Category: Data Source

Do people really even know what they want(ed)?

We examine the stability of preferences over time using panel data from Kenya on fertility intentions,realizations, and recall of intentions. We find that desired fertility is very unstable, but that most people perceive their desires to be stable. Under hypothetical scenarios, few expect their desired fertility to increase over time. Moreover, when asked to recall past intentions, most respondents report previously wanting exactly as many children as they desire today. Biased recall of preferences over a major life decision could have important implications for measuring excess fertility, the evolution of norms,and the perceived need for family planning programs.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Maximilian W. Mueller, Joan Hamory Hicks, Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, and Edward Miguel.

The Great Reset, applied to Millennials

“Their economic fundamentals are fundamentally different,” said Christopher Kurz, an economist at the Federal Reserve.

Mr. Kurz and his colleagues last year analyzed income, debt, asset and consumption data to figure out how millennials compared at similar ages with Generation X, people born between 1965 and 1980, as well as baby boomers, those born from 1946 to 1964.

They found that millennial households had an average net worth of about $92,000 in 2016, nearly 40% less than Gen X households in 2001, adjusted for inflation, and about 20% less than baby boomer households in 1989.

Wages didn’t look much better. At the same ages, Gen X men working full time and who were heads of households earned 18% more than their millennial counterparts, and baby boomer men earned 27% more, when adjusting for inflation, age and other socioeconomic variables.

Among women, incomes were 12% higher for Gen Xers and 24% higher for baby boomers than for millennials, using the same measures.

That is from Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg at the WSJ.  Note this too:

Millennials, as a group, are better educated than any generation before them. About four in 10 ages 25 to 37 hold at least a bachelor’s degree compared with about a quarter of baby boomers, and three in 10 Gen Xers when they were the same age.

You can see the problem, yes?  Here is the original paper by Christopher Kurz, Geng Li, and Daniel J. Vine.

Good art by women is cheaper

A rose painted by another name would cost more. In a new paper*, four academics show that art made by women sells for lower prices at auction than men’s, and suggest that this discount has nothing to do with talent or thematic choices. It is solely because the artists are female.

The authors used a sample of 1.9m transactions in art auctions across 49 countries in the period from 1970 to 2016. They found that art made by women sold at an average discount of 42% compared with works by men. However, auction prices can be distorted by a few famous artists whose output is perceived as extremely valuable. If transactions above $1m are excluded, then the discount falls to 19%.

…the researchers used a computer programme to generate paintings and randomly assign the results to artists with male or female names. They then asked participants to rate the paintings and ascribe a value. The experiment found that affluent individuals (those most likely to bid at auctions) attributed a lower value to works which the programme assigned to a woman. Clearly, this gap was unrelated to the artistic merit of the picture.

I don’t quite think that shows (non-statistical) discrimination, perhaps more convincing is this:

The average discount applied to the work of a given female artist was lowest in countries where women were more equal. (There are some exceptions to the rule, such as Brazil, where women’s art was highly rated.)

The good news is that the female discount has fallen over time. For transactions under $1m, the study calculated, the discount has dropped from 33% in the 1970s to 8% after 2010.

If you not wealthy and wish to collect art, buy textiles, they are much cheaper and very often the creators are women rather than men.  They are not as a whole less aesthetically valuable than paintings, except perhaps for paintings at the very very highest levels.  But within painting, prices for Gwen John vs. Augustus John have been in parity for some while now, same with Frida Kahlo and her male contemporaries, or Natalia Goncharova vs. her peers, the latter I check on a regular basis in fact I was just perusing them today.

Here is The Economist source piece.  Here is the original research., “Is gender in the eye of the beholder? Identifying cultural attitudes with art auction prices”, by Renée Adams, Roman Kräussl, Marco Navone and Patrick Verwijmeren.

It is the slacker writers who need agglomeration most of all

Do note the latter part of the last sentence, but the entire thesis is interesting:

This paper utilises a unique, purpose-built panel dataset on prominent authors in the UK and Ireland born 1700–1925 to estimate the productivity gains associated with agglomeration of an industry with few capital requirements and no apparent need to cluster geographically. I find the average author experiences productivity gains of 11.94% per annum when residing in London, the only major literary cluster – a gain not associated with living in any of the minor literary clusters. I find evidence of negative selection with respect to productivity, indicating the results are not driven by the self-selection of highly productive authors to London. I find heterogeneity of returns to living in London by birth cohort and Impact Index quartile (a measure of author quality) and that the cohorts who receive the greatest gains from locating in London are those for which there is the strongest evidence of negative selection with respect to productivity.

That is by Sara Mitchell in the Journal of Urban Economics, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Are social media really bad for your children?

Maybe not:

To disentangle between-person associations from within-person effects, we analyzed an eight-wave, large-scale, and nationally representative panel dataset (Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, 2009–2016) using random-intercept cross-lagged panel models (2). We adopted a specification curve analysis framework (35)—a computational method which minimizes the risk that a specific profile of analytical decisions yields false-positive results. In place of a single model, we tested a wide range of theoretically grounded analysis options [data is available on the UK data service (6); code is available on the Open Science Framework (7)]…

We first examined between-person associations (Fig. 1Left), addressing the question Do adolescents using more social media show different levels of life satisfaction compared with adolescents using less? Across all operationalizations, the median cross-sectional correlation was negative (ψ = −0.13), an effect judged as small by behavioral scientists (8). Next, we examined the within-person effects of social media use on life satisfaction (Fig. 1Center) and of life satisfaction on social media use (Fig. 1Right), asking the questions Does an adolescent using social media more than they do on average drive subsequent changes in life satisfaction? and To what extent is the relation reciprocal? Both median longitudinal effects were trivial in size (social media predicting life satisfaction, β = −0.05; life satisfaction predicting social media use, β = −0.02).

The effects which are observed are larger for females:

For females, however, social media was a predictor of slightly decreased life satisfaction across all domains, except satisfaction with appearance (b = −0.13 to −0.05 or β = −0.09 to −0.04; Fig. 2Center). Furthermore, all domains of life satisfaction, except satisfaction with friends, predicted slightly reduced social media use (b = −0.17 to −0.05 or β = −0.11 to −0.07; Fig. 2Right).

Here is the full (short) paper by Amy OrbenTobias Dienlin, and Andrew K. Przybylski.

Did the zero lower bound matter?

This is an article of faith in “Twitter economics,” but Scott Sumner, myself, and many others have been insisting for years that the arguments simply are not there and that the zero lower bound is not such a big deal.  There is now a new NBER working paper by Davide Debortoli, Jordi Gali, and Luca Gambetti:

The zero lower bound (ZLB) irrelevance hypothesis implies that the economy’s performance is not affected by a binding ZLB constraint. We evaluate that hypothesis for the recent ZLB episode experienced by the U.S. economy (2009Q1-2015Q4). We focus on two dimensions of performance that were likely to have experienced the impact of a binding ZLB: (i) the volatility of macro variables and (ii) the economy’s response to shocks. Using a variety of empirical methods, we find little evidence against the irrelevance hypothesis, with our estimates suggesting that the responses of output, inflation and the long-term interest rate were hardly affected by the binding ZLB constraint, possibly as a result of the adoption and fine-tuning of unconventional monetary policies. We can reconcile our empirical findings with the predictions of a simple New Keynesian model under the assumption of a shadow interest rate rule.

In my somewhat jaded view, the zero lower bound arguments have been an excuse of sorts to move outside of “scarcity economics” and make politically convenient claims about the necessity fiscal stimulus.  It is no wonder we ended up with MMT!

In the meantime, this evidence is the (current) final word, and I hope it will be heeded as such.

Do Pimples Pay? Acne, Human Capital, and the Labor Market

We use data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to investigate the association between having acne in middle to high school and subsequent educational and labor market outcomes. We find that having acne is strongly positively associated with overall grade point average in high school, grades in high school English, history, math, and science, and the completion of a college degree. We also find evidence that acne is associated with higher personal labor market earnings for women. We further explore a possible channel through which acne may affect education and earnings.

Here is the full piece by Hugo Mialon and Erik T. Nesson.  For the pointer I thank Daniel Gross.

The cutthroat world of children’s food

It’s all about the data:

After a year-long investigation, a top California exec has been arrested by the FBI for allegedly hacking into a competitor’s website and stealing their customer data in an effort to ruin their business.

There is an unusual twist, however: this isn’t the high-stakes world of big tech or high finance, but American school lunches.

Chief financial officer of Choicelunch, Keith Wesley Cosbey, 40, was collared last month over claims that he illegally grabbed details from competitor The LunchMaster on what precisely youngsters across the San Francisco Bay Area like to eat and are allergic to.

He has been charged with unlawful computer access and fraud, and identity theft. If found guilty, Cosbey faces up to three years behind bars.

According to the criminal complaint against him, filed in San Mateo County, Cosbey stole data on hundreds of students, and then sent it anonymously to the local government department that oversees the school lunch program in an apparent effort to undermine his competitor.

Here is the full story, and here is another story, both via the estimable Chug.

Britain’s regional divide is smaller than you might think

In London, the median household has a disposable income before housing costs that is only 21 per cent higher than the weakest area, which is in the north-east England. After paying a lot for very small homes, Londoners have no higher incomes than the UK average. Most inequality occurs within regions not among them — the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that if average regional income differences were eradicated, 95 per cent of UK income inequality would still exist.

That is from Chris Giles at the FT.

How upset are the Brits really?

There has been lots of talk lately (including by me) about how unhappy and divided the UK is. The vote for Brexit is often described as a cry of pain from suffering people.

So I was stunned to see the chart reprinted below, which comes from the independent Resolution Foundation think-tank and shows that self-reported British life satisfaction is the highest since surveys began in the 1970s. About 93 per cent of Britons now say they are “fairly” or “very” satisfied with their lives.

Resolution reports “a very marked upward drift” since 2000, despite stagnating satisfaction during the financial crisis and since the referendum. Academic experts tell me they believe these findings. Nancy Hey, director of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, says that, contrary to Britain’s doom-ridden national debate: “For most people, things have been getting gently better.”

Here is more from Simon Kuper at the FT, via Yana.  In management, it strikes me as an interesting and underexplored question to what extent people, when things are going relatively well, turn on each other, or not.

Americans trust their government more than you are being told

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the opening:

Americans’ trust in their government is abysmally low, according to both survey data and a more subjective reading of opinions about President Donald Trump and Congress. I hold a contrarian view: Trust in the actual operations of government is pretty high, and the real growing mistrust is of each other.

Consider first that the Trump administration’s record spending and deficits don’t seem all that unpopular, even among those who detest Trump or might favor different spending priorities. No major candidate is campaigning on a platform of fiscal responsibility and restraint, and that is a sign of high trust in government.

I go through the major government programs, and show they are (mostly) pretty well trusted by the American people.  Here is another consideration:

Finally, interest rates on government debt have been remarkably low for years, probably the single best measure of trust in a government; less trusted countries such as Argentina and Turkey have to pay very high interest rates to borrow. The recent rise in U.S. rates is due more to an economic expansion than to rising fears of default.

Here is the basic model:

In reality, as people get older, they rely on government for more and more. While that is indeed a form of trust, it also increases anxiety about those in charge, and their values and priorities. The higher level of anxiety exists precisely because there is, for better or worse, greater dependence. Don’t confuse the resulting nervousness with a lack of trust.

Our leaders aside, we trust the actual operation of government on the ground, so to speak.  These days, what we do not trust is each other:

Many Democrats and Republicans do not want their children to marry into the other political party, for instance, and these preferences are growing stronger. So when one branch of the government is affiliated with one of the parties, as it inevitably is, members of the other party will voice a low level of trust. But their complaint may be about the supporters of that branch of the government as much as the government itself.


Do minimum wage hikes get rid of bad restaurants?

We study the impact of the minimum wage on firm exit in the restaurant industry, exploiting recent changes in the minimum wage at the city level. We find that the impact of the minimum wage depends on whether a restaurant was already close to the margin of exit. Restaurants with lower ratings are closer to the margin of exit on average, and are disproportionately driven out of business by increases to the minimum wage. Our point estimates suggest that a one dollar increase in the minimum wage leads to a 10 percent increase in the likelihood of exit for a 3.5-star restaurant (which is the median rating on Yelp), but has no discernible impact for a 5-star restaurant (on a 1 to 5 star scale). We expand the analysis to look at prices using data from delivery orders, and find that lower rated restaurants also increase prices in response to minimum wage increases. Our analysis also highlights how digital data can be used to shed new light on labor policy and the economy.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Dara Lee Luca and Michael Luca.  Obviously this will not be good for jobs, yet part of me believes that creative destruction in the restaurant sector is undersupplied…

The politics of CEOs

We find that more than 57% of CEOs are Republicans [defined by 2/3 or more campaign contributions to Republicans], 19% are Democrats…and the rest are Neutral [do not contribute 2/3 of their campaign spending to either of the two major parties].  Therefore, Republican CEOs are more than three times as Democratic CEOs.  Furthermore, Republican CEOs lead companies with almost twice the asset value of companies led by Democratic CEOs.

That is from 2000-2017, across the S&P 1500.  And:

We show that the median CEO directs 75% of his or her total contributions to Republicans.


We find that companies led by Republican CEOs are less transparent to their investors on whether how, and how much they spend on politics.

The most Republican-leaning sectors are energy (89.1%), manufacturing, and chemicals.  Business equipment and telecoms are the least-leaning R to D sectors for their CEOs, though still Republican by clear margins.  In the Northeast and West the number of Democratic CEOS has almost caught up to the Republicans.  As for female CEOs, they lean Republican 34.3% to Democratic 32.3%, a small margin but still more Republican donors.

That is all from a new paper The Politics of CEOs, by Alma Cohen, Moshe Hazan, Roberto Tallarita, and David Weiss, NBER link here.

Intelligence predicts cooperativeness better than conscientiousness does

We study how intelligence and personality affect the outcomes of groups, focusing on repeated interactions that provide the opportunity for profitable cooperation. Our experimental method creates two groups of subjects who have different levels of certain traits, such as higher or lower levels of Intelligence, Conscientiousness, and Agreeableness, but who are very similar otherwise. Intelligence has a large and positive long-run effect on cooperative behavior. The effect is strong when at the equilibrium of the repeated game there is a trade-off between short-run gains and long-run losses. Conscientiousness and Agreeableness have a natural, significant but transitory effect on cooperation rates.

That is by Eugenio Proto, Aldo Rustichini, and Andis Sofianos, forthcoming in the JPE.  Note that agreeable people do cooperate more at first, but they don’t have the strategic ability and consistency of the higher IQ individuals in these games.  Conscientiousness has multiple features, one of which is caution, and that deters cooperation, since the cautious are afraid of being taken advantage of.  So, at least in these settings, high IQ really is the better predictor of cooperativeness, especially over longer-term horizons.

Is day care bad for kids, especially well-off kids?

Exploiting admission thresholds to the Bologna daycare system, we show using RDD that one additional daycare month at age 0–2 reduces IQ by 0.5% (4.7% of a s.d.) at age8–14 in a relatively affluent population. The magnitude of this negative effect increases with family income. Similar negative impacts are found for personality traits. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis from psychology that children in daycare experience fewer one-to-one interactions with adults, with negative effects in families where such interactions are of higher quality. We embed this hypothesis in a model that lends structure to our RDD.

Here is the forthcoming JPE article by Margherita Fort, Andrea Ichino and Giulio Zanella.  And here are various ungated versions.  (Do any of you have the links handy for other papers with similar results?  They do exist.)

Quick quiz, we should:

a. Subsidize day care heavily

b. Not subsidize day care, or

c. Wait and see until more evidence is in.

Who is passing and failing this quiz?  How about you?