Twinkle twinkle little estrella: The impact of bilingualism on cognitive skills of immigrant children

Should immigrants talk to their children in the destination country's or their native language? This paper sheds light on the implications of this decision for children's cognitive abilities. I first\ present a model that illustrates the trade off faced by immigrant parents when deciding on language spoken at home. In the model, parents who speak the destination country's language are less effective in transmitting human capital but complement better with destination country's schools. In the empirical analysis, I exploit the richness of the New Immigrant Survey to first analyze the determinants of language spoken at home and then study the relationship between children's cognitive abilities and language spoken at home conditional on household composition, parental origin, parental language proficiency, parenting style and children characteristics. Finally, I estimate cognitive ability production functions with individual (and siblings) fixed effects, using a random coefficients model and instrumenting language spoken at home by unemployment rate differentials between English and non-English proficient immigrants. Results suggest that speaking both English and the native language at home improves children's cognitive abilities.


Network Effects on Migrant Remittances (with Zoe Kuehn)

This paper explores whether immigrants' remittance behavior is influenced by other conationals in their area of residence. Using the National Immigrant Survey, a unique database for Spain, I show that immigrants living close to many conationals tend to replicate the remittance behavior of their country group. This result holds after accounting for nationality traits (e.g. culture) and municipality characteristics (e.g. labor demand) that influence remitting behavior. It is also robust to the selection of immigrants into municipalities where conationals live. These findings shed new light on the determinants of the decision to remit, as well as on the scope of immigrant networks.


Recessions and Babies' Health (with Libertad Gonz\'{a}lez)

We study the effect of the business cycle on the health of newborn babies using 30 years of birth certificate data for Spain. Exploiting regional variation over time, we find that babies are born healthier when the local unemployment rate is high. Although fertility is lower during recessions, the effect on health is not the result of selection (healthier mothers being more likely to conceive when unemployment is high). We match multiple births to the same parents and find that the main result survives the inclusion of parents fixed-effects. We then explore a range of maternal behaviors as potential channels. Fertility-age women do not appear to engage in significantly healthier behaviors during recessions (in terms of exercise, nutrition, smoking and drinking). However, they are more likely to be out of work. Maternal employment during pregnancy is in turn negatively correlated with babies’ health. We conclude that maternal employment is a plausible mediating channel.

Media coverage: The Atlantic, March 2014 (see article)



Compulsory Schooling Laws and Migration across European Countries (with Zoe Kuehn)

Demography, forthcoming

Educational attainment is a key factor for understanding why some individuals migrate and others do not. Thus, compulsory schooling laws which determine an individual's minimum level of education can potentially affect migration. We test whether and how increasing the length of compulsory schooling influences migration of affected cohorts across European countries, a context where labor mobility is essentially free. We construct a novel data base that includes information for thirty-one European countries on compulsory education reforms passed between 1950-1990. Combining this data with information on recent migration flows by cohorts, we find that an additional year of compulsory education reduces the number of individuals from affected cohorts who migrate in a given year by 9\%. Our results rely on the exogeneity of compulsory schooling laws. We perform a variety of empirical tests which all indicate that European legislators did not pass compulsory education reforms as a reaction to changes in emigration rates or educational attainment.


Returns to Education and Educational Outcomes: the Case of the Spanish Housing Boom

Journal of Human Capital, Volume 10, Issue 2, Pages 235-265, 2016

This paper provides a novel identification strategy to estimate how returns to education affect school enrolment. It also explores the consequences of changes in returns to education on students' performance as measured by grade completion. The identification strategy relies on the fact that the construction sector employs mostly uneducated men and hence the Spanish housing boom significantly decreased the difference in returns to education between men and women. Results show that a 10% increase in the ratio of wages of educated to uneducated individuals leads to a 2% increase in the probability of being enrolled in school and a 0.2% increase in grade completion among 16 to 18 year-olds. These findings suggest that the influence of returns to education on educational outcomes is sizeable and wider than previously thought.


Should I stay or should I go? Sibling Effects in Household Formation (with Veruska Oppedisano)

Review of Economics of the Household, December 2016, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 1007–1027

In Southern Europe youngsters leave the parental home significantly later than in Northern Europe and United States. These countries have implemented policies that make young adults form a new household earlier. Do peer effects among siblings modify the effects of these policies? Estimating peer effects is challenging because of problems of reflection, endogenous group formation, and correlated unobservables. We overcome these issues in the context of a Spanish rental subsidy, exploiting the subsidy eligibility age threshold to analyze sibling effects. Our estimates show that sibling effects are negative and vanish for close-in-age siblings. The negative effects can be explained by the presence of an old or ill parent while positive effects arise in contexts where imitation predominates (from older to younger siblings and when siblings are close-in-age). We conclude that policy makers should target the household rather than the individual, and combine policies for young adults together with policies for the elderly.


The Effect of Product Market Competition on Job Security

Labour Economics, Volume 35, August 2015, Pages 145-159

This paper studies the impact of product market competition on job security. I use differences between types of labor contracts to measure job security. The effect of competition on the use of different types of labor contracts is identified by changes in legislation that lead to exogenous shifts in competition. Using both worker data from the Spanish Labor Force Survey and firm data from the Spanish Business Strategies Survey, I show that job security decreases with competition. A one standard deviation increase in competition decreases the probability that a worker switches to a more secure labor contract by at least 22 percent.

Online Appendix


Fostering Household Formation: Evidence from a Spanish Rental Subsidy (with Veruska Oppedisano)

The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy: Contributions, 2015, vol. 15, issue 1

In Southern Europe youngsters leave their parental home significantly later than in Northern Europe and the United States. In this paper, we study the effect of a monthly cash subsidy on the probability that young adults live apart from parents and childbearing. The subsidy, introduced in Spain in 2008, is conditional on young adults renting accommodation, and it amounts to almost 20 percent of the average youngsters' wage. Our identification strategy exploits the subsidy eligibility age threshold to assess the causal impact of the cash transfer. Difference-in-Differences estimates show positive effects of the policy on the probability of living apart from parents, living with a romantic partner, and chidbearing for 22 year-olds compared to 21 year-olds. Results persist when the sample is expanded to include wider age ranges. The effect is larger among young adults earning lower incomes and living in high rental price areas. This is consistent with the hypothesis that youngsters delay household formation because the cost is too high relative to their income.

Media coverage: Nada es Gratis, July 2012 (see post)


Working Women and Fertility: The Role of Grandmothers' Labor Force Participation (with Marian Vidal-Fernandez)

CESifo Economic Studies (2015) 61 (1): 123-147

Grandmothers' availability for childcare has been shown to increase the labor force participation (LFP) and fertility of daughters. However, childcare availability depends highly on grandmothers LFP status. When grandmothers work, intergenerational income transfers to their daughters may increase at the expense of time transfers (through childcare). Using a Two-stage Two-steps Least Squares estimation, we exploit changes in legal retirement ages in Italy to explore the trade-off between mothers' LFP and daughters' LFP and fertility choices. We show that when mothers are out of the labor force, they provide more childcare, and their daughters' LFP and fertility increase and decrease, respectively. While the increase in LFP is consistent with previous studies analyzing the effect of mothers' childcare on daughters' LFP, the decrease in fertility seems counterintuitive. We argue that altruistic mothers who participate in the labor force increase monetary transfers at the expense of time transfers, to their daughters, and that this can have an ambiguous effect on fertility. Thus, our results show that income effects are stronger than time transfer (childcare provision) effects when mothers' unavailability is determined by LFP.


Does Foreign Language Proficiency Foster Migration of Young Individuals within the European Union? (with Zoe Kuehn)

The Economics of Language Policy, edited by Bengt-Arne Wickstroem and Michele Gazzola, MIT Press (ISBN: 978-0-262-03470-8)

Speaking the language of the host country eases migrants’ integration and tends to boost their economic success in the country of destination. However, the decision to acquire language skills may in itself be determined by the intention to migrate. In addition, conditional on being a migrant, the relation between language skills and migrants’ integration and economic success goes both ways. Using data on the study of foreign languages during compulsory education in European countries, we test whether and how much language proficiency determines migration flows across Europe. The European Union with basically unlimited labor mobility and pronounced differences in youth unemployment rates provides an ideal testing ground for our hypothesis. We find that speaking the language of a country increases the likelihood to migrate to that country almost fivefold.