Doctoral Dissertation Research: The Intergenerational Consequences of Incarceration

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project will provide new evidence on the effect of parental incarceration, addressing the methodological issues in previous work with a quasi-experimental design (instrumental variables) that compares children whose parents, upon arrest, were randomly assigned to judges with differing propensities to incarcerate. Random assignment ensures that the differences in child outcomes can be attributed directly to parental incarceration (because the defendant was assigned to a harsh judge) versus a warning or probation (because the defendant was assigned to a lenient judge). This approach therefore allows identification of the causal effect of parental imprisonment (and of incarceration length) for individuals with parents on the margin of incarceration (Loeffler, 2013). The research design will be executed in two samples. For the first, historical prison records covering all inmates in Iowa between 1885 and 1970 will be linked to the publicly available full-count Censuses of 1880 to 1940. The PI can then estimate how changes to parental prison sentence length affect long-run income and arrests rates for children. Second, modern court records from Cook County will be linked to Illinois Vital Records data. With the parent-child match in hand, a number of rich administrative data sources can be incorporated, allowing estimation of the effect of parental incarceration on long-term outcomes like earnings, family structure, education, and criminality.
Effective start/end date8/1/167/31/18


  • National Science Foundation (SES-1628126)


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