Maria D. Fitzpatrick is a Professor in the Department of Policy and Management, Associate Vice Provost for Social Sciences, Director of the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. She is also an Affiliate in the CESifo Research Network, the Cornell Populations Center, the Center for the Study of Inequality, and the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. Her research focus is on child and family policy, with a particular interest in the economics of education. Specific research studies have focused on early childhood education policies, higher education, teacher compensation, benefits and labor supply, teacher pensions and retirement, child maltreatment, incarceration's effects on children and mothers, and the effects of retirement on the health of older Americans.
Before arriving at Cornell, Maria Fitzpatrick was a Searle Freedom Trust postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Economic Policy Research at Stanford University. She received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Virginia, where she was both an Institute for Education Sciences and Spencer Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellow. She obtained her B.A. in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since being at Cornell, she spent one year as a visiting scholar at the National Bureau of Economics Research.
In her research, Dr. Fitzpatrick focuses on several broad themes:
Early childhood education policies: Recent decades have seen increased interest in early childhood education and care programs as a way to promote children's development and family well-being. This increased interest has led to increased government intervention of various forms, from regulation to government provision. Fitzpatrick's work has examined the effects of government provision of early childhood education (namely universal pre-k) on children's long-term academic achievement and family decision making about child care use and parental labor supply. More recently, Fitzpatrick and her colleagues are examining the effects of both government provision in and regulation of the early childhood care industry on the supply side (workers and firms) of the industry.
Higher education: Human capital investment provides protection against labor market risk and uncertainty. Designing and implementing efficient policies for encouraging and subsidizing postsecondary enrollment and attainment is crucial for effectively improving workforce quality. With colleagues, Fitzpatrick has examined the efficiency and long run effects of merit aid programs, which offer scholarships for in-state postsecondary attendance.
Teacher labor markets: The quality of children's schooling experiences has been closely linked to the quality of the individuals students receive as teachers. Many local, state and federal policies are putting increased focus towards improving schools while the recent downturn has put the fiscal decisions of the public sector under close scrutiny. Understanding how teachers make decisions about where to work and how long to work, particularly in response to their government provided wages and benefits, is therefore an imperative. Fitzpatrick's work has focused on whether public school employees value their retirement benefits at the same level it costs taxpayers to provide them. She is investigating how incentives between state and local governments that arise implicitly in the structure of teacher compensation affect the pattern of teacher wages. With colleagues, she has also examined how responsive teachers are to retirement incentives and what effect the removal of senior teachers has on children's academic achievement.
Retirement and health: There is enormous interest in the effect of retirement on health, especially given the aging of the population and reforms to retirement policies underway in the United States and other developed countries. However, the interdependence between health outcomes and retirement status, which commonly leads individuals in poorer health to retire earlier, means that it is difficult to disentangle this relationship. With Tim Moore, I contribute to this literature by examining how mortality changes in the U.S. at age 62, when most individuals become eligible for Social Security Retirement and Survivors Insurance (“Social Security”). We find that mortality increases most at age 62 for those that are most likely to leave the workforce, leading us to conclude that, for men, deciding to retire at age 62 may have negative consequences for their health.
Incarceration's effects on families: Nearly 1 in 10 children will have experienced a parent’s incarceration in prison by age 14, and there are large racial disparities in the probability of having a parent incarcerated (Wildeman 2009). Parental incarceration reduces family financial resources and parental contributions to family life and has the potential to severely harm child wellbeing. With coauthors, I am working to examine how both maternal and paternal incarceration affect infant mortality, a particularly important indicator of child wellbeing.
Child maltreatment: Estimates suggest that nearly 4 in 10 children experience maltreatment before turning 18. Early detection is important to mitigate maltreatment and engender children’s recovery from its negative effects. Yet factors that drive early detection remain understudied. With coauthors, I investigate the role of schools and teachers in reporting child maltreatment. Also, in other research, my colleagues and I are examining how data-driven decision-making can help aid child welfare agencies in making decisions that are better for child outcomes.