Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation consists of three chapters on the economics of health and education. In Chapter 2, I examine the effect of prenatal exposure to Agent Orange, a dioxin- contaminated herbicide that was dispersed on a large scale in South Vietnam for military operations during the Vietnam War, on educational attainment of Vietnamese civilians. The identification strategy exploits province-by-cohort variation in the intensity of Agent Orange sprayed. I find that controlling for conventional bombing, cohorts exposed in utero to Agent Orange (who were born between 1962 and 1971) have lower educational attainment compared to other birth cohorts. The same inference is obtained when employing an instrumental-variable approach that uses the density of North Vietnamese army bases as an instrument for the intensity of Agent Orange. The results demonstrate that prenatal exposure to toxic chemicals has a long-lasting detrimental effect on human capital formation.

Chapter 3 investigates the impact of maternal education on child mortality. The government of Peru amended its constitution to increase compulsory education from six to eleven years in 1993. This constitutional amendment provides a natural experiment to investigate the impact of maternal education on child mortality. Exploiting differences in the reform exposure by age, I find that mothers who were exposed to the reform were less likely to experience the death of a child. There is also evidence that the reform caused a decline in infant mortality. These results are not driven by the age difference between mothers who were treated by the reform and those who were not treated. Additional analyses reveal that the reform increased age at first birth, decreased desired fertility, reduced smoking, and improved economic opportunities for women. The results demonstrate that compulsory schooling may be a useful policy tool to improve women’s education, which can, in turn, enhance the survival of their children.

In Chapter 4, I explore the effect of education on women’s empowerment. The government of Uganda introduced an education reform that eliminated school fees for primary school-age children in 1997. I find that an increase in education, generated by the reform, has a positive impact on women’s empowerment. Specifically, an increase in schooling, due to the reform, improves women’s involvement in decision making within the household by increasing their likelihood of having a final say on issues related to their own health, about large household expenses, and regarding visits to family or relatives. Education enhances women’s cognitive ability but has no impact on women’s labor market opportunities and attitudes toward gender-based violence.



Committee Chair

Mocan, Naci



Available for download on Monday, March 30, 2026