Barbara L. Wolfe

University of Wisconsin, Madison
La Follette School of Public Affairs

1225 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI
53706 |  Visit Personal Website

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My research focuses broadly on poverty and health issues. Current projects include 1) using brain scans to try to understand what lies behind the income-health gradient and performance on achievement tests, 2) whether housing voucher programs and public housing lead to improvements in children's school performance, 3) the adequacy of resources when individuals retire and during their first decade of retirement, and 4) the influence of having a sibling with a disability, who is adopted or who dies on surviving children.

Wolfe, Barbara L., Marsha Seltzer, Jieun Song, and Jason Fletcher. 2012. "A Sibling Death in the Family: Common and Consequential." Demography 50 (3):803-826.
Abstract: Although a large literature analyzes the determinants of child mortality and suggests policy and medical interventions aimed at its reduction, there is little existing analysis illuminating the consequences of child mortality for other family members. In particular, there is little evidence exploring the consequences of experiencing the death of a sibling on one’s own development and transition to adulthood. This article examines the prevalence and consequences of experiencing a sibling death during one’s childhood using two U.S. data sets. We show that even in a rich developed country, these experiences are quite common, affecting between 5 % and 8 % of the children with one or more siblings in our two data sets. We then show that these experiences are associated with important reductions in years of schooling as well as a broad range of adult socioeconomic outcomes. Our findings also suggest that sisters are far more affected than brothers and that the cause of death is an important factor in sibling effects. Overall, our findings point to important previously unexamined consequences of child mortality, adding to the societal costs associated with childhood mortality as well as suggesting additional benefits from policy and medical innovations aimed at curbing both such deaths and subsequent effects on family members.
DOI: 10.1007/s13524-012-0162-4
Wolfe, Barbara L., Deven Carlson, Robert Haveman, and Tom Kaplan. 2012. "Long-term Earnings and Employment Effects of Housing Voucher Receipt." Journal of Urban Economics 71 (1):128–150.
Abstract: Using a propensity score matching approach coupled with difference-in-differences regression analysis, we estimate the effect of housing voucher receipt on the employment and earnings of a large longitudinal sample of low-income families for 6 years following voucher receipt. Our results indicate that voucher receipt has little effect on employment, but a negative effect on earnings. The negative earnings effect is largest in the years immediately following initial receipt, and fades out over time. In addition, we find that the pattern of recipient earnings responses to voucher receipt differs substantially across demographic subgroups. Several robustness tests are run to support the reliability of our findings. We discuss the implications of our findings for research and policy.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jue.2011.07.001
Wolfe, Barbara L., Deven Carlson, Robert Haveman, and Tom Kaplan. 2011. “The Benefits and Costs of the Section 8 Housing Subsidy Program: A Framework and Estimates of First-Year Effects.” Journal of Public Policy and Management 30 (2):233-255.
Abstract: This paper provides estimates for a comprehensive set of social benefits and costs associated with the federal Housing Choice Voucher ( Section 8) program. The impact categories for which we provide empirical estimates include the value of the voucher to recipients; additional services and public benefits induced by voucher receipt; improvements in children's health, education, and criminal behaviors; the costs of voucher provision; the labor supply impacts on voucher recipients; and community effects. These estimates rest largely on empirical analyses of the effect of voucher receipt on several recipient and taxpayer behaviors and outcomes that occur in the first year of voucher receipt. The analysis distinguishes benefits and costs accruing to program participants, nonparticipants—including taxpayers and property owners—and society as a whole. Our analysis suggests that the program is likely to meet the efficiency standard of positive net social benefits.
DOI: 10.1002/pam.20561
Wolfe, Barbara., William Evans, and Teresa E. Seeman, eds. 2012. The Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Wolfe, Barbara L., Robert Haveman, Karen Pence, and Jonathan Schwabish. 2007. "Do Youth Nonmarital Childbearing Choices Reflect Income And Relationship Expectations?" Journal of Population Economics 20 (1):73-100.
Abstract: We hypothesize that teen nonmarital birth events are influenced by adolescent girls’ perceptions of the consequences of their choices. Two such consequences are explored: (1) a teen’s expected future marriage and cohabitation relationships and (2) the present value of expected future income. We also measure the effects of the characteristics of the teen, her prior choices, her family, her neighborhood, and the social and economic environment in which she lives. The results, based on the Michigan Panel Study of Income Dynamics, suggest that teens place greater weight on the relationship consequences than the income consequences, but that both consequences influence their nonmarital birth choices.
DOI: 10.1007/s00148-006-0109-4
Wolfe, Barbara L., Robert Haveman, Thomas Kaplan, and Yoon Young Cho. 2006. "SCHIP Expansion and Parental Coverage: An Evaluation of Wisconsin's BadgerCare." Journal of Health Economics 25 (6):1170-1192.
Abstract: The Wisconsin BadgerCare program, which became operational in July 1999, expanded public health insurance eligibility to both parents and children in families with incomes below 185% of the U.S. poverty line (200% for those already enrolled). This eligibility expansion was part of a federal initiative known as the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Wisconsin was one of only four states that initially expanded coverage to parents of eligible children. In this paper, we attempt to answer the following question: To what extent does a public program with the characteristics of Wisconsin's BadgerCare program reduce the proportion of the low-income adult population without health care coverage? Using a coordinated set of administrative databases, we track three cohorts of mother-only families: those who were receiving cash assistance under the Wisconsin AFDC and TANF programs in September 1995, 1997, and 1999, and who subsequently left welfare. We follow these 19,201 “welfare leaver” families on a quarterly basis for up to 25 quarters, from 2 years before they left welfare through the end of 2001, making it possible to use the labor market information and welfare history of the women in analyzing outcomes. We apply multiple methods to address the policy evaluation question, including probit, random effects, and two difference-in-difference strategies, and compare the results across methods. All of our estimates indicate that BadgerCare substantially increased public health care coverage for mother-only families leaving welfare. Our best estimate is that BadgerCare increased the public health care coverage of all adult leavers by about 17–25% points.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2005.12.005
Wolfe, Barbara L., and Jason Fletcher. 2008. "Child Mental Health and Human Capital Accumulation: The Case of ADHD Revisited." Journal of Health Economics 27 (3):794-800.
Abstract: In volume 25, issue 6 of this journal, Janet Currie and Mark Stabile (JCMS,) made a significant contribution to our understanding of the influence of ADHD symptoms on a variety of school outcomes including participation in special education, grade repetition and test scores. Their contributions include using a broad sample of children and estimating sibling fixed effects models to control for unobserved family effects. In this comment we look at a sample of older children and confirm and extend many of the JCMS findings in terms of a broader set of measures of human capital and additional specifications
DOI: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2007.10.010

Substantive Focus:
Health Policy PRIMARY

Theoretical Focus:
Policy Analysis and Evaluation PRIMARY