I grew up in Oregon but went to high school near Santa Barbara in Southern California. I spent my undergraduate at Georgetown University and the London School of Economics before getting my masters in economics from University College London. I received my Ph.D. at the University of California, San Diego in 2012.
What lessons from your current research would be interesting to our alumni or policymaking?
I like to think my research is very policy relevant and hope that the general public finds the topics I study both compelling and interesting.
My most recent working paper looks at the effect of a specific policy – India’s flagship ban against child labor that was passed in the mid 1980s – and points out that it may have had the opposite impact that it intended. In other words, the ban may have lead underage children being more likely to work rather than less likely. This is very relevant to current policy on many fronts. For example, India is considering extending this legislation to cover more types of occupations; a bill to do so is now before parliament. In Bolivia, a law was recently passed lowering the legal working age to 10, citing several of the same arguments we make in our paper. Child labor laws also come into play when countries negotiate trade agreements. As others have pointed out, developed countries may demand that imports from developing countries be produced without the use of child labor, so legislation against child labor in developing countries may be a precursor to trade talks. You can read coverage of our work on this topic in the popular press and in policy circles in the New York Times and Ideas For India.
I also have work that looks at gender discrimination that takes place even before birth in some Asian and South Asian countries. A coauthor and I find that girls receive less prenatal care in utero than boys in India (and in China, Bangladesh, Pakistan as well). Moreover, this is something that we find only after ultrasound technology was introduced. Clearly this has policy implications, as prenatal care is an important input into maternal and neonatal health. In fact, India has a national law against prenatal sex determination, enacted in part to prevent sex-selective abortions. Our work shows that this policy does not appear to be effective in eradicating all forms of prenatal sexism.
Finally I have a couple of new projects that are based in the U.S. that are also closely tied to policy. The first examines the impact of veteran disability on children’s educational and behavioral outcomes. The basic idea is that when parents are disabled, children might need to spend more time at home helping their disabled parent or suffer from stress or other psychological issues related to the disability. This may in turn make them perform poorly in school; in fact we find that children with more severely disabled parents (whose disability is due to military service) are more likely to be late for their grade in school (i.e. more likely to repeat a grade) than children with less disabled parents. Even though the VA provides benefits to disabled veterans, it does not seem that these benefits are enough to offset the potentially damaging effects on children living with disabled parents. The second looks at the impact of drug use on teen and young adult outcomes. We’re currently trying to establish whether prices of illicit drugs impact teen drug abuse as well as the impact of drug abuse during teen years on outcomes like schooling, teen pregnancy, risky behavior, and later life outcomes like job placement and college-going.
Leah Lakadawala is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at MSU and teaches quantitative methods for the MPP Program. Her faculty page can be found here.