Category: Data Source

Immigration, smiling, and laughter

Do not infer causality, but here is what the data yield:

Recent findings demonstrate that heterogeneity of long-history migration predicts present-day emotion behaviors and norms. Residents of countries characterized by high ancestral diversity display emotion expressions that are easier to decode by observers, endorse norms of higher emotion expressivity, and smile more in response to certain stimuli than residents of countries that lack ancestral diversity. We build on the extant findings and investigate historical heterogeneity as a predictor of daily smiling, laughter, and positive emotion across the world’s countries and the states of the United States. Study 1 finds that historical heterogeneity is positively associated with self-reports of smiling, laughter, and positive emotions in the Gallup World Poll when controlling for GDP and present-day population diversity. Study 2 extends the findings to effects of long-history migration within the United States. We estimated the average percentage of foreign-born citizens in each state between 1850 and 2010 based on US Census information as an indicator of historical heterogeneity. Consistent with the world findings of Study 1, historical heterogeneity predicted smiling, laughter, and positive, but not negative, emotion. The relationships remained significant when controlling for per capita income and present-day population diversity of each state. Together, the findings further demonstrate the important role of long-history migration in shaping emotion cultures of countries and states, which persist beyond the original socio-ecological conditions, and open promising avenues for cross-cultural research.

That is from Paula N Niedenthal, et. al., via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Are Americans learning to love free trade?

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has completed its 2018 survey on American attitudes toward trade (full disclosure: I serve on board of advisers for the Chicago Council survey), and a funny thing happened to U.S. opinions on the subject. As Dina Smeltz and Craig Kafura write in their latest policy brief, Americans love trade way more than they love Trump…

The survey itself reports:

The highest percentages ever registered in this survey (since 2004) say that trade is good for the US economy (82%), good for consumers like you (85%), and good for creating jobs in the US (67%).

That is from Daniel Drezner.  I would raise the cautionary note that perhaps these newfound positions will not survive the removal of Trump from office, most of all among Democrats.

Religion matters for Senators

Does a senator’s personal religion influence their legislative behavior in the Senate? To date, empirical research has answered this question only using senators’ religious traditions, while more concurrent work implies that religion should be measured as a multifaceted phenomenon. This study tests this proposition by compiling a unique data set of senators’ religion, conceptualized and measured by three different elements—belonging, beliefs, and behavior. The study estimates the association between these three religious facets and senators’ legislative behavior on economic, social, and foreign policy issues, while controlling for their constituencies’ political and religious preferences. It finds that religious beliefs are a strong predictor of senators’ legislative behavior, while religious tradition and behavior are mostly not. Furthermore, it finds that religious beliefs are associated with legislative behavior across a wide array of policy areas and are not confined to sociocultural issues.

That is from Daniel Arnon, via Matt Grossman.

What should I ask Michele Gelfand?

I am doing a Conversations with Tyler with her, here is her home page.  She is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland and has a new book coming out: Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Out World.  Here is part of the Amazon summary:

Why are clocks in Germany so accurate while those in Brazil are frequently wrong? Why do New Zealand’s women have the highest number of sexual partners? Why are “Red” and “Blue” States really so divided? Why was the Daimler-Chrysler merger ill-fated from the start? Why is the driver of a Jaguar more likely to run a red light than the driver of a plumber’s van? Why does one spouse prize running a “tight ship” while the other refuses to “sweat the small stuff?”

In search of a common answer, Gelfand has spent two decades conducting research in more than fifty countries. Across all age groups, family variations, social classes, businesses, states and nationalities, she’s identified a primal pattern that can trigger cooperation or conflict. Her fascinating conclusion: behavior is highly influenced by the perception of threat.

She also is well-known for her analyses of how negotiations vary across organizations and cultures. Here is Gelfand on scholar.google.com.  Here is her Wikipedia page.

So what should I ask?

Is Facebook causing anti-refugee attacks in Germany?

Here is the key result, as summarized by the NYT:

Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.

Here is the underlying Müller and Schwarz paper.  They consider 3,335 attacks over a two-year period in Germany.  But I say no, their conclusion has not been demonstrated.  Where to start?

Here is one picture showing a key correlation:

It is difficult to see if there is causation in the correlationThat looks pretty strong, doesn’t it?  Nein!  That is not how propaganda works, as an extensive literature in sociology and political psychology will indicate.  That is how it looks when you measure what is essentially the same variable — or its effects — two different ways.  For instance, that very big spike in the middle of the distribution?  As Ben Thompson has pointed out, it represents the New Year’s harassment attacks in Cologne.  Maybe that caused both Facebook activity and other attacks to spike at the same time?  Will you mock me if I resort to the “blog comment cliche” that correlation does not show causation?

To continue with the excellent Ben Thompson (he is worth paying for!), the identification method used in the paper is suspect, and he focuses on this quotation from the authors:

In our setting, the share of a municipality’s population that use the AfD Facebook page is an intuitive proxy for right-wing social media use; however, it is also correlated with differences in a host of observable municipality characteristics — most importantly the prevalence of right-wing ideology. We thus attempt to isolate the local component of social media usage that is uncorrelated with right-wing ideology by drawing on the number of users on the “Nutella Germany” page. With over 32 million likes, Nutella has one of the most popular Facebook pages in Germany and therefore provides a measure of general Facebook media use at the municipality level. While municipalities with high Nutella usage are more exposed to social media, they are not more likely to harbor right-wing attitudes.

The whole result rests on assumptions about Nutella?  What if you used likes for Zwetschgenkuchen?  Has a robustness test been done?  Was a simple correlation not good or not illustrative enough?  I’ll stick with the simple hypothesis that some municipalities have both more Facebook usage, due to high AfD membership, and also more attacks on refugees, and furthermore both of those variables rise in tense times.  AfD is the German party with the strongest presence on Facebook, I am sorry to say.

You will note by the way that within Germany the Nutella page has only verifiable 21,915 individual interactions, including likes (32 million is the global number of Nutella likes…die Deutschen are not that nutty), and that is distributed across 4,466 municipal areas.  (If you are confused, see p.12 in the paper, which I find difficult to follow and I suspect that represents the confusion of the authors.)  That should make you more worried yet about the Nutella identification strategy.  They never tell us what they would have without Nutella, a better tasting sandwich I would say.

I also would note the broader literature on propaganda once again.  Consider the research of Markus Prior: “…evidence for a causal link between more partisan messages and changing attitudes or behaviors is mixed at best.”  These Facebook results are simply far outside of what we normally suppose to be true about human responsiveness — so maybe the company is undercharging for its ads!

Ben adds:

I am bothered by the paper’s robustness section in two ways: first, every single robustness test confirmed the results. To me that does not suggest that the initial result must be correct; it suggests that the researchers didn’t push their data hard enough. There is always a test that fails, and that is a good thing: it shows the boundaries of what you have learned. Second, there were no robustness tests applied to one of the more compelling pieces of evidence, that Internet and Facebook outages were correlated with a reduction in violence against refugees. This is particularly unfortunate because in some ways this evidence works against the filter bubble narrative: after all, the idea is the filter bubbles change your reality over time, not that they suddenly inspire you to action out of the blue.

The authors do present natural experiments from Facebook and internet outages.  They find that “…for a given level of anti-refugee sentiment, there are fewer attacks in municipalities with high Facebook usage during an internet outage than in municipalities with low Facebook usage without an outage.” (p.28).  Again I find that confusing, but I note also that “internet outages themselves…do not have a consistent negative effect on the number of anti-refugee sentiments.”  That is the simple story, and it appears to exonerate Facebook.  pp.28-30 then present a number of interaction effects and variable multiplications, but I am not sure what to conclude from the whole mess.  I’m still expecting internet outages to lower the number of attacks, but they don’t.

Even if internet or Facebook outages do have a predictive effect on attacks in some manner, it likely shows that Facebook is a communications medium used to organize gatherings and attacks (as the telephone once might have been), not, as the authors repeatedly suggest, that Facebook is somehow generating and whipping up and controlling racist sentiment over time.  Again, compare such a possibility to the broader literature.  There is good evidence that anti-semitic violence across German regions is fairly persistent, with pogroms during the Black Death predicting synagogue attacks during the Nazi time.  And we are supposed to believe that racist feelings dwindle into passivity simply because the thugs cannot access Facebook for a few days or maybe a week?  By the way, in their approach if there is an internet outrage, mobile devices do not in Germany pick up the slack.

I’d also like to revisit the NYT sentence, cited above, and repeated many times on Twitter:

Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.

That sounds horrible, but it is actually a claim about variation across municipalities, not a claim about the absolute importance of the internet.  The authors also reported a very different and perhaps more relevant claim to the Times:

…this effect drove one-tenth of all anti-refugee violence.

I would have started the paper with that sentence, and then tried to estimate its robustness, without relying on Nutella.

As it stands right now, you shouldn’t be latching on to the reported results from this paper.

Do Congresswomen Outperform Congressmen?

That is a 2011 AFPS paper by Sarah F Anzia and Christopher R Berry, here is the abstract:

If voters are biased against female candidates, only the most talented, hardest working female candidates will succeed in the electoral process. Furthermore, if women perceive there to be sex discrimination in the electoral process, or if they underestimate their qualifications for office, then only the most qualified, politically ambitious females will emerge as candidates. We argue that when either or both forms of sex‐based selection are present, the women who are elected to office will perform better, on average, than their male counterparts. We test this central implication of our theory by studying the relative success of men and women in delivering federal spending to their districts and in sponsoring legislation. Analyzing changes within districts over time, we find that congresswomen secure roughly 9% more spending from federal discretionary programs than congressmen. Women also sponsor and cosponsor significantly more bills than their male colleagues.

I also would consider the alternative hypothesis that the women legislators are simply more conscientious and less wrapped up in themselves.  Nonetheless this result is one possible equilibrium relevant to the recent MR discussions on statistical discrimination.

Here is a paper showing female mayors have higher political skills,  This paper shows that women do better in a minority party than in a polarized majority party setting.

For the pointer I thank Michelangelo L.

The Economics behind the Math Gender Gap

Juan Sebastián Muñoz (the economist, not the golfer) has a new paper on this topic, focusing on Colombia:

The literature that has previously shown that boys outperform girls in math tests has failed to explain the underlying causes of the phenomenon. This math gender gap has been documented to vary across countries, and shown to grow as students advance through school. In this paper I suggest that these patterns may be explained by sample selection caused by gender differences in schooling’s opportunity costs, which lead lower-achieving males to drop out. I present and test the implications of a labor supply model that examines the opportunity cost of school attendance and, thereby, the observed math gender gap. Using an exogenous policy change, the launch of a conditional cash transfers program in Colombia,
I estimate that sample selection explains between 50 percent and 60 percent of the gap. Estimates of non-parametric bounds show that selection in the lower quantiles of the male distribution explains a significant portion of the gap.

The economics of density: evidence from the Berlin Wall

From Ahfeldt, Redding, Sturm,and Wolf:

The Berlin Wall provides a unique natural experiment for identifying the key sources of urban development. This research, for which its authors have recently been awarded the prestigious Frisch Medal, shows how property prices and economic activity in the east side of West Berlin, close to the historic central business district in East Berlin, began to fall when the city was divided; then, during the 1990s, after reunification, the same area began to redevelop. Theory and empirical evidence confirm the positive relationship between urban density and productivity in a virtuous circle of ‘cumulative causation’.

Via the excellent Samir Varma.

How does your personality correlate with your paycheck?

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

Gensowski revisits a data set from all schools in California, grades 1-8, in 1921-1922, based on the students who scored in the top 0.5 percent of the IQ distribution. At the time that meant scores of 140 or higher. The data then cover how well these students, 856 men and 672 women, did through 1991. The students were rated on their personality traits and behaviors, along lines similar to the “Big Five” personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

One striking result is how much the trait of conscientiousness matters. Men who measure as one standard deviation higher on conscientiousness earn on average an extra $567,000 over their lifetimes, or 16.7 percent of average lifetime earnings.

Measuring as extroverted, again by one standard deviation higher than average, is worth almost as much, $490,100. These returns tend to rise the most for the most highly educated of the men.

For women, the magnitude of these effects is smaller…

It may surprise you to learn that more “agreeable” men earn significantly less. Being one standard deviation higher on agreeableness reduces lifetime earnings by about 8 percent, or $267,600.

There is much more at the link, and no I do not confuse causality with correlation.  See also my remarks on how this data set produces some results at variance with the signaling theory of education.  Here is the original study.

The current state of macroeconomics

From Philip Glandon, Kenneth N. Kuttner, Sandeep Mazumder, and Caleb Stroup:

We document eight facts about published macroeconomics research by hand collecting information about the epistemological approaches, methods, and data appearing in over a thousand published papers. Macroeconomics journals have published an increasing share of theory papers over the past 38 years, with theory-based papers now comprising the majority of published macroeconomics research. The increase in quantitative models (e.g., DSGE methods) masks a decline in publication of pure theory research. Financial intermediation played an important role in about a third of macroeconomic theory papers in the 1980s and 1990s, but became less frequent until the financial crisis, at which point it once again became an important area of focus. Only a quarter of macroeconomics publications conduct falsification exercises. This finding contrasts with the year 1980, when these empirical approaches dominated macroeconomics publishing. Yet the fraction of empirical papers that rely on microdata or proprietary data has increased dramatically over the past decade, with these features now appearing in the majority of published empirical papers. All of these findings vary dramatically across individual macroeconomics field journals.

Here is the SSRN link.

The Flynn Effect in China??

Data are reported for intelligence of children in China assessed by the Combined Raven’s Test in 1988, 1996 and 2006. The IQ of the samples increased by 15.0 IQ points over 18-year period. The British IQ of China in 1988 and 2006 is estimated as 94.8 and 109.8, respectively.

That is from a new paper by Mingrui Wang and Richard Lynn.  Via a loyal MR reader.  Speculative!

Cryptocurrency risk and return

In contrast, we show that the cryptocurrency returns can be predicted by factors which are specific to cryptocurrency markets. Specifically, we determine that there is a strong time-series momentum effect and that proxies for investor attention strongly forecast cryptocurrency returns. Finally, we create an index of exposures to cryptocurrencies of 354 industries in the US and 137 industries in China.

That is from a new NBER paper by Yukun Liu and Aleh Tsyvinski.

Television and the frequency of sex

Substitutes are indeed everywhere:

This paper examines the association between television ownership and coital frequency using data from nearly 4 million individuals in national household surveys in 80 countries from 5 continents. The results suggest that while television may not kill your sex life, it is associated with some sex life morbidity. Under our most conservative estimate, we find that television ownership is associated with approximately a 6% reduction in the likelihood of having had sex in the past week, consistent with a small degree of substitutability between television viewing and sexual activity. Household wealth and reproductive health knowledge do not appear to be driving this association.

That is from a new NBER paper by Adrienne Lucas and Nicholas Wilson.

Applying physics to gdp forecasting

Models developed for gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecasting tend to be extremely complex, relying on a large number of variables and parameters. Such complexity is not always to the benefit of the accuracy of the forecast. Economic complexity constitutes a framework that builds on methods developed for the study of complex systems to construct approaches that are less demanding than standard macroeconomic ones in terms of data requirements, but whose accuracy remains to be systematically benchmarked. Here we develop a forecasting scheme that is shown to outperform the accuracy of the five-year forecast issued by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by more than 25% on the available data. The model is based on effectively representing economic growth as a two-dimensional dynamical system, defined by GDP per capita and ‘fitness’, a variable computed using only publicly available product-level export data. We show that forecasting errors produced by the method are generally predictable and are also uncorrelated to IMF errors, suggesting that our method is extracting information that is complementary to standard approaches. We believe that our findings are of a very general nature and we plan to extend our validations on larger datasets in future works.

That is from A. Tacchella, D. Mazzilli, and L Pietronero in Nature.  Here is a Chris Lee story about the piece.  Via John Chamberlin.