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Externalities in the Classroom: How Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Affect Everyone's Kids


  • Scott E. Carrell
  • Mark L. Hoekstra


It is estimated that between ten and twenty percent of children in the United States are exposed to domestic violence annually. While much is known about the impact of domestic violence and other family problems on children within the home, little is known regarding the extent to which these problems spill over to children outside the family. The widespread perception among parents and school officials is that these externalities are significant, though measuring them is difficult due to data and methodological limitations. We estimate the negative spillovers caused by children from troubled families by exploiting a unique data set in which children's school records are matched to domestic violence cases filed by their parent. To overcome selection bias, we identify the effects using the idiosyncratic variation in peers from troubled families within the same school and grade over time. We find that children from troubled families significantly decrease their peers' reading and math test scores and significantly increase misbehavior of others in the classroom. The effects are heterogeneous across income, race, and gender and appear to work primarily through troubled boys. The results are robust to within-sibling differences and we find no evidence that non-random selection is driving the results.

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  • Scott E. Carrell & Mark L. Hoekstra, 2008. "Externalities in the Classroom: How Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Affect Everyone's Kids," NBER Working Papers 14246, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14246
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mary A. Burke & Tim R. Sass, 2013. "Classroom Peer Effects and Student Achievement," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(1), pages 51-82.
    2. Scott E. Carrell & Frederick V. Malmstrom & James E. West, 2008. "Peer Effects in Academic Cheating," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(1).
    3. Joshua D. Angrist & Kevin Lang, 2004. "Does School Integration Generate Peer Effects? Evidence from Boston's Metco Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1613-1634, December.
    4. Scott E. Carrell & Richard L. Fullerton & James E. West, 2009. "Does Your Cohort Matter? Measuring Peer Effects in College Achievement," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(3), pages 439-464, July.
    5. Michael A. Boozer & Stephen E. Cacciola, 2001. "Inside the 'Black Box' of Project STAR: Estimation of Peer Effects Using Experimental Data," Working Papers 832, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
    6. Carrell Scott E & Carrell Susan A, 2006. "Do Lower Student to Counselor Ratios Reduce School Disciplinary Problems?," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-26, April.
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    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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