Hans Henrik Sievertsen
University of Bristol, Dept. of Economics
Priory Road Complex, Office 2C0
Bristol BS8 1TU
E-mail: h.h.sievertsen@bristol.ac.uk

Research interests

  • Inequality & intergenerational mobility.
    Including topics on socio-economic gradients in test scores in Denmark and the US [1], local labour market conditions, parental background and educational choice [6], intergenerational correlations in health and schooling outcomes [b], student segregation in high school [c] and gender differences in top earnings [e].
  • Education, especially topics related to tests and grading.
    Including topics on school starting age and mental health [2], standardized tests and cognitive fatigue [4], high-stakes grades and student incentives [a] and labour market returns to grades [d].
  • Health, especially early interventions.
    Including topics on care around birth and child development [3,5,f].

Ongoing work (provisional titles)

Click on titles to get access to abstracts/working papers.
  1. "High-Stakes Grades and Student Behavior", with Ulrik Hvidman. R&R Journal of Human Resources.

    Download University of Bristol Discussion Paper version.

    Abstract: High-stakes exams provide students with incentives to perform well. This paper uses a reform-induced recoding of grades from completed exams, which caused variation in high school students’ grade point average (GPA), to identify students’ behavioral responses to changes in high-stakes grades. The results show that students who were downgraded by the recoding performed better on subsequent assessments and worked less for pay during high school. Students with downgraded grades were also somewhat more likely to enroll in college. As the recoding did not convey information on academic performance, these results emphasize that changes in incentives are important in understanding students’ responses to high-stakes grades. There is no evidence that the recoding algorithm predicts outcomes for non-affected cohorts.

  2. "Neonatal Health of Parents and Cognitive Development of Children", with Claus Thustrup Kreiner.

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    Abstract: This paper documents a strong relationship between birth endowments of parents and the cognitive development of their children. The association between maternal birth weight and child school test scores corresponds to 80 percent of the association between the child's own birth weight and test scores (both in univariate and multivariate settings). We find a strong relationship, even when controlling for family differences, by looking at birth weight variation between sisters and the test score outcomes of their children, and when controlling for parental education and economic resources. Child test scores are also strongly related to paternal birth weight. To assess external validity, we replicate recent results from the US on the relationship between child birth weight and test scores. Our intergenerational results suggest that inequality in birth endowments may be important for inequality in key outcomes of the next generation.

  3. ”Competition and student segregation by ability: market mechanisms in public service provision.", with Thorbjørn Sejr Guul and Ulrik Hvidman.
  4. ”Grades and employer learning.", with Anne Toft Hansen and Ulrik Hvidman.
  5. ”A Pareto-Distribution Perspective on Top-Earnings Gender Disparities with an Application to Denmark", with Niels-Jakob Harbo Hansen, Karl Harmenberg, and Erik Öberg.
  6. ”Maternity ward crowding, procedure use and health", with Jonas Maibom, Marianne Simonsen and Miriam Wüst.


Click on titles to get access to abstracts and full papers.
  1. The Socio-Economic Gradient in Children’s Test-Scores - A Comparison Between the U.S. and Denmark" , with Christopher Jamil de Montgomery. Forthcoming Danish Journal of Economics.

    Download CRUNCH Working Paper version.

    Abstract: This paper contributes to the debate on intergenerational mobility in the U.S. and Denmark by linking parental resources to differentials in cognitive development as they develop through primary and lower secondary school in each country. Using U.S. survey data and Danish register data, we observe a socio-economic gradient along the entire test score distribution in both countries, but the gradient is always largest in the U.S. The test-score difference between the above and below median household income groups at school entry is about 20 percent larger in the U.S. compared with Denmark. Our findings show that a substantial socio-economic test-score gradient is present even in a Scandinavian welfare state with universal child policies. However, in light of the recent debate on similarities in intergenerational mobility between Denmark and the U.S., it is important to note that the socio-economic gradient in test-scores is smaller in Denmark compared with the U.S.

    Fig: Percentile-percentile plots for mathematics test scores in DK and US
    Gini test scores
  2. "The Gift of Time? School Starting Age and Mental Health" , with Thomas S. Dee, Health Economics, vol. 27, May 2018, pages 781-802.

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    Download ungated working paper (accepted version)

    Download NBER working paper version

    Press: Stanford GSE, The Washington Post, The Seattle Times, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Quartz

    Abstract: Using linked Danish survey and register data, we estimate the causal effect of age at kindergarten entry on mental health. Danish children are supposed to enter kindergarten in the calendar year in which they turn 6 years. In a "fuzzy" regression-discontinuity design based on this rule and exact dates of birth, we find that a 1-year delay in kindergarten entry dramatically reduces inattention/hyperactivity at age 7 (effect size = –0.73), a measure of self-regulation with strong negative links to student achievement. The effect is primarily identified for girls but persists at age 11.

  3. "Discharge on the day of birth, parental responses and health and schooling outcomes" , with Miriam Wüst, Journal of Health Economics, vol. 55, September 2017, pages 121-138.

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    Download ungated working paper (accepted version)

    Abstract: Exploiting the Danish roll-out of same-day discharge policies after uncomplicated births, we find that treated newborns have a higher probability of hospital readmission in the first month after birth. While these short-run effects may indicate substitution of hospital stays with readmissions, we also find that—in the longer run—a same-day discharge decreases children's ninth grade GPA. This effect is driven by children and mothers, who prior to the policy change would have been least likely to experience a same-day discharge. Using administrative and survey data to assess potential mechanisms, we show that a same-day discharge impacts those parents’ health investments and their children's medium-run health. Our findings point to important negative effects of policies that expand same-day discharge policies to broad populations of mothers and children.

  4. "Cognitive fatigue influences students’ performance on standardized tests", with Francesca Gino and Marco Piovesan, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), vol. 113 no. 10, 2016, pages 2621–2624.

    Download published article (open access)

    Extra material: Break data; Break do-file (for Stata).
    Press: Scientific American, Forbes, Huffington Post, Phys.org, Harvard Business Review, BBC (radio show), Quartz , Daily Mail, NyMag, Spiegel, Videnskab.dk, Politiken

    Abstract: Using test data for all children attending Danish public schools between school years 2009/10 and 2012/13, we examine how the time of the test affects performance. Test time is determined by the weekly class schedule and computer availability at the school. We find that, for every hour later in the day, test performance decreases by 0.9% of an SD (95% CI, 0.7–1.0%). However, a 20- to 30-minute break improves average test performance by 1.7% of an SD (95% CI, 1.2–2.2%). These findings have two important policy implications: First, cognitive fatigue should be taken into consideration when deciding on the length of the school day and the frequency and duration of breaks throughout the day. Second, school accountability systems should control for the influence of external factors on test scores.

  5. "Care around birth, infant and mother health and maternal health investments – Evidence from a nurse strike", with Hanne Kronborg and Miriam Wüst, Social Science and Medicine, vol. 150, February 2016, pages 201–211.

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    Download ungated working paper (accepted version)

    Abstract: Care around birth may impact child and mother health and parental health investments. We exploit the 2008 national strike among Danish nurses to identify the effects of care around birth on infant and mother health (proxied by health care usage) and maternal investments in the health of their newborns. We use administrative data from the population register on 39,810 Danish births in the years 2007–2010 and complementary survey and municipal administrative data on 8288 births in the years 2007–2009 in a differences-in-differences framework. We show that the strike reduced the number of mothers' prenatal midwife consultations, their length of hospital stay at birth, and the number of home visits by trained nurses after hospital discharge. We find that this reduction in care around birth increased the number of child and mother general practitioner (GP) contacts in the first month. As we do not find strong effects of strike exposure on infant and mother GP contacts in the longer run, this result suggests that parents substitute one type of care for another. While we lack power to identify the effects of care around birth on hospital readmissions and diagnoses, our results for maternal health investments indicate that strike-exposed mothers—especially those who lacked postnatal early home visits—are less likely to exclusively breastfeed their child at four months. Thus reduced care around birth may have persistent effects on treated children through its impact on parental investments.

  6. "Local unemployment and the timing of post-secondary schooling", Economics of Education Review, vol. 50, February 2016, pages 17-28.

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    Download ungated working paper (accepted version)

    Abstract: Using Danish administrative data on all high school graduates from 1984 to 1992, I show that local unemployment has both a short- and a long-run effect on school enrollment and completion. The short-run effect causes students to advance their enrollment, and consequently their completion, of additional schooling. The long-run effect causes students who would otherwise never have enrolled to enroll and complete schooling. The effects are strongest for children of parents with no higher education.

  7. "The Exploitation of Talent", with Nicolaj A. Christiansen, Danish Journal of Economics 146 2008(3).

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    Abstract: This article is a review of the seminar paper Superstar Effect in Italian Football which was written for the seminar on sports economics at the Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen and awarded the McKinsey Award in spring 2008. Only the main findings from the seminar paper will be presented here. For details and technicalities we refer to the original seminar paper Christiansen and Sievertsen (2008), which can be downloaded at www.econ.ku.dk/nf/superstareffect.pdf. In short, superstar economics is the branch of labour economics that deals with the phenomenon of nonlinear and highly rightskewed income distributions, that is observed in certain activities. The puzzle is, that the most talented individuals in these activities can obtain extremely high salaries compared to their colleagues, even though they are only marginally more talented. Theoretical explanations of the puzzle are reviewed and the superstar phenomenon is analysed empirically on Italian football, where a significant superstar effect is found.