Friday, September 10, 2010

gas prices and obesity

Charles Courtemanche (UNC Greensboro) presents evidence of a relationship between gasoline prices and obesity. When gas prices are higher, people tend to be less fat. From his abstract:
My estimates imply that 8% of the rise in obesity between 1979 and 2004 can be attributed to the concurrent drop in real gas prices, and that a permanent $1 increase in gasoline prices would reduce overweight and obesity in the United States by 7% and 10%.
The paper attributes this relationship between gas prices and weight to the effect that changes in gas prices have on the frequency of walking and restaurant eating.

The paper was recently published in Economic Inquiry. Read the paper here.

returns to an MBA

In a recent issue of Economic Inquiry, Wayne Grove (Le Moyne) and Andrew Hussey (U Memphis) estimate the expected return from earning an MBA. They compare the effects of field of study and school quality. From their abstract:
We find approximately 7% returns for most MBAs but roughly double that for finance and management information systems (MIS). Thus, MBA area of study can matter as much or more than program quality: only attending a top 10, but not 11-25, MBA program trumped studying finance and MIS at a nontop 25 program.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

blondes make more money

In a new paper in Economics Letters, David Johnston (Queensland Tech) shows that controlling for other characteristics, blonde women receive significantly higher wages than non-blondes. What's more, blonde women seem to have an advantage in the marriage market, snagging husbands who themselves have higher wages.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

are female referees nicer?

In a new NBER working paper, Jason Abrevaya and Daniel Hamermesh (Texas) find that the gender of one's journal referee doesn't affect the probability of getting a positive referee report. Their abstract:
Using a very large sample of matched author-referee pairs, we examine how the gender of referees and authors affects the former’s recommendations. Relying on changing matches of authors and referees, we find no evidence of gender differences among referees in charitableness toward authors; nor do we find any effect of the interaction between the referees’ and authors’ gender. With substantial research showing gender differences in fairness, the results suggest that an ethos of objectivity can overcome tendencies toward same-group favoritism/opposite-group discrimination.
Link to the paper here.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

school choice is good

In a new paper in the Review of Economic Studies, Victor Lavy (Hebrew U) considers what happens when students can attend any public school they want. That is, he looks at the impact that free public school choice has on graduation rates, student performance, and other outcomes. From the abstract:
Across identification methods and comparison groups, the results consistently suggest that choice significantly reduces the drop-out rate and increases the cognitive achievements of high-school students. It also improves behavioural outcomes such as teacher–student relationships and students' social acclimation and satisfaction at school, and reduces the level of violence and classroom disruption.
Across the board, school choice looks like a winning policy. Download the paper here.

Friday, May 7, 2010

short criminals

A recent NBER working paper looks at the relationship between a person's hight and criminal activity in the late 19th century. Using prison records, they show that (1) inmates tend to be shorter than the average person in the population, and (2) the likelihood of being a criminal is decreasing in height. That is, the taller someone is, the less likely they end up behind bars. They argue that these results are consistent with taller people having a labor market advantage.
The paper was written by Howard Bodenhorn (Clemson), Carolyn Moehling (Yale), and Gregory N. Price (Morehouse). Download it here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

paying students to perform better

In a new NBER working paper, Roland Fryer (Harvard) looks at data from randomized trials that paid students based on school performance. From the abstract:
Our results suggest that student incentives increase achievement when the rewards are given for inputs to the educational production function, but incentives tied to output are not effective. Relative to popular education reforms of the past few decades, student incentives based on inputs produce similar gains in achievement at lower costs.
So, paying students to put more time in, to complete assignments, etc. works; but paying them based on final grade doesn't. Furthermore, they find no evidence that the incentives (once discontinued) will decrease student's intrinsic motivation to perform well.

Read the paper here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

voting patterns drive PAC contributions

Do PACs give political contributions in an effort to "bribe" or otherwise convince politicians into voting in their favor? Or, do PACs give political contributions to the politicians that have underlying preferences consistent with the PACs positions (i.e., those politicians who would vote in favor of the PAC regardless of their contributions)?

In a recent NBER working paper, Dalton Conley and Brian McCabe (NYU) present some evidence that the later story might be correct, at least in some situations. First, they show that politicians are more likely to vote liberally on women's issues when they daughters. (This has been shown before.) Second, they show that this exogenous change in voting behavior has a significant impact on PAC contributions, suggesting that contributions follow from voting choices, not the other way around.

Read the paper here or here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

daughters make you more conservative

In 2008, I wrote about a paper by Ebonya Washington which showed that legislators with daughters were more liberal as reflected in their voting records. A new NBER working paper by Dalton Conley and Emily Rauscher (NYU) suggest that maybe "elite politicians" are affected differently than the "general citizenry."

They show that "female offspring induce more conservative political identification."
Controlling for gender, religion, age, education, and marital status, the proportion of girls [children] significantly increases Republican Party identification in the United States.
Why would this be? The authors suggest that "daughters may elicit grandparental preferences for a world in which male sexuality is constrained and parental investment in offspring is greater."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

sports and gambling

The most recent issue of Economic Inquiry offers a number of interesting papers. I mention three of them here.

First, there is evidence that the favored team in a college basketball (and other sports) game likely to win but by less than the gambling point spread. This is consistent with point shaving. However, Dan Bernhardt (Illinois) and Steven Heston (Maryland) find similar patterns in favored team performance in games in which there is no incentive to point shave. They argue that "the data are better explained by strategic efforts to maximize the probability of winning." Read the paper.

Second, Michael Davis (Missouri Sci & Tech) and Christian End (Xavier) present evidence that NFL team success has "a significant positive effect on real per capita personal income" in the city in which the team is based. Read the paper.

Finally, David Forest, O. David Gulley, and Robert Simmons use data from one of Britain's largest bookmakers and data on public lotteries to show that lottery play is a substitute for "horse race, soccer and numbers betting." Read the paper.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

beauty and success in elections

In the February issue of the Journal of Public Economics, Niclas Berggren, Henrik Jordahl, and Panu Poutvaara present evidence that a political candidate's physical beauty affects voting in elections. Using data on 1929 Finnish political candidates, the researchers show that (from their abstract):
An increase in our measure of beauty by one standard deviation is associated with an increase of 20% in the number of votes fro the average non-incumbent parliamentary candidate. The relationship is unaffected by including education and occupation as control variables and withstands several other robustness checks.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

physical attractiveness and performance

Previous papers have shown that physical attractiveness has a positive impact on student performance. However, the past studies tend to not control for other characteristics that may be highly correlated with attractiveness, including personality and grooming. In a recent paper in Labour Economics, Michael French, Philip Robins, Jenny Homer, and Lauren Tapsell (all at U Miami) conclude:
Including personality and grooming, the effect of physical attractiveness turns negative for both groups, but is only statistically significant for males. For male and female students, being very well groomed is associated with a statistically significant GPA premium. While grooming has the largest effect on GPA for male students, having a very attractive personality is most important for female students.
Link to the paper here. Or read about it here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

domestic violence and football

David Card (Berkeley) and Gordon Dahl (Rochester) study family violence during football season, and show that (from the abstract):
Controlling for location and time fixed effects, weather factors, the pre-game point spread, and the size of the local viewing audience, we find that upset losses by the home team (losses in games that the home team was predicted to win by more than 3 points) lead to an 8 percent increase in police reports of at-home male-on-female intimate partner violence. There is no corresponding effect on female-on-male violence... We also find that unexpected losses in highly salient or frustrating games have a 50% to 100% larger impact on rates of family violence.
This is interesting, but isn't a big surprise. If Bubba beats his wife when he is frustrated, and if Bubba gets frustrated when his team loses in an upset, then an upset loss results in a beaten up wife. Card and Dahl argue that their evidence supports the hypothesis among analysts that domestic violence tends to result from a loss of control, rather than a more rational choice in an effort to shape "intra-family incentives."

Download it here, or here.

did no child left behind work?

Thomas Dee (Swarthmore) and Brian Jacob (Harvard) empirically consider the impact of No Child Left Behind legislation in the U.S. From the abstract:
Our results indicate that NCLB generated statistically significant increases in the average math performance of 4th graders as well as improvements at the lower and top percentiles. There is also evidence of improvements in 8th grade math achievement, particularly among traditionally low-achieving groups and at the lower percentiles. However, we find no evidence that NCLB increased reading achievement in either 4th or 8th grade.
From the introduction:
The lack of any effect in reading, and the fact that NCLB appears to have generated only modestly larger impacts among disadvantaged subgroups in math (and thus only made minimal headway in closing achievement gaps), suggests that, to date, the impact of NCLB has fallen short of its ambitious “moon-shot rhetoric”
Download it here, or here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

gender differences in competition go away with experience

A number of papers present evidence that males tend to perform better during competitions than females. This is true, even if we compare the performance of a male and female who both perform equally well at the task when there is no competition involved. However, the papers that find gender differences use data from one-round competitions. In a recent working paper, Christopher Cotton (this is me; U Miami), Frank McIntyre, and Joseph Price (both at BYU) test for the gender differences in a series of five-round math competitions.

From our abstract:
Past research finds that males outperform females in competitive situations. Using data from multiple-round math tournaments, we verify this finding during the initial round of competition. The performance gap between males and females, however, disappears after the first round. In later rounds, only math ability (not gender) serves as a significant predictor of performance.
The gender difference is not robust to multiple rounds of competition. The evidence supports the argument that exposing females to competition (e.g., Title IX) may eliminate performance differences.

Link to the paper here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

biased NBA referees, again

Last year I posted on a paper by Joseph Price (BYU) and Justin Wolfers (Penn) that showed that NBA referees were racially biased. Price is again identifying biases amongst NBA refs, this time with coauthors Marc Remer (Johns Hopkins) and Daniel Stone (Oregon State).

The new working paper finds evidence that NBA referees are more likely to call fouls in favor of (1) home teams, (2) teams that are losing, and (3) teams that are down in the number of playoff games won. To account for the possibility that the three types of biases may be due to players playing differently when they are at home or behind, the authors look at play-by-play data which allows them to distinguish between discretionary turnovers (e.g., shooting fouls, charging) and non-discretionary turnovers (e.g., steals and bad passes). They show that the biases are due to the referees, not players.

The authors argue that each of these biases may increase league profits by (1) making home games more exciting, (2) making games more exciting in general, and (3) extending the number of games in the season. However, they find no evidence that the biases are explicit, and conclude that they are likely implicit.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

high school sports and teen pregnancy

Females who participate in sports are less likely to get pregnant than ones who do not. This has largely been used to insinuate that by participating in sports, a girl decreases her chances of getting pregnant. In a recent working paper, Joseph Price (BYU), Daniel Simon (Cornell), and Betsey Stevenson (Penn) find the flaw in this logic.

The authors point out that girls who decide to participate in sports may be significantly different from the typical girl who does not participate. They are likely more confidence, for example. We observe that sports participants are less likely to get pregnant; this is different from saying that a girl who plays sports is less likely to get pregnant than the same girl if she was not on a sports team.

It turns out that sports participation actually increases the pregnancy rate among girls. To show this, the study looks at the effect of Title XI, and the introduction of additional female sports participation, on pregnancy rates. From the paper's abstract:
We find that a 10 percentage point increase in the fraction of girls playing sports in a state increases the teen birth rate by 0.3 percentage points (about a 10% increase). However, there are racial differences in the effect of sports participation. The increase in the teen birth rate is most pronounced for white young women with some suggestive evidence that sports decreases teen birth rates among black young women.
Download it here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

should we tax or cap political contributions?

In the spirit of unabashed self-promotion, here is a summary of some of my own research, as it appeared in the University of Miami B-School Buzz:
With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to address campaign finance reform in its next term, new research from Christopher Cotton, an assistant professor of economics, offers fresh insight on the issue. The study uses game theory to compare two reform options: contribution limits and taxing campaign contributions. His conclusion? Taxing campaign contributions is the better solution. The research is published in the August issue of the Journal of Public Economics.
Link to working paper version or final version on journal website.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

why are divorce rates higher in urban areas?

The divorce rate is higher in urban areas than in rural areas. Why is this? It could be that the abundance of potential partners in urban areas cause people to "trade up" more often, or to cheat on their spouses more often. Or maybe, people in rural areas are more likely to think of divorce as a non-option.

In a new paper, appearing in the Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Pieter Gautier (Vrije Universiteit), Michael Svarer (Aarhus University), and Coen Teulings (Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis) propose another possibility. Maybe couples who are more content with their relationships are more likely to move out of the city, while those who are less content are more likely to stay in the city. This makes a lot of sense. People often leave the city to focus more on family life, something you are more likely to do when you are happy with your spouse. The research shows that once your control for this sorting effect, there is no distinguishable difference in divorce rate.

Link to the paper here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

longer school days and student performance

In the current issue of Economics of Education Review, Cristián Bellei (U Chile) considers whether lengthening the school day increases student achievement. Looking at a change in the length of a school day in Chile, the paper shows that more classroom time increases achievement in mathematics and language. This impact is larger for public school, rural, and high-achieving students.

Link to the paper here.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

prisons and AIDS rates

Rucker Johnson and Steven Raphael (Berkeley) show that differences in male incarceration rates can explain much of the difference in acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) between different demographic segments in the U.S. From the abstract:
[They] find strong effects of male incarceration rates on male and female AIDS rates. ... The results reveal that higher incarceration rates among black males over this period [1982-96] explain the lion's share of the racial disparity in AIDS infection among women.
The paper was recently published in the Journal of Law and Economics. Download it here or here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

landlord discrimination against homosexuals

Ali Ahmed and Mats Hammarstedt (Växjö University, Sweden) conduct a straight-forward, but interesting field experiment in which they test for housing market discrimination against homosexuals. The paper appears in a recent version of Economica. The abstract:
This paper presents the first field experiment studying discrimination against homosexuals on the housing market. The study is conducted on the rental housing market in Sweden using the internet as a research platform. Two fictitious couples, one heterosexual and one male homosexual, apply for vacant rental apartments advertised by landlords on the internet. Our findings show that homosexual males are discriminated against on the Swedish housing market, since the homosexual couple gets far fewer call-backs and fewer invitations to further contacts and to showings of apartments than the heterosexual couple.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

parents, child self confidence, and child performance

In a recent paper, Rajeev Darolia (George Washington) and Bruce Wydick (U San Francisco) test how parents can affect the academic effort and performance of a child through "signals," such as praise or financial rewards. From the abstract:
Our results show that some complementary actions before college, such as parental praise, foster academic achievement above what natural ability would predict. Conversely, we find that some substitutionary actions before college, e.g. providing cars as gifts, are associated with lower effort in college and underachievement.
I was particularly amused by the car-buying result. The article is forthcoming in Economica. Link to it here, or here.

Monday, June 8, 2009

how siblings affect labor market mobility

Helmut Rainer, Elmut Rainer (both St Andrews), and Thomas Siedler (Essex) develop a model of labor market mobility in which whether or not you have siblings affects your decisions to move. The paper appears in a recent issue of Economica. The abstract:
This paper formulates a model to explain how parental care responsibilities and family structure interact in affecting children's mobility characteristics. Our main result is that the mobility of young adults crucially depends on the presence of a sibling. Siblings compete in location and employment decisions to direct parental care decisions towards their preferred outcome. Only children are not exposed to this kind of competition. This causes an equilibrium in which siblings exhibit higher mobility than only children, and also have better labour market outcomes. Using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel, we find evidence that confirms these patterns.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

demand for sons and daughters

Gordon Dahl (UCSD) and Enrico Moretti (Berkeley) consider whether there is a larger demand for sons than for daughters in the United States. It may be impossible to design a single empirical test that will answer this question, and the authors do not attempt to do so. Instead, the authors conduct a number of separate tests that, taken together, provide significant evidence that parents do prefer boys. From their abstract:

In this paper, we show that child gender affects the marital status, family structure, and fertility of a significant number of American families. Overall, a first-born daughter is significantly less likely to be living with her father compared to a first-born son. Three factors are important in explaining this gap. First, women with first-born daughters are less likely to marry. Strikingly, we also find evidence that the gender of a child in utero affects shotgun marriages. Among women who have taken an ultrasound test during pregnancy, mothers who have a girl are less likely to be married at delivery than those who have a boy. Second, parents who have first-born girls are significantly more likely to be divorced. Third, after a divorce, fathers are much more likely to obtain custody of sons compared to daughters. These three factors have serious negative income and educational consequences for affected children...We show that the number of children is significantly higher in families with a first-born girl.
The paper was recently published in the Review of Economic Studies. View it here. Or here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

natural disasters and corruption

Another paper out in the most recent Journal of Law and Economics studies the impact of natural disasters on corruption. Sort of. When a natural disaster hits a community in the US, the federal government transfers money to the local areas to help with recovery. The availability of federal funds might increase the return to being a corrupt government official in one of these communities.

Peter Leeson (George Mason) and Russell Sobel (WVU) find a connection between the likelihood of a natural disaster and reported corruption. From their abstract:
Each additional $100 per capita in FEMA relief increases the average state's corruption by nearly 102 percent. Our findings suggest notoriously corrupt regions of the United States, such as the Gulf Coast, are in part notoriously corrupt because natural disasters frequently strike them. They attract more disaster relief, which makes them more corrupt.
Read the article. If that doesn't work, try here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

do fast food ads result in fat kids?

In a new paper out in The Journal of Law and Economics, Shin-Yi Chou (Lehigh), Inas Rashad (Georgia State), and Michael Grossman (CUNY) study the effects that fast-food advertising on TV has on overweight children. They estimate that banning advertisements would decrease the number of overweight children by 14 to 18 percent. A ban might not be optimal, however, since it may also reduce the amount of information available to consumers. (For example, being informed that it is Monopoly time at McDonalds could arguably make you better off.)

The authors go on to show that eliminating the "tax deductability of would produce smaller declines of between 5 and 7 percent in these outcomes but would impose lower costs on children and adults who consume fast food in moderation because positive information about restaurants that supply this type of food would not be completely banned from television."

Read the article. If that doesn't work, try here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the logic of life

As you may imagine, I enjoy reading the popular press books and articles describing new economic research. Some are better than others. Most recently, I finished Tim Hartford's The Logic of Life, which is amongst the best popular press economics books (also amongst the best are Freakonomics and Super Crunchers). Some of the topics include game theory and poker, the market for marriage and divorce, the job market (and why your lazy boss is paid so much), rational racism (rational not good), and why subsidizing city living would be good for the environment. It's worth a read.

Read some reviews here
. Buy it here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

pro-girl teacher biases

Victor Lavy (Hebrew U) looks for gender biases held by high school teachers in Israel. His results suggest that girls benefit from teacher biases, which is largely contrary to popular beliefs that teacher biases may harm girls. The abstract:
Schools and teachers are often said to be a source of stereotypes that harm girls. This paper tests for the existence of gender stereotyping and discrimination by public high-school teachers in Israel. It uses a natural experiment based on blind and non-blind scores that students receive on matriculation exams in their senior year. Using data on test results in several subjects in the humanities and sciences, I found, contrary to expectations, that male students face discrimination in each subject. These biases widen the female–male achievement difference because girls outperform boys in all subjects, except English, and at all levels of the curriculum. The bias is evident in all segments of the ability and performance distribution and is robust to various individual controls. Several explanations based on differential behavior between boys and girls are not supported empirically. However, the size of the difference is very sensitive to teachers' characteristics, suggesting that the bias against male students is the result of teachers', and not students', behavior.
The paper is recently published in the Journal of Public Economics. Download it here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

does merit based aid increase college attendance? nope

Jashua Goodman (Columbia) considers the impact of Massachusetts' Adam Scholarship on college attendance decisions. The Adam Scholarship is a state-funded, merit-based financial aid program similar to those found in most other states. His findings are interesting, mostly because the program appears to have little effect on college attendance decisions.

From the abstract: "most funds flowed to students who would have enrolled in public colleges absent the scholarship and the aid had no effect on winners' overall college enrollment rate, which already exceeded 90%." He also finds that the scholarship "induced 6% of winners to choose four-year public colleges instead of four-year private colleges;" an effect which does not increase overall college attainment. He concludes,
The Adams Scholarship would annually add 80 college-educated workers to the state's workforce, at an annual cost of $50,000 per added worker. It seems implausible that the benefits to the state in additional tax revenue would exceed this amount, or that the proportion of college-educated workers would rise enough to induce the [previously claimed benefits].
Download the paper, which was recently published in the Journal of Public Economics.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

can a hurricane make you pregnant?

Being in Miami, I found this paper rather interesting. Richard Evans (BYU), Yingyao Hu (Johns Hopkins), and Zhong Zhao (IZA) test whether hurricanes can make you pregnant. Sort of. The idea is that a natural disaster might encourage people to stay put in doors, and with nothing else to do people may use that opportunity to make babies.

For all US counties on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, they have data on tropical storm watches, tropical storm warnings, hurricane watches, and hurricane warnings. These are listed in order of their expected severity. Basically, if your community is under a tropical storm watch, its raining pretty heavily outside. If your community is under a hurricane warning, its not just wet, but you're also worried about your house blowing away. Compared to the case without any watches or warnings, the authors find that being under a tropical storm watch significantly increases the number of births in your community 9 months later (consistent with the idea that since it's misserable outside, we might as well keep warm inside). However, a hurricane warning significantly decreases the birth rate 9 months later. I guess that people are too worried about their house blowing for any romance to take place. (For the intermediate storm advisories: A tropical storm watch has a positive but insignificant effect on the birth rate, while a hurricane watch has a negative but insignificant effect.)

The paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Population Economics. Download it here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

information availability and school choice program participation

It has been shown that low-income families put less weight on academic quality when choosing schools. They are less likely to take part in school-choice programs, in which they can apply for their children to attend a different school than originally assigned based on geography. This implies that school-choice programs may not have as large of a benefit for low-income families than may be possible, if they were more likely to take advantage of such programs.

In a recent QJE article, Justine S. Hastings (Yale) and Jeffrey M. Weinstein (Syracuse) consider show that providing low-income families with data on school performance increases the probability that they participate in a school-choice program. They find "that school choice will most effectively increase academic achievement for disadvantaged students when parents have easy access to test score information and good options from which to choose."

Download the article.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

race and charitable giving

Christina M. Fong (Carnegie Mellon) and Erzo F.P. Luttmer (Harvard) run an experiment to test whether charitable giving to natural disaster victims depends on whether the donor is the same race as the victims. From their paper abstract:
We investigate the role of racial group loyalty on generosity in a broadly representative sample of the U.S. adult population. We use an audiovisual presentation to manipulate beliefs about the race, income, and worthiness of Hurricane Katrina victims. Respondents then decide how to divide $100 between themselves and Katrina victims. We find no effects of victims’ race on giving on average. However, respondents who report feeling close to their racial or ethnic group give substantially more when victims are of the same race rather than another race, while respondents who do not feel close to their group give substantially less.
This means that race does effect individual donations. However, on average, the effects cancel each other out, and no one is made significantly worse or better off from the biases.

The article is forthcoming in AEJ: Applied Economics. Download it here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

good book -- why elections aren't fair

I recently read the book "Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren't Fair (and What We Can Do About It)" by William Poundstone. The non-academic book considers the design of voting system, and does a good job discussing the academic literature in the process. Included is Arrow's impossibility theorem (it's impossible to design a perfect set of voting rules), and discussing the possitives and negatives of plurality voting, proportional representation, range voting, instant runoff voting, condorcet voting, the bords count, and approval voting mechanisms. Poundstone makes the case that changing the voting mechanism in the US could eliminate the spoiler effect and other problems.

Amazon book site

Friday, October 10, 2008

media exposure and voter behavior

Alan Gerber, Dean Karlan, and Daniel Bergan (Yale) conduct an interesting field experiment in which they give potential voters newspaper subscriptions, and analyze the impact of the subscriptions on voting behavior. Some voters received a subscription to the Washington Post (which tends to have left-leaning editorial pages), and some received a subscription to the Washington Times (and its more conservative editorial pages).

They find that exposure to the news resulted in greater Democratic candidate support, independent of the editorial leanings of the newspaper. News exposure also likely increased voter turnout. From their abstract:
We find no effect of either paper on political knowledge, stated opinions or turnout in post-election survey and voter data. However, receiving either paper led to more support for the Democratic candidate, suggesting that media slant mattered less in this case than media exposure. Some evidence also suggests that receiving either paper led to increased 2006 voter turnout.
Read the article.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

holding kids back and graduation rates

Brian A. Jacob (U Mich) and Lars Lefgren (BYU) study the impact that holding grade school students back has on graduation rates. Their abstract:
Low-achieving students in many school districts are retained in a grade in order to allow them to gain the academic or social skills that teachers believe are necessary to succeed academically. In this paper, we use plausibly exogenous variation in retention generated by a test-based promotion policy to assess the causal impact of grade retention on high school completion. We find that retention among younger students does not affect the likelihood of high school completion, but that retaining low-achieving eighth grade students in elementary school substantially increases the probability that these students will drop out of high school.
Download the article.

Monday, October 6, 2008

sticking with your vote

In a forthcoming article by Sendhil Mullainathan (Harvard) and Ebonya Washington (Yale), the authors empirically test whether one's past voting behavior affects future political beliefs.

Acording to the psychological cognitive dissonance theory, people interpret evidence in ways that justify their own past actions. For example, suppose you voted for George W Bush in 2000. When updating your beliefs about W's performance, you may put more emphasis on positive pieces of information that justifies this past vote, and less emphasis on negative evidence that makes the past vote look bad. When thinking about the war in Iraq, for example, you may put more weight on the positive effects of the surge, rather than the negative effects of war in the first place.

To test this theory, Mullainathan and Washington compare the presidential opinion ratings of people who turned 18 in time to vote in the presidential election, with the opinion ratings of similar individuals who were not quite 18 in time to vote. Their results support the cognitive dissonance theory. From the abstract:
We examine the presidential opinion ratings of voting-age eligibles and ineligibles two years after the president’s election. We find that eligibles show two to three times greater polarization of opinions than comparable ineligibles. We find smaller effects when we compare polarization in opinions of senators elected during high turnout presidential campaign years with senators elected during nonpresidential campaign years.
Read the paper.

Friday, October 3, 2008

donations to universities to help one's child get accepted

Jonathan Meer (Stanford) and Harvey S. Rosen (Princeton) study alumni donations to a university, and show that alumni are more likely to give money as their children approach college age. Their abstract:
We study alumni contributions to an anonymous research university. If alumni believe donations will increase the likelihood of their child’s admission, and if this belief helps motivate their giving, then the pattern of giving should vary systematically with the ages of their children, whether the children ultimately apply to the university, and the admissions outcome. We call this pattern the child cycle of alumni giving. The evidence is consistent with the child-cycle pattern. Thus, while altruism drives some giving, the hope for a reciprocal benefit also plays a role. We compute rough estimates of the proportion of giving due to selfish motives.
So, their story only requires that alumni believe that contributions increase the probability of their children being accepted. Now, I would like to see someone determine whether this belief has support in the data.

Download the article.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

computers aided versus traditional instruction

Lisa Barrow (Chicago Fed), Lisa Markman (Princeton), and Cecilia Elena Rouse (Princeton) study the use of computer instruction in teaching mathematics. Their abstract:
We present results from a randomized study of a well-defined use of computers in schools: a popular instructional computer program for pre-algebra and algebra. We primarily assess the program using a test designed to target pre-algebra and algebra skills. Students randomly assigned to computer-aided instruction score significantly higher on a pre-algebra and algebra test than students randomly assigned to traditional instruction. We hypothesize that this effectiveness arises from increased individualized instruction as the effects appear larger for students in larger classes and in classes with high student absentee rates.
Read the paper.

Monday, September 29, 2008

voting for Buchanan, when you ment to vote for Gore

Kelly Shue and Erzo Luttmer (both at Harvard) consider the role of "misvoting" in elections. Apparantly, not everyone is capable of going into the voting booth and casting a vote for the candidate they intend to support. The study uses data from the 2003 California recall election, in which there was "quasi-random variation in candidate name placement on ballots." The authors show that "minor candidate's vote shares almost double when their names are adjacent to the names of major candidates."

This is evidence that voters routinely make mistakes when submitting their ballots. What's more, the authors find evidence that these mistakes are larger is precincts with more poorly educated and poor voters. Therefore, "a major candidate that disproportionally attracts voters from such [undereducation or poor] preceincts faces an electoral disadvantage."

The article is forthcoming in the American Economic Journal: Policy. Read the article.

Monday, September 15, 2008

deer hunting regulations and safety externalities

State governments often place limits on the types of game that may be hunted. For example, to limit the averse affects that hunting can have on deer population, hunters may only be allowed to shoot adult male deer. Such regulations can help protect the deer population, and as Michael Conlin (Michigan State), Stacy Dickert-Conlin (Michigan State), and John Pepper (Virginia) show in a recent working paper, they can also impact hunter safety.

Why is this? Because the regulations require the a hunter excercise more caution when pulling the trigger, to make sure that he is about to shoot a buck, rather than a doe. This added caution also makes it less likely that someone mistakes his hunting buddy for a deer.

Read the paper.

Friday, September 12, 2008

money and happiness

It turns out that money can buy happiness, but you get more of a bang for your buck if you spend your money when you're young -- before your health deteriorates and you become less able to enjoy that night on the town or that barefoot cruise through the Caribbean. These are the findings of a new working paper by Amy Finkelstein (MIT), Erzo Luttmer (Harvard) and Matthew Notowidigdo (MIT). Finally, some evidence in favor of spending our money now, rather than investing it until retirement.

Read the article in Slate.

Download the paper.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

foster care and adult crime

Joseph Doyle (MIT) studies the impact of foster care on child outcomes -- namely whether they commit crimes as adults. To do so, Doyle first shows that whether a child ends up in foster care often depends on the identity of his or her case worker. Some case workers are more likely than others to place children in foster care. Because case workers are randomly assigned to cases, whether a child ends up in foster care (for marginal cases) is random. This randomness can be used to measure the effects of foster care. Do children assigned to a foster-care prone case worker tend to have different outcomes than children assigned to a case worker that is less likely to place them in foster care?

From the abstract:
Children on the margin of placement are found to be two to three times more likely to enter the criminal justice system as adults if they were placed in foster care. One innovation describes the types of children on the margin of placement, a group that is more likely to include African Americans, girls, and young adolescents.

Read the paper

Monday, September 8, 2008

does movie violence increase violent crime?

In a forthcoming QJE paper, Gordon Dahl (UCSD) and Stefano DellaVigna (Berkeley) test whether violence in the movies influence violence in real life. Using data on cinema releases and attendance, the authors look for correlation between violent-movie attendance and violent crime.

Intuitively, we might imagine that violent movies spur violence. When one leaves the a movie with a lot of fighting, that person might go looking for a fight, right? Surprisingly, the paper finds that violent movie attendance actually causes violent crime to decrease. This may be because those who commit violent crimes like to watch violent movies. When a new movie comes out, they go to the cinema instead of on their "crime spree" (or instead of going to the bar, which otherwise would result in them getting drunk which makes them more likely to commit a violent crime).

They estimate that a violent movie results in 1000 fewer assaults on any given weekend. Admittedly, however, the authors are unable to test for long-run affects of violent movies. Although a violent movie results in less crime in the short run, could increased violence on the big screen result in a more violent society over the course of many years?

Link to the paper on the NBER site
Or, try to download a PDF directly

Friday, September 5, 2008

impact of universal child care

In a recent Journal of Political Economy paper, Michael Baker (Toronto), Jonathan Gruber (MIT), and Kevin Milligan (British Columbia) study the effects of a universal child care program in Quebec. Unsurprisingly, they find that the program significantly increases maternal labor supply--more moms return to work and/or work more after the birth of a child. What's surprising is that the program appears to make children worse off on a variety of dimensions.
...the evidence suggests that children are worse off by measures ranging from aggression to motor and social skills to illness. We also uncover evidence that the new child care program led to more hostile, less consistent parenting, worse parental health, and lower-quality parental relationships.
Why would this be? Does this mean that childcare in general could be causing these affects? Not necessarily. First, they cannot rule out that these negative aspects result from a short-term adjustment process, as families adjust to using childcare. Second, I speculate that universal childcare likely changes the composition of children at daycare centers, which may have similar results as changing the composition of inmates at a juvenile detention center (see the earlier post).

Read the paper

Thursday, September 4, 2008

blonde and brunette fundraisers

When someone shows up on our doorstep looking for a charitable donation, does our potential donation depend on how attractive the fundraiser is? Does it depend on their hair color?

In a cute little paper published in Economics Letters, Michael Price shows that donations do depend on these factors. The better looking the fundraiser, the more we are likely to contribute. (That result isn't so surprising, given that a number of other papers have found a correlation between earnings and beauty.) He also shows that blondes bring in more than brunettes--even controlling for one's physical attractiveness. This means that the benefits of being beautiful are more significant for blondes than for brunettes. This blonde advantage is driven entirely from the donations of Caucasian households (non-white households display no blond preference).

Download the paper

Monday, August 25, 2008

teacher testing & teaching quality

By requiring teachers to pass tests or receive certifications, we can ensure that public school teachers obtain some minimum level of education and knowledge. Does imposing such requirements increase student performance?

Joshua D. Angrista (MIT) and Jonathan Guryanb (U Chicago) find no evidence that increasing teacher requirements increases teacher quality. This may be because the increased requirements makes it more difficult to become a teacher, which likely affects the types of students who choose to become teachers. It also forces schools to hire along this one-dimension, even if the school believes that an uncertified teacher would make the better teacher.

What's more, the authors show that the increase in requirements increases teacher wages (without increasing teacher quality). This is unsurprising since increasing teacher requirments likely decrease the supply of teachers--in the labor market this means higher wages. This article suggests that increasing teacher teasting and certification requirments increases the cost of education without increasing the quality of education.

link to the article

Friday, August 22, 2008

racial bias among NBA referees

Although this article made headlines a while back, I still want to include it on this blog. Joseph Price (BYU) and Justin Wolfers (Penn) find evidence of racial bias among NBA referees. They show that the number of expected fouls given to a player during a game depends on the player's race and the racial mix of the refereeing crew. They identify a own-race bias amongst the referees. A white refereeing crew, compared to a black refereeing crew, calls relatively fewer fouls on white players than on black players; and vice versa. Although the bias is small--small enough that it would not be noticed just by watching the games--it is large-enough to affect the outcome of a close game.

Why is this interesting? Because NBA referees are amongst the people we would expect to be least biased. If race influences the split-second decisions of the referees, then it probably also influences the split-second decisions of almost everyone else, even it we don't intend for it to.

read the article

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

pay peanuts, get monkeys

In American academics, professors in certain fields make significantly more than professors in other fields. Here salaries are usually correlated with the salaries paid in the private (non-academic) sector. Outside of America, on the other hand, it is often the case that all assistant professors are paid (roughly) the same, and all full professors are paid (roughly) the same, independent of one's field. That's only fair, right? If the history prof and the engineering prof both have to teach and conduct research, why should the engineering prof earn more?

New Zealand is one such country in which academic salaries are independent of one's field. Using data from New Zealand universities, Glenn Boyle shows that if you don't pay the engineering prof more, the quality of engineering research will fall. This is because the best engineers will find it more attractive to accept high-paying private sector jobs. Academic research productivity in different fields depends the how a field's academic salary compares to salaries outside of academia. This suggests that if academic economists earn the same as English professors, the best economists will find it even more attractive to accept a high-paying job on Wall Street, and the quality of economics research will fall. A similar effect isn't present for English professors because they don't have as high-paying of outside options.

read the article

Friday, August 15, 2008

what you should know about politics

Ok, so this isn't a research paper. It isn't even written by a Ph.D. academic. But it is a good book, and gives a well-balanced overview of the issues.

What you should know about politics... but don't