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Eliciting Maternal Expectations about the Technology of Cognitive Skill Formation

  • Flávio Cunha
  • Irma Elo
  • Jennifer Culhane

In this paper, we formulate a model of early childhood development in which mothers have subjective expectations about the technology of skill formation. The model is useful for understanding how maternal knowledge about child development affects the maternal choices of investments in the human capital of children. Unfortunately, the model is not identified from data that are usually available to econometricians. To solve this problem, we conduct a study where mothers were interviewed to elicit maternal expectations about the technology of skill formation. We interviewed a sample of socioeconomically disadvantaged African‐American women. We find that the median subjective expectation about the elasticity of child development with respect to investments is between 4% and 19%. In comparison, when we estimate the technology of skill formation from the CNLSY/79 data, we find that the elasticity is between 18% and 26%. We use the model and our unique data to answer a simple but important question: What would happen to investments and child development if we implemented a policy that moved expectations from the median to the objective estimates that we obtain from the CNLSY/79 data? According to our estimates, maternal investments would go up by between 4% and 24% and the stocks of cognitive skills at age 24 months would subsequently increase between 1% and 5%. Needless to say, the impacts of such a policy would be even higher for mothers whose expectations were below the median.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19144.

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Date of creation: Jun 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19144
Note: CH
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  1. Flavio Cunha & James Heckman & Susanne Schennach, 2010. "Estimating the technology of cognitive and noncognitive skill formation," CeMMAP working papers CWP09/10, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  2. J. Dominitz & C. F. Manski, . "Using expectations data to study subjective income expectations," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1050-94, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
  3. Delavande, Adeline, 2005. "Pill, Patch or Shot? Subjective Expectations and Birth Control Choice," CEPR Discussion Papers 4856, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Jeff Dominitz & Charles F. Manski, 1996. "Perceptions of Economic Insecurity: Evidence from the Survey of Economic Expectations," NBER Working Papers 5690, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. James J. Heckman & Seong Hyeok Moon & Rodrigo Pinto & Peter A. Savelyev & Adam Yavitz, 2010. "Analyzing Social Experiments as Implemented: A Reexamination of the Evidence From the HighScope Perry Preschool Program," Working Papers 201034, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  6. Adeline Delavande & Xavier Giné & David McKenzie, 2011. "Eliciting probabilistic expectations with visual aids in developing countries: how sensitive are answers to variations in elicitation design?," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 26(3), pages 479-497, 04.
  7. Rodney L. Jacobs & Robert A. Jones, 1978. "Price Expectations in the United States: 1947-1973," UCLA Economics Working Papers 107, UCLA Department of Economics.
  8. Katja Kaufmann & Luigi Pistaferri, 2009. "Disentangling Insurance and Information in Intertemporal Consumption Choices," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 387-92, May.
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