Date of Award

8-2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Economics

Major Professor

Celeste K. Carruthers

Committee Members

Donald J. Bruce, Robert F. Kronick, Georg Schaur

Abstract

Within this dissertation, I examine how behaviors are affected by and affect education decisions. Within the first chapter, I examine how infectious disease impacted school enrollment behaviors in a historical context. Both the second and third chapters focus on college financing decisions. The second chapter explores how student loan uptake impacts the retirement behaviors of parents of students. The third chapter examines if and how large-scale merit aid scholarships affect student loan uptake.In the first chapter, I analyze the effect of poliomyelitis outbreaks on school enrollment choices. This chapter adds to a growing literature on avoidance behavior within health economics, which focuses on how the fear of a disease changes behavior and creates additional costs. I find support for the idea that polio outbreaks resulted in lower likelihood of school enrollment for kindergarten-aged children and particularly for kindergarten-aged children with stay-at-home mothers. This result implies the channel for avoidance behavior is the ability to change behavior, here as a result either of a child’s age or a family’s income structure.In the second chapter, coauthored with Celeste Carruthers, we look at an unstudied topic within the student loan literature: how student loans influence parents of students. We examine the effect of student loan presence on several dimensions of retirement behaviors. We find that student loan presence results in significantly fewer dollars in retirement savings, later expected retirement age, and a higher likelihood of being employed and in the labor force in some specifications. However, there is evidence these results are driven by unobservables.In the third chapter, I examine the effect of large-scale merit aid programs on a broad measure of household debt. This debt measure includes student loan debt, credit card debt, medical bills, legal bills, and loans from relatives. Previous literature found large-scale merit aid programs result in lower a likelihood of student loan uptake and lower amounts of student loan debt. I employ a difference-in-difference strategy to exploit differences over time and states in the introduction of the programs. I do not find that these programs result in changes in student loan uptake or amount.

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