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The Psychological Effects of Poverty on Parenting
Last registered on June 26, 2016

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
The Psychological Effects of Poverty on Parenting
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0001380
Initial registration date
June 26, 2016
Last updated
June 26, 2016 3:45 PM EDT
Location(s)
Region
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
University of Zurich
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Stanford University
PI Affiliation
Stanford University
PI Affiliation
University of São Paulo
Additional Trial Information
Status
In development
Start date
2016-06-27
End date
2017-01-27
Secondary IDs
Abstract
A growing body of evidence suggests that parents play a crucial role in shaping their children’s behavior and performance in school. In fact, differences in parental inputs are viewed as an important cause of intergenerational inequality. This paper studies how poverty may impose a psychological tax on parenting, generating a poverty trap even on the absence of binding credit constraints for educational investments. There is reason to think that this may be the case. While low-cost interventions have been shown to significantly increase parental engagement and students’ outcomes, such interventions tend to have significantly lower or no effects among minorities (black families in Chicago, in Fryer, Levitt and List, 2015, and Chinese families in San Francisco, in York and Loeb, 2014). One hypothesis for why that might be comes from the cognitive load/mental bandwidth theory: such parents might have less attention, memory and impulse control available to parenting, because poverty generates cognitive load. To test whether poor parents have a lower propensity to invest in their children due to cognitive load, we resort to survey experiments, priming some parents – but not others – about money, and then presenting them with the opportunity to undertake a costly educational investment in their child. The hypothesis of interest is whether those who are primed undertake such investment to a lesser extent.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Bettinger, Eric et al. 2016. "The Psychological Effects of Poverty on Parenting." AEA RCT Registry. June 26. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.1380-1.0.
Former Citation
Bettinger, Eric et al. 2016. "The Psychological Effects of Poverty on Parenting." AEA RCT Registry. June 26. https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/1380/history/9044.
Sponsors & Partners

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Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
To test whether poor parents have a lower propensity to invest in their children due to cognitive load, we resort to survey experiments, priming some parents – but not others – about money, and then presenting them with the opportunity to undertake a costly educational investment in their child. The hypothesis of interest is whether those who are primed undertake such investment to a lesser extent.

We randomly assign subsamples of the subject pool to other sources of negative news: either a monetary shock of much lower magnitude, or a non-monetary shock. Moreover, we also try to delve more deeply into the mechanism, by varying the source of the large monetary shocks – either related or unrelated to educational expenses –, to address the possibility of mental accounting.

We create a decision that involves opportunity costs, but which does not require cash on hand. Specifically, we offer parents the choice between a free educational product for a longer period, or the same product for a shorter period coupled with an immediate top up in airtime credit. The idea is that if those who are primed about money choose the short-length plan, it cannot be because they were credit constrained to choose the longer-length one.

We present parents with a decision about a real product. We offer enrollment in an SMS campaign that delivers content to support parenting, an increasingly popular intervention to foster parental engagement (York and Loeb, 2015), for either 2 or 4 months of the school year. Beyond having real consequences, we can actually measure the impact of parents’ decisions on their children’s education outcomes – attendance, grades and drop-out rates –. The psychological impact of poverty on those outcomes is then estimated by using priming status as an instrumental variable for parents’ decisions between shorter- or longer-length plans.

We also cross-randomize how the educational investment is presented for parents (framed as either “good for your child” or “with potential to increase future wages”). We test whether the monetary framing increases uptake of the longer-length plan, particularly for the subjects primed about money.
Intervention Start Date
2016-06-27
Intervention End Date
2016-12-02
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Differences in take-up of the longer-length SMS as a result of priming and framing (first stage), and difference in attendance, grades and drop-out rates across group with and without the longer-length SMS program (second stage)
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
Survey experiments are randomly assigned at student levels, within a sample of 60 Brazilian public schools, in order to estimate the psychological impacts of poverty on educational investments.
Using phone surveys, at the beginning of each call we randomly assign parents to one out of four possible questions, asking subjects to think about the consequences of: (i) a small monetary shock (a USD 10 unanticipated expenditure with a broken fridge; the control condition), (ii) a large monetary shock unrelated to education (a USD 100 unanticipated expenditure with a broken fridge), (iii) a large monetary shock related to education (a USD 100 unanticipated expenditure with school uniform and materials), and (iv) a large non-monetary shock (a unanticipated 7-week stop in water supply; the placebo condition).
Following that, we offer parents the opportunity to undertake an educational investment, by choosing the length during which they will be enrolled in an SMS campaign that delivers content to support parenting (at no cost). Subjects must decide between 2-months enrollment coupled with an immediate airtime credit top-up of 10 dollars, or 4-months enrollment with no top-up.
We cross-randomize how the educational investment is presented for parents (framed as either “good for your child” or “with potential to increase future wages”).
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization done in office by a computer
Randomization Unit
Individual
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
~1200 parents
Sample size: planned number of observations
~1200
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
~150
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Supporting Documents and Materials

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IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
Stanford University IRB
IRB Approval Date
2016-05-10
IRB Approval Number
35332
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
No
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
No
Program Files
Program Files
Reports and Papers
Preliminary Reports
Relevant Papers