Theses Doctoral

Essays on Human Capital and Development Economics

Gofere, Solomon

This dissertation addresses three separate questions in human capital and development economics. In the first chapter, I study how college admission concerns drive students' field choices in a field-specific college admission system. To study this question, I leverage a college admission policy reform in Ethiopia that sharply increased the proportion of college seats in public universities allocated to college STEM fields. The reform significantly decreased the admission selectivity of STEM fields in the short run. Using cohort analysis and a regression discontinuity design, I show that students are significantly more likely to choose the STEM fields after the reform. More importantly, I find significant heterogeneity in the field choice response, with the marginal students responding more strongly compared to the infra-marginal students.

In addition, using a complier characteristics analysis, I show that the reform led to a significant sorting on field-specific skills. In particular, those induced to choose the STEM fields have a comparative advantage in skills valued more in the STEM fields. These overall and field-specific sorting significantly changed the peer quality in STEM and non-STEM fields. These findings imply that admission concerns play a significant role in students' field choices. However, students do not naively sort into less selective college fields. Instead, their choices are consistent with their relative position in the distribution of multi-dimensional skills. The latter suggests that students make more informed and rational choices than the existing literature suggests.

In the second chapter, I investigate the effect of the fast expansion of the Second Generation (2G) and Third Generation (3G) mobile technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) on health literacy in the region. Using Demographic and Health Surveys data from 25 countries in SSA and a historical mobile network coverage map, I estimate an Instrumental Variable (IV) specification. I show that the widespread use of these technologies has significantly improved health literacy in the region. Specifically, access to either technology significantly decreases misconceptions and wrong beliefs about diseases and health. The benefits are substantial in regions where the technologies have been available longer. Consistent with the range of services it provides, 3G technology results in a larger gain in health literacy. These findings imply that mobile technologies have considerable potential to improve health and quality of life in many developing countries.

In the final chapter, I study the relationship between birth spacing and children's outcomes, focusing on the mechanisms that underlie the relationship. Using linked mother-child data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), I explore two mechanisms: the maternal health and physiology channel and the material and parental time input channel. The result shows that a short pre-birth inter-pregnancy interval negatively affects the birth endowments of children, highlighting the importance of the birth spacing effect that works through the maternal health and physiology channel. The study also provides evidence in support of the material and parental time input channel. In particular, I show that closely spaced siblings score significantly lower on the standardized Peabody International Achievement Test (PIAT), a wide-range measure of academic achievement for children aged five and above. On the other hand, I find limited evidence of the birth spacing effect on long-term outcomes such as schooling and labor market outcomes. These findings have implications for parental leave and other labor market policies affecting the birth spacing choices of parents.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sustainable Development
Thesis Advisors
Soares, Rodrigo
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 12, 2023