Empirical essays in health and development economics
Brown, James N.
Doctor of Philosophy
In the first essay, titled "Is Economic Transition a Health Hazard? Estimating the Short-term Effect of Income on Self-assessed Health in Russia: 1994--2000," I use data from the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey to estimate the causal impact of income on self-assessed health status of adults. Accounting for the possibility of reverse causation and incidental association between health and income, as well as controlling for various socio-demographic characteristics, the results from both ordinary least squares and instrumental variables models suggest that the causal effect of income on health is negligible in the period under study. The second essay, titled "Health and Relative Income in Transitional Russia," presents evidence on the importance of relative income for individual health in Russia. Controlling for the absolute level of income, all relative income measures which are based on distances in incomes between individuals are found to be not significant. Using cross-sectional variations in the data, however, individuals' percentile ranks are positively correlated with health within relatively broadly defined reference groups. This result, generally consistent with previous studies on the importance of social ranks, suggests that increasing everybody's income equally may be inconsequential for health. Nevertheless, after controlling for individual heterogeneity, this study finds no evidence that any of the relative income measures is associated with individual health. In the third essay, coauthored with Eli Berman and titled "Fertility and Education in Radical Islamic Sects: Evidence from Asia and Africa," we find that fertility is significantly higher among families with members attending Islamic schools in all five countries. Returns to education are generally lower among these families, though that result is statistically significant in only two of the five samples, the ones with a more precisely defined indicator of Islamic education. These findings are consistent with the predictions of a club-good model of religious sects as well as with previous results for Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel and Anabaptist sects in North America, suggesting a common pattern of behavior across sects of different religions, as well as.