Will S. Dobbie: The Intergenerational Effects of Parental Incarceration


Monday, November 26, 2018, 12:00pm to 1:30pm


Allison Dining Room

Will S. Dobbie, Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Princeton University.

Will S. DobbieWe estimate the causal effects of parental incarceration on children’s medium-run outcomes using administrative data from Sweden. Our empirical strategy exploits exogenous variation in parental incarceration from the random assignment of criminal defendants to judges with different incarceration tendencies.

We find that the incarceration of a parent in childhood leads to significant increases in teen crime and pregnancy and a significant decrease in early-life employment. The effects are concentrated among children from the most disadvantaged families, where teen crime increases by 17 percentage points, teen pregnancy increases by 7 percentage points, and employment at age 20 decreases by 27 percentage points.

In contrast, there are no detectable effects among children from more advantaged families. These results suggest that the incarceration of parents with young children may significantly increase the intergenerational persistence of poverty and criminal behavior, even in affluent countries with extensive social safety nets.

View paper

About the speaker

Will S. Dobbie is Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University and a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University. 

Dobbie’s research interests are primarily in the areas of labor economics, the economics of education, and household finance. His work has examined the effect of school inputs on student outcomes, the importance of peer effects, racial bias in bail decisions, the effects of pre-trial detention, and consumer bankruptcy and financial health.

A former Inequality & Social Policy doctoral fellow, Dobbie earned his PhD in Public Policy from Harvard University in 2013. He is a recipient of the Distinguished CESifo Affiliate Award (2017) and the W.E. Upjohn Dissertation Award (2013) for best dissertation on employment.

Learn more about Will Dobbie's research


See also: Fall 2018