Category: Data Source

Where did Swedish schooling go wrong?

Some parts of this paper seem a priori implausible to me, and I don’t think the abstract puts the best foot forward for the paper, but these are such important issues I wanted to pass along the new piece by Magnus Henrekson and Johan Wennström.  Here is the opener:

The Swedish school system suffers from profound problems with teacher recruitment and retention, knowledge decline,and grade inflation. Absenteeism is high, and psychiatric disorders have risen sharply among Swedish pupils in the last ten years. In this pioneering analysis of the consequences of combining institutionalized social constructivism with extensive marketization of education, we suggest that these problems regarding school quality are to no small extent a result of the Swedish school system’s unlikely combination of a postmodern view of truth and knowledge, the ensuing pedagogy of child-centered discovery, and market principles. Our study adds to the findings from previous attempts to study the effects of social-constructivist pedagogy in nonmarket contexts and yields the implication that caution is necessary for countries, notably the U.S., that have a tradition of social-constructivist practices in their education systems and are considering implementing or expanding market-based school reforms.

At the risk of sounding like Bryan Caplan, is schooling even effective enough for mistakes in method to be so fatal?

For the pointer to the paper I thank Daniel Klein.

My Conversation with Michele Gelfand

Here is the audio and transcript, and here is the summary:

Michele Gelfand is professor of psychology at the University of Maryland and author of the just-released Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World. In her conversation with Tyler, Michele unpacks the concept of tight and loose cultures and more, including which variable best explains tightness, the problem with norms, whether Silicon Valley has an honor culture, the importance of theory and history in guiding research, what Donald Trump gets wrong about negotiation, why MBAs underrate management, the need to develop cultural IQ, and why mentorship should last a lifetime.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: As you know, it’s a common distinction in cross-cultural analysis to call some cultures individualistic and others collectivistic. How does tightness and looseness differ from that distinction? What do you pick up that, say, the work of Triandis does not?

GELFAND: Actually, Triandis is my mentor. I went to Champaign to work with him. I did a lot of research on collectivism and individualism. For a long time, that was the one dimension that we looked at in cross-cultural psychology.

It’s almost akin to, in personality psychology, only studying extroversion to the neglect of other dimensions, like neuroticism. In cross-cultural psychology, we got a little bit narrow in what we were studying. Collectivism-individualism is related to tightness but distinct.

Part of the problem we’ve had is, we’ve confounded cultures in our research. We’ve been studying East Asia, which is both tight and collectivistic, with the United States and other Western cultures, which tend to be loose and individualistic. So they have been confounded.

But when you think about the off-diagonals of that two-by-two, you can imagine cultures like Germany, Switzerland, Austria that tend to be pretty individualistic. They emphasize privacy. They’re not hugely group and family oriented, but they’re relatively tight. They have strong rules and punishments for deviance.

On the flip side, you can think about Latin American cultures — in our data, that’s Brazil or Spain — that tend to be pretty family oriented and pretty collectivistic, but they’re rather loose.

In a lot of ways, you can disentangle that variation, even if they’re related. They tend to be related about 0.4. That’s found both in modern nations and also traditional societies. At the state level, they also tend to be related but again distinct. Only in that case, it’s about 0.2 or 0.3, the correlation between tightness and collectivism.


COWEN: Overrated or underrated, Staten Island?

GELFAND: [laughs] I would say probably underrated. That’s because I actually am familiar with Staten Island. We have relatives that live there. It’s probably the last undiscovered place around the city. Brooklyn has become a chichi place to live, but Staten Island has not. There’s great delis there. I’ve spent some time there.


COWEN: Putting aside your political views, but just if you observe Donald Trump as a negotiator — as a psychologist, what strikes you?

GELFAND: Donald Trump has a very classic negotiation style. It’s a distributive negotiation style. It’s a win-lose style. It works in certain contexts, especially contexts where there’s one issue or when there’s very little expected future interaction.

What Donald Trump does is, he takes that style to international [laughs] politics where these contexts, the structure of these situations is very different. There’s usually many issues at the table. There’s expected future interaction…His style is really mismatched with the context that he’s in.

Many of the best parts are at or near the end, so do read or listen all the way through.  And you can buy Michele’s book here.

Buchanan and Wagner were right, fiscal policy is fairly pro-cyclical

Our study reveals a mixed fiscal scenery, where more than half of the countries are recently characterized by limited fiscal space, and fiscal policy is either acyclical or procyclical (though not as high the level of 1980s), notably post-GFC becoming even more procyclical in government spending when accounting for net acquisition of nonfinancial assets and capital expenditure (spending components do matter).

That is from a new paper by Joshua Aizenman, Yothin Jinjarak, Hien Thi Kim Nguyen, and Donghyun Park.

Chris Blattman is becoming more skeptical of cash transfers

His new paper is with Nathan Fiala and Sebastian Martinez:

In 2008, Uganda granted hundreds of small groups $400/person to help members start individual skilled trades. Four years on, an experimental evaluation found grants raised earnings by 38% (Blattman, Fiala, Martinez 2014). We return after 9 years to find these start-up grants acted more as a kick-start than a lift out of poverty. Grantees’ investment leveled off; controls eventually increased their incomes through business and casual labor; and so both groups converged in employment, earnings, and consumption. Grants had lasting impacts on assets, skilled work, and possibly child health, but had little effect on mortality, fertility, health or education.

And here is my earlier Conversation with Chris Blattman, in which a similar result is discussed.

And what do the investors think?

We survey a representative sample of U.S. individuals about how well leading academic theories describe their financial beliefs and decisions. We find substantial support for many factors hypothesized to affect portfolio equity share, particularly background risk, investment horizon, rare disasters, transactional factors, and fixed costs of stock market participation. Individuals tend to believe that past mutual fund performance is a good signal of stock-picking skill, actively managed funds do not suffer from diseconomies of scale, value stocks are safer and do not have higher expected returns, and high-momentum stocks are riskier and do have higher expected returns.

That is from a new paper by James J. Choi and Adriana Z. Robertson.

Peer review is becoming tougher to achieve

Scientists in developed countries provide nearly three times as many peer reviews per paper submitted as researchers in emerging nations, according to the largest ever survey of the practice.

The report — which surveyed more than 11,000 researchers worldwide — also finds a growing “reviewer fatigue”, with editors having to invite more reviewers to get each review done. The number rose from 1.9 invitations in 2013 to 2.4 in 2017…

The report notes that finding peer reviewers is becoming harder, even as the overall volume of publications rises globally (see ‘Is reviewer fatigue setting in?’).

File under “the cost disease strikes back.”  Furthermore, it seems increasingly obvious that a lot of lesser journals just don’t matter, and that may discourage prospective referees from putting in the effort.  And note:

In 2013–17, the United States contributed nearly 33% of peer reviews, and published 25.4% of articles worldwide. By contrast, emerging nations did 19% of peer reviews, and published 29% of all articles.

China stood out — the country accounted for 13.8% of scientific articles during the period, but did only 8.8% of reviews.

That is from Inga Vesper in Nature, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

American competitive democracy survives

Most elections in the United States are not close, which has raised concerns among social scientists and reform advocates about the vibrancy of American democracy. In this paper, we demonstrate that while individual elections are often uncompetitive, hierarchicaltemporal, and geographic variation in the locus of competition results in most of the country regularly experiencing close elections. In the four-cycle period between 2006 and 2012, 89% of Americans were in a highly competitive jurisdiction for at least one office. Since 1914, about half the states have never gone more than four election cycles without a close statewide contest. More Americans witness competition than citizens of Canada or the UK, other nations with SMSP-based systems. The dispersed competition we find also results in nearly all Americans being represented by both political parties for different offices.

That is from Bernard L. Fraga, and Eitan D. Hersh, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Does the “extractive institutions” hypothesis fail the empirical test?

The title of this paper is “Colonial Revenue Extraction and Modern Day Government Quality in the British Empire,” and it is by Rasmus Broms.  Here goes:

The relationship between the extent of government revenue a government collects, primarily in the form of taxation, and its overall quality has increasingly been identified as a key factor for successful state building, good institutions, and—by extension—general development. Initially deriving from historical research on Western Europe, this process is expected to unfold slowly over time. This study tests the claim that more extensive revenue collection has long-lasting and positive consequences for government quality in a developmental setting. Using fiscal records from British colonies, results from cross-colony/country regression analyses reveal that higher colonial income-adjusted revenue levels during the early twentieth century can be linked to higher government quality today. This relationship is substantial and robust to several specifications of both colonial revenue and modern day government quality, and remains significant under control for a range of rivaling explanations. The results support the notion that the current institutional success of former colonies can be traced back to the extent of historical revenue extraction.

For the pointer I thank an MR reader.

The rise of the Swedish Democrats

There is a new research paper on this topic, from Ernesto Dal Bo, Frederico Finan, Olle Folke, Torsten Persson, and Johanna Rickne:

We study the rise of the Sweden Democrats, a radical-right party that rose from negligible size in 2002 to Sweden’s third largest party in 2014…We take a starting point in two key economic events: (i) a series of policy reforms in 2006-2011 that significantly widened the disposable-income gap between “insiders” and “outsiders” in the labor market, and (ii) the financial-crisis recession that doubled the job-loss risk for “vulnerable” vs “secure” insiders. On the supply side, the Sweden Democrats over-represent both losing groups relative to the population, whereas all other parties under-represent them, results which also hold when we disaggregate across time, subgroups, and municipalities. On the demand side, the local increase in the insider-outsider income gap, as well as the share of vulnerable insiders, are systematically associated with larger electoral gains for the Sweden Democrats. These findings can be given a citizen-candidate interpretation: economic losers (as we demonstrate) decrease their trust in established parties and institutions.

Is it being an economic loser that makes you support the Sweden Democrats, or simply observing a lot of economic losers around you, the latter having been the case for Donald Trump’s support?  This Twitter thread gives some key pictures from the paper and summary of results.

Death, Trauma and God: The Effect of Military Deployments on Religiosity

Learning to cope with man’s mortality is central to the teachings of the world’s major religions. However, very little is known about the impact of life-and-death trauma on religiosity. This study exploits a natural experiment in military deployments to estimate the causal effect of traumatic shocks on religiosity. We find that combat assignment is associated with a substantial increase in the probability that a serviceman subsequently attends religious services regularly and engages in private prayer. Combat-induced increases in religiosity are largest for enlisted servicemen, those under age 25, and servicemen wounded in combat. The physical and psychological burdens of war, as well as the presence of military chaplains in combat zones, emerge as possible mechanisms.

That is from Resul Cesur, Travis Freidman, and Joseph J. Sabia.

The Economic Effects of Social Networks: Evidence from the Housing Market

That is by Michael Bailey, Ruiqing Cao, Theresa Kuchler, and Johannes Stroebel¶, there is a demonstration effect in consumption, namely you are more likely to buy a house if your friends did well buying homes.  Here is from the working paper version:

We show how data from online social networking services can help researchers better understand the effects of social interactions on economic decision making. We use anonymized data from Facebook, the world’s largest online social network, to first explore heterogeneity in the structure of individuals’ social networks. We then exploit the rich variation in the data to analyze the effects of social interactions on housing market investments. To do this, we combine the social network information with housing transaction data. Variation in the geographic dispersion of social networks, combined with time-varying regional house price changes, induces heterogeneity in the house price experiences of different individuals’ friends. We show that individuals whose geographically distant friends experienced larger recent house price increases are more likely to transition from renting to owning. They also buy larger houses and pay more for a given house. Similarly, when homeowners’ friends experience less positive house price changes, these homeowners are more likely to become renters, and more likely to sell their property at a lower price. We find that these relationships are driven by the effects of social interactions on individuals’ housing market expectations. Survey data show that individuals whose geographically distant friends experienced larger recent house price increases consider local property a more attractive investment, with bigger effects for individuals who regularly discuss such investments with their friends.

Here is the (gated) “forthcoming in the JPE” version.

Hysteria Was Not Treated With Vibrators

You know the story about the male Victorian physicians who unwittingly produced orgasms in their female clients by treating them for “hysteria” with newly-invented, labor-saving, mechanical vibrators? It’s little more than an urban legend albeit one transmitted through academic books and articles. Hallie Lieberman and Eric Schatzberg, the authors of a shocking new paper, A Failure of Academic Quality Control: The Technology of Orgasm, don’t quite use the word fraud but they come close.

Since its publication in 1999, The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel Maines has become one of the most widely cited works on the history of sex and technology (Maines, 1999). This slim book covers a lot of ground, but Maines’ core argument is quite simple. She argues that Victorian physicians routinely treated female hysteria patients by stimulating them to orgasm using electromechanical vibrators. The vibrator was, according to Maines, a labor-saving technology that replaced the well-established medical practice of clitoral massage for hysteria. She states that physicians did not perceive either the vibrator or manual massage as sexual, because neither method involved vaginal penetration.

This argument has been repeated in dozens of scholarly works and cited with approval in many more. A few scholars have challenged various parts of the book. Yet no scholars have contested her central argument, at least not in the peer-reviewed literature. Her argument even spread to popular culture, appearing in a Broadway play, a feature-length film, several documentaries, and many mainstream books and articles. This once controversial idea has now become an accepted fact.

But there’s only one problem with Maines’ argument: we could find no evidence that physicians ever used electromechanical vibrators to induce orgasms in female patients as a medical treatment. We examined every source that Maines cites in support of her core claim. None of these sources actually do so. We also discuss other evidence from this era that contradicts key aspects of Maines’ argument. This evidence shows that vibrators were indeed used penetratively, and that manual massage of female genitals was never a routine medical treatment for hysteria.

… the 19-year success of Technology of Orgasm points to a fundamental failure of academic quality control. This failure occurred at every stage, starting with the assessment of the work at the Johns Hopkins University Press. But most glaring is the fact that not a single scholarly publication has pointed out the empirical flaws in the book’s core claims in the 19 years since its release.

Wow. Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Chris Martin on twitter.

Star firms are really about intangible capital

Once we re-compute the ROIC [return on invested capital] calculations to factor in estimates of intangible capital from the finance literature…we find that both the run-up by top decile of firms and the much higher mean returns in the cognitively skilled industries disappear.  Thus, the differences that we found earlier in firm differentiation between industries are likely attributable, in great part, to not accounting for intangible capital consistently.  Industries that rely heavily on complex cognitive skills are likely to have higher amounts of intellectual and organizational capital, which is not measured by ROIC prepared according to generally accepted accounting principles.

That is from Meghana Ayyagari, Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, and Vojislav Maksimovic.

The authors do not that some of the largest tech firms, such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google, are exceptions, but even for those companies the mark-ups are not especially connected to monopolizing behavior.

Government Medical Research Spending Favors Women

It is commonly believed that medical research spending is biased against women. Here are some representative headlines: Why Medical Research Often Ignores Women (Boston University Today), Gender Equality in Medical Research Long Overdue, Study Finds (Fortune), A Male Bias Reigns in Medical Research (IFL Science). Largely on the basis of claims like this the NIH set up a committee to collect data on medical research funding and gender and they discovered there was a disparity. Government funded medical research favors women.

The Report on the Advisory Committee on Research on Women’s Health used the following criteria to allocate funding by gender:

All funding for projects that focus primarily on women, such as the Nurses’ Health Study, the Mammography Quality Standards Act, and the Women’s Health Initiative, should be attributed to women. For research, studies, services, or projects that include both men and women, recommended methods to calculate the proportion of funds spent on women’s health are as follow:

a. If target or accrual enrollment data are available, multiply the expenditure by the proportion of female subjects included in the program. For example, if 50 percent of the subjects enrolled in a trial, study, service, or treatment program are women, then 50 percent of the funds spent for that program should be counted as for women’s health. On the other hand, for diseases, disorders, or conditions without enrollment data, expenditures can be calculated based on the relative prevalence of that condition in women.

b. Where both males and females are included, as may be the case for many basic science research projects, multiply the expenditure by 50 percent.

On the basis of these criteria the report finds that in almost every category there is more female-focused NIH funding than male-focused NIH spending with the totals more than two to one in favor of females ($4.5 billion to $1.5 billion). Now personally I don’t regard this as a terrible “bias” as most spending ($25.7 billion) is for human beings and I don’t see any special reason why spending on women and men should be equal. It does show, however, that the common wisdom is incorrect. The Boston University Today piece I linked to earlier, for example, motivated its claim of bias in funding with the story of a female doctor who died of lung cancer. The NIH data, however, show a large difference in favor of women–$180 million of NIH lung cancer funding was focused on women while just $318 thousand was focused on men ($135 million wasn’t gender focused).

What about clinical trials? Well for NIH-funded clinical trials the results favor women:

Enrollment of women in all NIH-funded clinical  research in FY 15 and FY 16 was 50 percent or greater. Enrollment of women in clinical  research was highest in the intramural research program at 68 percent for both FY 15 and FY 16.

In the most clinically-relevant phase III trials:

NIH-defined Phase III Clinical Trials are a subset of NIH Clinical Research studies. The proportion of female participants enrolled in NIH-defined Phase III Clinical Trial was 67 percent in in FY 15 and 66 percent in FY 2016.

Historically, one of the reasons that men have often been more prevalent in early stage clinical trials (trials which are not always meant to treat a disease) is that after the thalidomide disaster the FDA issued a guidance document which stated that women of child-bearing age should be excluded from Phase 1 and early Phase 2 research, unless the studies were testing a drug for a life-threatening illness. That guidance is no longer in effect but the point is that interpreting these results requires some subtlety.

The NIH funds more clinical trials than any other entity but overall more clinical trials are conducted by industry. FDA data indicate that in the United States overall (the country where by far the most people are enrolled in clinical trials) the ratios are close to equal, 49% female to 51% male, although across the world there are fewer women than men in clinical trials, 43% women to 57% men for the world as whole with bigger biases outside the United States.

It would be surprising if industry research was biased against women because women are bigger consumers of health care than men. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, find, for example, that:

Per capita health spending for females was $8,315 in 2012, approximately 23 percent more than for males, $6,788


Research indicates that women visit the doctor more frequently, especially as they have children, and tend to seek out more preventive care. The National Center for Health Statistics found that women made 30% more visits to physicians’ offices than men between 1995 and 2011.

Nor is it the case that physicians ignore women. In one study of time use of family physicians and thousands of patients:

After controlling for visit and patients characteristics, visits by women had a higher percent of time spent on physical examination, structuring the intervention, patient questions, screening, and emotional counseling.

Of course, you can always find some differences by gender. The study I just cited, for example, found that “More eligible men than women received exercise, diet, and substance abuse counseling.” One often quoted 2008 study found that women in an ER waited 65 minutes to men’s average of 49 minutes to receive a pain killer. Citing that study in 2013 the New York Times decried that:

women were still 13 to 25 percent less likely than men to receive high-strength “opioid” pain medication.

Today, of course, that same study might be cited as a bias against men as twice as many men as women are dying of opioid abuse. I don’t know what the “correct” numbers are which is why I am reluctant to describe differences in the treatment of something as complex as pain to bias.

Overall, spending on medical research and medical care looks to be favorable to women especially so given that men die younger than women.

Hat tip: Discussants on twitter.

Addendum: I expect lots of pushback and motte and baileying on this post. Andrew Kadar wrote an excellent piece on The Sex-Bias Myth in Medicine in The Atlantic in 1994 but great memes resist data. Also, school summer vacation is not a remnant from when America was rural and children were needed on the farm.

Most Reported School Shootings Never Happened

The headline sounds like something from a right-wing whack job but this is coming from NPR!

This spring the U.S. Education Department reported that in the 2015-2016 school year, “nearly 240 schools … reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting.” The number is far higher than most other estimates.

But NPR reached out to every one of those schools repeatedly over the course of three months and found that more than two-thirds of these reported incidents never happened. Child Trends, a nonpartisan nonprofit research organization, assisted NPR in analyzing data from the government’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

We were able to confirm just 11 reported incidents, either directly with schools or through media reports.