood. This is especially important in view of contemporary technological progress: due to a greater appreciation of human capital, the consequences of adverse conditions in childhood are greater than ever.