Essays on Health and Development Economics
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This dissertation explores the impact of policy and economic conditions on the current economic crises of crime, substance abuse, and financial exclusion faced domestically and abroad. Although these issues span the income distribution, impoverished regions are disproportionately affected by the highest rates of risky behaviors such as drug abuse and crime. The ability for public policy makers to affect large populations of at-risk individuals can be difficult; oftentimes, these groups operate outside of the public sphere and large-scale interventions can miss the mark. In my first substantive chapter, I investigate the efficacy of state-wide insurance reform aimed at reducing drug dependency by requiring insurance providers to cover rehabilitation and detoxification. Utilizing state-level panel data in a generalized differences-in-differences framework, I find that states which enact laws expanding insurance coverage are successful at encouraging treatments for some types of conditions but are limited in their ability to reach individuals struggling with opiate addiction and, correspondingly, have little impact on deterring accidental overdose deaths. In my second substantive chapter, I question the assumptions made in previous empirical work regarding the relationship between economic conditions and crime. Existing literature finds that property crime rates are positively correlated with the unemployment rate. In this paper, I investigate whether this relationship is evolving over time and find that the relationship between property crime rates and unemployment has diminished toward zero. Moreover, I find evidence that there is a non-zero relationship between unemployment and violent crimes during certain periods in time. In my last substantive chapter, we develop a theoretical model illustrating the basic trade-offs in the functioning of financial institutions (Village and Savings Loan Associations) designed to provide financial inclusion to under-served populations in developing countries. We develop a theoretical model which suggests that these groups lack a mechanism to ensure equilibrium in the supply and demand for funds. We test the predictions of this model using experimental data from newly formed groups in Uganda and find that groups operate with excess demand for loans but are often able to generate a high return on savings. This dissertation includes previously unpublished co-authored material.