Culture, Society & Family Economics & Statistics Feature Researcher news

DACA led to improved educational outcomes, lower teenage birthrate for young immigrant community

DACA led to improved educational outcomes, lower teenage birthrate for young immigrant community

SMU professor available to discuss working paper’s analysis of controversial ‘dreamer’ population.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) increased high school graduation rates by 15 percent, reduced teenage birth rates by 45 percent, and led to a 25 percent increase in college enrollment among Hispanic women, according to a working paper co-authored by SMU economist Elira Kuka for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The results have significant bearing for the direction of future immigration policy, the paper concludes.

“Our research shows that when we give undocumented youth a large incentive to invest in education, such as participation in DACA and access to the labor opportunities it opens if they stay in school, they respond to these opportunities,” says Kuka, an assistant professor in the SMU Department of Economics. “Giving immigrants a work permit and relief from deportation makes them more likely to invest in education, work more, and have less (teenage) fertility.”

The study also found that individuals who acquire more schooling work more at the same time, countering the typically held belief that work and school are mutually exclusive, and indicating DACA generated a large boost in productivity.

“You can think about our research in two ways: If you just care about immigration policy, it’s important because we show that DACA really improves these peoples’ lives and the type of immigrant workforce we have in the U.S., which is currently missing from the policy debate about the costs and benefits of the program,” Kuka says. “More generally, our research tells us something about the education choices of low-income Americans. Why don’t they invest in education despite its large wage premium? Do they not respond to incentives or do they lack the right incentives to go to school? Our results suggest the second.”

Co-authors are Na’ama Shenhav, an economics professor at Dartmouth College, and Kevin Shih, an economics professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The working paper, “Do Human Capital Decisions Respond to the Returns to Education? Evidence from DACA,” was released in February by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“To complete this research, we used data from the American Community Surveys, which is a yearly survey that collects demographic, educational, and employment information for a 1 percent representative sample of the U.S. population,” Kuka explains. “We then identified who in the survey was likely to be a DACA recipient based on nation of origin, when they arrived in the country, and other factors, identified control groups that resembled the likely DACA recipients, then charted outcomes for both groups before and after DACA went into effect. We saw a divergence in trajectories where people eligible for DACA got this big bump in educational attainment, a big drop in fertility, and so on.” — Kenny Ryan, SMU

By Margaret Allen

Senior research writer, SMU Public Affairs