Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

Associate Professor of Human Development and Social Policy | Chair of IPR’s Program on Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies


Economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach studies education policy, child health, and food consumption. Her recent work has focused on tracing the impact of major public policies, especially on children. She has investigated changes in student performance and other outcomes resulting from small-school and charter-school reform policies and from school accountability policies, such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In an innovative new study, she and her colleagues, including Raj Chetty of Harvard, are examining the life paths of almost 12,000 children who were randomly assigned to kindergarten classrooms in the 1980s as part of the Tennessee Project STAR experiment. Schanzenbach has also used Project STAR data to analyze the importance of classroom composition and class size on student outcomes. Her work on food stamps has measured how households alter their consumption of food and other goods when they receive food stamp benefits and whether increased benefits lead to improved health for recipients.

Schanzenbach is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. From 2002 to 2004, she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in Health Policy Research at the University of California, Berkeley. She was a faculty member at the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago before coming to Northwestern.

Current Research

Long-term Effects of Education Interventions. Much of the literature on early childhood education interventions focuses on raising student test scores, with little ability to measure any long-term benefits, such as college completion or an increase in adult earnings. In an innovative new study, Schanzenbach and her colleagues at the University of California-Berkeley and Harvard test whether kindergarten classroom quality and student test scores make a difference in adult outcomes using data from the Tennessee Project STAR experiment from the 1980s. Project STAR randomly assigned nearly 12,000 children to kindergarten classrooms with varying class sizes and followed the student’s progress through third grade. The researchers re-examine findings from the original experiment and use tax data to link the students’ kindergarten class experience and test scores to their wages, total years of education, and other adult outcomes. Their analysis supports conclusions drawn from the original study—namely, that the test-score boost from small class sizes and high-quality teachers tend to wear off later in elementary school. However, benefits for the treatment cohort re-emerge in adulthood.   

School Accountability Pressures and Children’s Health. Schanzenbach is investigating the unintended consequences of school accountability pressures for children’s health with Patricia Anderson of Dartmouth College and Kristin Butcher of Wellesley. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), schools facing increased pressure to produce academic outcomes might reallocate their efforts in ways that inadvertently affect the health of their students, for example, by cutting back on recess and physical education in favor of more classroom time. The researchers create a unique panel data set of schools in Arkansas to test the impact of NCLB rules on students’ weight outcomes. They also examine health-related policies that might lead to a higher percentage of overweight students in some schools, especially those at the margin of the NCLB passing rate.

Childhood Exposure to the Food Stamp Program. Schanzenbach and economists Douglas Almond of Columbia University and Hilary Hoynes of the University of California, Davis, have been investigating the impact of the food-stamp program in several arenas, including the later-life economic and health outcomes of children born to mothers receiving food stamps. Beginning with children first observed in 1968, the researchers find that in utero exposure to the food-stamp program predicts lower obesity, more healthy weights, and lower rates of heart disease in adults. Their rates of high school completion and total years of education also improve. Schanzenbach and her colleagues are extending this work to model exposure to food stamps throughout childhood.

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Hoynes, H., and D. W. Schanzenbach. 2012. Work incentives and the Food Stamp Program. Journal of Public Economics 96(1-2): 151–62.

Almond, D., H. Hoynes, and D. W. Schanzenbach. 2011. Inside the war on poverty: The impact of food stamps on birth outcomes. Review of Economics and Statistics 93(2): 387–404.

Anderson, P., K. Butcher, E. Cascio, and D. W. Schanzenbach. 2011. Is being in school better? The impact of school on children’s BMI when starting age is endogenous. Journal of Health Economics 30(5): 977–86.

Chetty, R., J. Friedman, N. Hilger, E. Saez, D. W. Schanzenbach, and D. Yagan. 2011. How does your kindergarten classroom affect your earnings? Evidence from Project STAR. Quarterly Journal of Economics 126(4): 1593–1660.

Neal, D., and D. W. Schanzenbach. 2010. Left behind by design: Proficiency counts and test-based accountability. The Review of Economics and Statistics 92(2): 263-83.

Schanzenbach, D. W. 2009. Do school lunches contribute to childhood obesity? Journal of Human Resources 44(3): 687-709.

Hoynes, H., and D. W. Schanzenbach. 2009. Consumption responses to in-kind transfers: Evidence from the introduction of the food stamp program. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 1(4): 109-39.

Bertrand, M., and D. W. Schanzenbach. 2009. Time use and food consumption. American Economic Review 99(2): 170-76.

Clark, M., J. Rothstein, and D. W. Schanzenbach. 2009. Selection bias in college admissions test scores. Economics of Education Review 28(3): 295-307.

Holzer, H., D. W. Schanzenbach, G. Duncan, and J. Ludwig. 2008. The economic costs of childhood poverty in the United States. Journal of Children and Poverty 14(1): 41-61.