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Abstract

This dissertation is composed by four chapters studying the accumulation of human capital at different stages of the life cycle. Each chapter concludes with policy recommendations aiming to improve the distribution of educational opportunities, from preschool to adult life. Parent engagement with their children plays a key role in their eventual economic success. Chapter 1 reports results from a randomized field experiment designed to increase the time that parents in subsidized preschool programs spend reading to their children using a reading application. The treatment, which included three behavioral tools (text reminders, goal-setting, and social rewards) increased usage of the reading application by one standard deviation after a six-week intervention. The findings suggest substantial promise for the application of behavioral tools to parenting interventions that promote investments in children's human capital. Chapter 2 examines whether the initial benefits of delayed school enrollment persist in the long run. Regression-discontinuity estimates, based on birth dates cutoffs, show that there are initial positive effects of a one-year delay on grades, test scores, attendance and persistence, but they decrease monotonically as students grow older. Those effects vanish by the end of high school and have no effect on the likelihood enrolling in any higher education institution. These findings indicate that delaying school enrollment in childhood does not have significant lasting effects and thus provide evidence against the counterintuitive recommendation from previous literature that children should start school later. Chapter 3 examines whether test-score-based university admissions discard high-ability, low-income applicants. I use data from a policy that offered slots to top high-school students from disadvantaged backgrounds with scores below admission cutoffs. I find that beneficiaries (i) enrolled in university-major combinations with higher expected wages compared to their next-best alternatives; (ii) would not have fared significantly better in less selective majors; and (iii) are equipped with skills not measured by test scores that enable them to outperform their peers in their same majors. The findings suggest that admissions may be improved on efficiency and equity simultaneously. Chapter 4 links data on educational attainment for three generations in Chile. The main findings indicate that grandparental education influences grandchildren’s schooling even after taking the parental factor into account. Accordingly, standard two-generation estimations over-predict intergenerational mobility over three generations. We find that (i) upward schooling mobility has moderately increased with younger cohorts, (ii) parents’ place of origin matters for upward mobility, as shown by heterogeneity in mobility across geographical regions, and (iii) having more educated same-sex ancestors matters more for women and suggests that gender-related social roles may be passed along generations within families. All in all, the results suggest that family background effects can be longer lasting than previously believed, affecting the endowments and idiosyncratic capabilities of children.

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