Claire O’Donnell has long been interested in researching education in developing countries, and her international economics major gave her the tools to do it.
A 2016 Notre Dame graduate from Arlington Heights, Illinois, O’Donnell presented her senior thesis research this spring at the Undergraduate Research Paper Competition at the Midwest Economics Association annual conference in Evanston, Illinois.
“Attending the conference was a great experience,” said O’Donnell, a scholar in the Glynn Family Honors Program. “Not only was I able to share my work and receive feedback from my peers and scholars from other institutions, but I was also exposed to much of the research that is currently being undertaken in economics.”
O’Donnell, who also completed a supplemental major in applied mathematics and a concentration in financial economics and econometrics, has accepted a position as a management consultant with PwC in Chicago.
Her research examined the impact of family size on education in Latin America—an issue she says has been explored, but almost entirely in developed countries. She credited her adviser, William Evans, the Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Economics and chair of the Department of Economics, with helping her narrow her focus and find reliable data.
O’Donnell’s thesis looked at the effects of additional children in the household on the educational attainment of their first-born siblings.
“Theory stipulates that as families grow, the investment per child will shrink, likely leading to worse educational outcomes,” she said.
The effect can be hard to measure, as the number of children in any family is that family’s choice, thereby introducing the possibility of bias. O’Donnell, however, focused on situations where that choice was negligible—looking at the presence of twins and the gender composition of the family.
After examining data from five Latin American countries—Argentina, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Nicaragua—O’Donnell found a remarkable relationship between per capita gross domestic product and the effect of additional children in the household. The poorer the country, the more detrimental a third child is on the education of the first-born.
“The implications of this project are tangible,” she said, “and could be used to drive policy decisions in the future.”