Latest Inequality & Social Policy In the News

Trump Supporters Appear to be Misinformed, Not Uninformed

Trump Supporters Appear to be Misinformed, Not Uninformed

January 7, 2016

FiveThirtyEight | Analysis of why Donald Trump's support has proved to be so durable draws on findings of Jennifer Hochschild (Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government) and Katherine Levine Einstein (Ph.D. '12, now Boston University) showing that there are incentives for politicians to keep citizens both misinformed and politically active.

The Most Anticipated Books of 2016

The Most Anticipated Books of 2016

January 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews | Evicted, by Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor in the Social Sciences, is named one of the most anticipated books of 2016: "This stunning, remarkable book—a scholar’s 21st-century How the Other Half Lives—demands a wide audience."

William Julius Wilson, Scholar of Race and Class, Looks Ahead

William Julius Wilson, Scholar of Race and Class, Looks Ahead

December 28, 2015

Associated Press | William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, spoke with The Associated Press about his decades of thinking and writing about race, class, education, and poverty and about how his ideas echo through today’s news stories, whether on income inequality or the Black Lives Matter movement.

Wilson is now embarking on a new project with colleagues at Harvard, "Multidimensional Inequality in the 21st Century: The Project on Race and Cumulative Adversity." The project will examine the intersection of race and poverty in the United States across domains ranging from labor markets to criminal justice. This article appeared in dozens of news outlets including The New York TimesWashington Post, and ABC News.

The Rise of Urban Public Boarding Schools

The Rise of Urban Public Boarding Schools

December 26, 2015

The Atlantic | Cites research by Roland Fryer, Henry Lee Professor of Economics: "The Potential of Urban Boarding Schools for the Poor: Evidence from Seed."

Oregon company makes a point of hiring ex-convicts

Oregon company makes a point of hiring ex-convicts

December 25, 2015

Marketplace | Devah Pager, Professor of Sociology and Public Policy, discusses her current research, which examines the job performance of those with criminal records in the military. Pager finds that "those with serious criminal pasts perform just as well if not better than their counterparts with no criminal records."

A New Investment Opportunity: Helping Ex-Convicts

A New Investment Opportunity: Helping Ex-Convicts

December 21, 2015

The Atlantic | Jeffrey Liebman, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Public Policy, explains how Pay for Success programs can provide real-time data to learn more rapidly what works in connecting those leaving prison with jobs and reducing recidivism.

Human Science

Human Science

December 14, 2015

Inside Higher Ed | Michèle Lamont discusses her new article, co-authored with Veronica Boix Mansilla (HGSE) and Kyoko Sato (Stanford), which explores the determinants of successful interdisciplinary collaboration in the social, natural, and computational sciences: "One takeaway from our paper is that we must pay heed to the way interactions and emotions shape the production of knowledge -- rather than limiting our perspective by focusing solely on the cognitive when we measure success.”

The American Middle Class Meltdown

The American Middle Class Meltdown

December 14, 2015

NPR's On Point | Elisabeth Jacobs (Ph.D. '08, now Washington Center for Equitable Growth) guests, along with Rakesh Kochhar (Pew Research Center), Tyler Cowen (George Mason), and Jacob Hacker (Yale University).

Who will be able to afford college in a decade?

Who will be able to afford college in a decade?

December 10, 2015

Washington Post | Highlights growing gaps in college attainment by family income and new  work by Lindsay C. Page (University of Pittsburgh) and Judith Scott Clayton (Ph.D. '09, now Columbia TC) on improving college access.

Latest commentary and analysis

Addressing Economic Challenges in an Evolving Health Care Market [Event]

Addressing Economic Challenges in an Evolving Health Care Market [Event]

October 7, 2015

The Hamilton Project  | Amitabh Chandra, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, participated in a policy forum addressing economic challenges in an evolving health care market, with a focus on three new papers released in conjunction with the event. The event, held at The Brookings Institution, featured opening remarks by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, and framing remarks by CEA Chairman Jason Furman.  View papers, presentation slides, and event video online.

101 economists defend the'Cadillac tax'

101 economists defend the'Cadillac tax'

October 1, 2015

Letter to Congress | A group of prominent health economists and policy analysts issued a statement urging that Congress take no action to weaken the Cadillac tax "unless and until it enacts an alternative tax change that would more effectively curtail cost growth." Signatories include Amitabh Chandra, David Cutler, David Ellwood, Douglas Elmendorf, Lawrence Katz, Tom Vogl (Ph.D. '11), and Justin Wolfers (Ph.D. '01).

Boston on the Rebound

Boston on the Rebound

September 23, 2015

Harvard Kennedy School |Interview with Edward Glaeser: "America as a whole has done terribly at providing good jobs for people with less education. To me, reversing this long run trend may be the most pressing economic issue facing America today."

Bargaining for the American Dream: What Unions Do for Mobility

Bargaining for the American Dream: What Unions Do for Mobility

September 9, 2015

Center for American Progress [event video]| Harvard economist Richard B. Freeman and former U.S. Treasury Secretary, currently Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Lawrence H. Summers discuss the role of unions in the economy and society.

$2.00 a Day

$2.00 a Day

September 2, 2015

The New York Times Book Review | By William Julius Wilson. "This essential book [by Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Schaefer] is a call to action, and one hopes...[will] arouse both the nation’s consciousness and conscience about the plight of a growing number of invisible citizens."

New Orleans: Ten Years Later

New Orleans: Ten Years Later

August 24, 2015

The Atlantic—Live Event (Video) | To mark the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, The Atlantic hosted an event recognizing the city’s resilience while evaluating the challenges it and other communities across the country continue to face.  Among the speakers: Michael Henderson (Ph.D. '11), "Views of Recovery: New Data Tells the Story."  

Latest academic articles — By doctoral fellows

Can States Take Over and Turn Around School Districts? Evidence From Lawrence, Massachusetts
Beth E. Schueler,, Joshua S. Goodman, and David J. Deming. 2017. “Can States Take Over and Turn Around School Districts? Evidence From Lawrence, Massachusetts.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 39 (2): 311-332. Abstract

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to identify and turn around struggling schools, with federal school improvement money required to fund evidence-based policies. Most research on turnarounds has focused on individual schools, whereas studies of district-wide turnarounds have come from relatively exceptional settings and interventions. We study a district-wide turnaround of a type that may become more common under ESSA, an accountability-driven state takeover of Massachusetts’s Lawrence Public Schools (LPS). A differences-in-differences framework comparing LPS to demographically similar districts not subject to state takeover shows that the turnaround’s first 2 years produced sizable achievement gains in math and modest gains in reading. We also find no evidence that the turnaround resulted in slippage on nontest score outcomes and suggestive evidence of positive effects on grade progression among high school students. Intensive small-group instruction over vacation breaks may have led to particularly large achievement gains for participating students.

Voting But For the Law: Evidence from Virginia on Photo Identification Requirements
Hopkins, Daniel J., Marc Meredith, Michael Morse, Sarah Smith, and Jesse Yonder. 2017. “Voting But For the Law: Evidence from Virginia on Photo Identification Requirements.” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 14 (1): 79-128. Abstract

One contentious question in contemporary election administration is the impact of voter identification requirements. We study a Virginia law which allows us to isolate the impact of requiring voters to show photo identification. Using novel, precinct-level data, we find that the percentage of registered voters without a driver's license and over age 85 are both positively associated with the number of provisional ballots cast due to lacking a photo ID. To examine the law's impact on turnout, we associate precinct-level demographics with the change in turnout between the 2013 gubernatorial and 2014 midterm elections. All else equal, turnout was higher in places where more active registered voters lacked a driver's license. This unexpected relationship might be explained by a targeted Department of Elections mailing, suggesting that the initial impact of voter ID laws may hinge on efforts to notify voters likely to be affected.

Surprising Ripple Effects: How Changing the SAT Score-Sending Policy for Low-Income Students Impacts College Access and Success
Hurwitz, Michael, Preeya P. Mbekeani, Margaret M. Nipson, and Lindsay C. Page. 2017. “Surprising Ripple Effects: How Changing the SAT Score-Sending Policy for Low-Income Students Impacts College Access and Success.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 39 (1): 77-103. Abstract

Subtle policy adjustments can induce relatively large “ripple effects.” We evaluate a College Board initiative that increased the number of free SAT score reports available to low-income students and changed the time horizon for using these score reports. Using a difference-in-differences analytic strategy, we estimate that targeted students were roughly 10 percentage points more likely to send eight or more reports. The policy improved on-time college attendance and 6-year bachelor’s completion by about 2 percentage points. Impacts were realized primarily by students who were competitive candidates for 4-year college admission. The bachelor’s completion impacts are larger than would be expected based on the number of students driven by the policy change to enroll in college and to shift into more selective colleges. The unexplained portion of the completion effects may result from improvements in nonacademic fit between students and the postsecondary institutions in which they enroll.

Cities as Lobbyists
Goldstein, Rebecca, and Hye Young You. 2017. “Cities as Lobbyists.” American Journal of Political Science 61 (4): 864-876. Abstract

Individual cities are active interest groups in lobbying the federal government, and yet the dynamics of this intergovernmental lobbying are poorly understood. We argue that preference incongruence between city and its parent state government leads to under-provision of public goods, and cities need to appeal to the federal government for additional resources. We provide evidence for this theory using a dataset of over 13,800 lobbying disclosures filed by cities with populations over 25,000 between 1999 and 2012. Income inequality and ethnic fragmentation are also highly related to federal lobbying activities. Using an instrumental variables analysis of earmark and Recovery Act grant data, we show that each dollar a city spends on lobbying generates substantial returns.

Effects of a Summer Mathematics Intervention for Low-Income Children: A Randomized Experiment
Lynch, Kathleen, and James S. Kim. 2017. “Effects of a Summer Mathematics Intervention for Low-Income Children: A Randomized Experiment.” Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis 39 (1): 31-53. Abstract

Prior research suggests that summer learning loss among low-income children contributes to income-based gaps in achievement and educational attainment. We present results from a randomized experiment of a summer mathematics program conducted in a large, high-poverty urban public school district. Children in the third to ninth grade (N = 263) were randomly assigned to an offer of an online summer mathematics program, the same program plus a free laptop computer, or the control group. Being randomly assigned to the program plus laptop condition caused children to experience significantly higher reported levels of summer home mathematics engagement relative to their peers in the control group. Treatment and control children performed similarly on distal measures of academic achievement. We discuss implications for future research.

Concentrated Foreclosure Activity and Distressed Properties in New York City
Perkins, Kristin L., Michael J. Lear, and Elyzabeth Gaumer. 2017. “Concentrated Foreclosure Activity and Distressed Properties in New York City.” Urban Affairs Review 53 (5): 868-897. Abstract

Recent research suggests that foreclosures have negative effects on homeowners and neighborhoods. We examine the association between concentrated foreclosure activity and the risk of a property with a foreclosure filing being scheduled for foreclosure auction in New York City. Controlling for individual property and sociodemographic characteristics of the neighborhood, being located in a tract with a high number of auctions following the subject property’s own foreclosure filing is associated with a significantly higher probability of scheduled foreclosure auction for the subject property. Concentration of foreclosure filings prior to the subject property’s own foreclosure filing is associated with a lower probability of scheduled foreclosure auction. Concentrated foreclosure auctions in the tract prior to a subject property’s own filing is not significantly associated with the probability of scheduled foreclosure auction. The implications for geographic targeting of foreclosure policy interventions are discussed.

Does Your Home Make You Wealthy?
Killewald, Alexandra, and Brielle Bryan. 2016. “Does Your Home Make You Wealthy?” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 2 (6): 110–128 . Abstract

Estimating the lifetime wealth consequences of homeownership is complicated by ongoing events, such as divorce or inheritance, that may shape both homeownership decisions and later-life wealth. We argue that prior research that has not accounted for these dynamic selection processes has overstated the causal effect of homeownership on wealth. Using NLSY79 data and marginal structural models, we find that each additional year of homeownership increases midlife wealth in 2008 by about $6,800, more than 25 percent less than estimates from models that do not account for dynamic selection. Hispanic and African American wealth benefits from each homeownership year are 62 percent and 48 percent as large as those of whites, respectively. Homeownership remains wealth-enhancing in 2012, but shows smaller returns. Our results confirm homeownership’s role in wealth accumulation and that variation in both homeownership rates and the wealth benefits of homeownership contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in midlife wealth holdings.

Greenberg, Claire, Marc Meredith, and Michael Morse. 2016. “The Growing and Broad Nature of Legal Financial Obligations: Evidence from Court Records in Alabama.” Connecticut Law Review 48 (4): 1079-1120. Abstract

In 2010, Harriet Cleveland was imprisoned in Montgomery, Alabama for failing to pay thousands of dollars in fines and fees stemming from routine traffic violations. More than thirty years after a series of Supreme Court rulings outlawed debtor's prisons, Ms. Cleveland's case brought national attention to both the sheer amount of lega lfinancial obligations (LFOs) that could be accrued, even in cases without a criminal conviction, and the potential consequences of non-payment. But it has been nearly impossible to know how common Ms. Cleveland's experience is because of a general lack of individual-level data on the incidence and payback of LFOs, particularly for non-felonies. 

In this vein, we gather about two hundred thousand court records from Alabama over the last two decades to perform the most comprehensive exploration of the assessments and payback of LFOs to date across an entire state. Consistent with conventional wisdom, we demonstrate that the median LFOs attached to a case with a felony conviction nearly doubled between 1995 and 2005, after which it has remained roughly steady. But a felony-centric view of criminal justice underestimates the extent of increasing LFOs in the United States. Our systematic comparison of LFOs in felony, misdemeanor, and traffic cases across Alabama demonstrates how the signficant debt Ms. Cleveland accumulated for a series of minor traffic offenses is not such an aberration. We show that only a minority of LFOs are assessed in cases where someone was convicted of a felony and incarcerated. Rather, most LFOs are assessed in cases without an imposed sentence, in cases with a misdemeanor or traffic violation, or even in cases that did not result in a conviction at all. These case records also reveal substantial heterogeneity in the assessment of LFOs-both within and across local judicial districts-even in cases in which defendants were convicted on exactly the same charge.


Predicting Freshman Grade Point Average From College Admissions Test Scores and State High School Test Scores
Koretz, Daniel, Carol Yu, Preeya P. Mbekeani, Meredith Langi, Tasmin Dhaliwal, and David Braslow. 2016. “Predicting Freshman Grade Point Average From College Admissions Test Scores and State High School Test Scores.” AERA Open 2 (4). SAGE Publications: 1-13. Abstract

The current focus on assessing “college and career readiness” raises an empirical question: How do high school tests compare with college admissions tests in predicting performance in college? We explored this using data from the City University of New York and public colleges in Kentucky. These two systems differ in the choice of college admissions test, the stakes for students on the high school test, and demographics. We predicted freshman grade point average (FGPA) from high school GPA and both college admissions and high school tests in mathematics and English. In both systems, the choice of tests had only trivial effects on the aggregate prediction of FGPA. Adding either test to an equation that included the other had only trivial effects on prediction. Although the findings suggest that the choice of test might advantage or disadvantage different students, it had no substantial effect on the over- and underprediction of FGPA for students classified by race-ethnicity or poverty.

Creative Destruction and Subjective Wellbeing
Aghion, Philippe, Ufuk Akcigit, Angus Deaton, and Alexandra Roulet. 2016. “Creative Destruction and Subjective Wellbeing.” American Economic Review 106 (12): 3869-97. Abstract

In this paper we analyze the relationship between turnover-driven growth and subjective wellbeing. Our model of innovation-led growth and unemployment predicts that: (i) the effect of creative destruction on expected individual welfare should be unambiguously positive if we control for unemployment, less so if we do not; (ii) job creation has a positive and job destruction has a negative impact on wellbeing; (iii) job destruction has a less negative impact in US Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) within states with more generous unemployment insurance policies; (iv) job creation has a more positive effect on individuals that are more forward-looking. The empirical analysis using cross-sectional MSA-level and individual-level data provide empirical support to these predictions. 

The Racial Ecology of Lead Poisoning: Toxic Inequality in Chicago Neighborhoods, 1995-2013
Sampson, Robert J., and Alix S. Winter. 2016. “The Racial Ecology of Lead Poisoning: Toxic Inequality in Chicago Neighborhoods, 1995-2013.” Du Bois Review 13 (2): 1-23. Abstract

This paper examines the racial ecology of lead exposure as a form of environmental inequity, one with both historical and contemporary significance. Drawing on comprehensive data from over one million blood tests administered to Chicago children from 1995-2013 and matched to over 2300 geographic block groups, we address two major questions: (1) What is the nature of the relationship between neighborhood-level racial composition and variability in children’s elevated lead prevalence levels? And (2) what is the nature of the relationship between neighborhood-level racial composition and rates of change in children’s prevalence levels over time within neighborhoods? We further assess an array of structural explanations for observed racial disparities, including socioeconomic status, type and age of housing, proximity to freeways and smelting plants, and systematic observations of housing decay and neighborhood disorder. Overall, our theoretical framework posits lead toxicity as a major environmental pathway through which racial segregation has contributed to the legacy of Black disadvantage in the United States. Our findings support this hypothesis and show alarming racial disparities in toxic exposure, even after accounting for possible structural explanations. At the same time, however, our longitudinal results show the power of public health policies to reduce racial inequities.

The base rate principle and the fairness principle in social judgment
Cao, Jack, and Mahzarin R. Banaji. 2016. “The base rate principle and the fairness principle in social judgment.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (27). Abstract

Meet Jonathan and Elizabeth. One person is a doctor and the other is a nurse. Who is the doctor? When nothing else is known, the base rate principle favors Jonathan to be the doctor and the fairness principle favors both individuals equally. However, when individuating facts reveal who is actually the doctor, base rates and fairness become irrelevant, as the facts make the correct answer clear. In three experiments, explicit and implicit beliefs were measured before and after individuating facts were learned. These facts were either stereotypic (e.g., Jonathan is the doctor, Elizabeth is the nurse) or counterstereotypic (e.g., Elizabeth is the doctor, Jonathan is the nurse). Results showed that before individuating facts were learned, explicit beliefs followed the fairness principle, whereas implicit beliefs followed the base rate principle. After individuating facts were learned, explicit beliefs correctly aligned with stereotypic and counterstereotypic facts. Implicit beliefs, however, were immune to counterstereotypic facts and continued to follow the base rate principle. Having established the robustness and generality of these results, a fourth experiment verified that gender stereotypes played a causal role: when both individuals were male, explicit and implicit beliefs alike correctly converged with individuating facts. Taken together, these experiments demonstrate that explicit beliefs uphold fairness and incorporate obvious and relevant facts, but implicit beliefs uphold base rates and appear relatively impervious to counterstereotypic facts.

Are Landlords Overcharging Housing Voucher Holders?
Desmond, Matthew, and Kristin L. Perkins. 2016. “Are Landlords Overcharging Housing Voucher Holders?” City and Community 15 (2): 137-162. Abstract

The structure of rental markets coupled with the design of the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), the largest federal housing subsidy for low-income families in the United States, provides the opportunity to overcharge voucher holders. Applying hedonic regression models to a unique data set of Milwaukee renters combined with administrative records, we find that vouchered households are charged between $51 and $68 more in monthly rent than unassisted renters in comparable units and neighborhoods. Overcharging voucher holders costs taxpayers an estimated $3.8 million each year in Milwaukee alone, the equivalent of supplying 620 additional families in that city with housing assistance. These findings suggest that the HCVP could be made more cost-effective—and therefore more expansive—if overcharging were prevented.

Putting America to Work, Where? The Limits of Infrastructure Construction as a Locally-Targeted Employment Policy

Is infrastructure construction an effective way to boost employment in distressed local labor markets? I use new geographically-detailed data on highway construction funded by the American Recovery and Recovery Act to study the relationship between construction work and local employment growth. I show that the method for allocating funds across space facilitates a plausible selection-on-observables strategy. However, I find a precisely-estimated zero effect of spending on road construction employment–or other employment–in the locale of the construction site. Reported data on vendors reveal this is because the majority of contractors–selected by competitive bidding–commute from other local labor markets. I also find no robust effect in the locales of the contractors’ offices, but argue that this source of variation does not capture an economically meaningful local demand shock. I conclude that infrastructure construction is not effective as a way to stimulate local labor markets in the short-run so long as projects are allocated by competitive bidding.

Situational Trust: How Disadvantaged Mothers Reconceive Legal Cynicism
Bell, Monica C. 2016. “Situational Trust: How Disadvantaged Mothers Reconceive Legal Cynicism.” Law and Society Review 50 (2): 314-347. Abstract

Research has shown that legal cynicism is pervasive among residents of poor, black neighborhoods. However, controlling for crime rates, these residents call police at higher rates than whites and residents of middle-class neighborhoods, and ethnographic research suggests that mothers in particular sometimes exact social control over partners and children through police notification. Given these findings, how might researchers better understand how legal cynicism and occasional reliance on police fit together? Drawing on interviews with poor African-American mothers in Washington, DC, this article develops an alternative conception of cultural orientations about law: situational trust. This concept emphasizes micro-level dynamism in cultural conceptions of the police, expanding the literature on police trust by emphasizing situational contingency. Mothers deploy at least four alternative strategies that produce moments of trust: officer exceptionalism, domain specificity, therapeutic consequences, and institutional navigation. These strategies shed light on the contextual meanings of safety and legitimacy.

Citizens Coerced: A Legislative Fix for Workplace Political Intimidation Post-Citizens United
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander, and Paul Secunda. 2016. “Citizens Coerced: A Legislative Fix for Workplace Political Intimidation Post-Citizens United.” UCLA Law Review 64 (2). Abstract

This Essay examines the growing threat of workplace political coercion, such as when employers attempt to threaten or coerce their workers into supporting firm-favored issues, policies, or political candidates. We describe, for the first time, the prevalence of such coercion, and propose a relatively straightforward legislative fix that would protect private-sector workers from the risk of political intimidation from their employers.

This Essay responds to an earlier piece published by Professor Secunda in the YLJ Forum that described how the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FECopened up the possibility for employers to hold mandatory “captive audience” meetings for workers, in which managers could endorse candidates for elected office. Managers, Secunda noted, could discipline workers who refused to participate in such firm-sponsored partisan activities. Accordingly, Secunda recommended federal legislation that would ban the use of mandatory political meetings in the private sector.

At the time that Secunda’s Essay was published, however, we lacked any systematic evidence of the prevalence or characteristics of employer political coercion in the American workforce, and so his recommendations could not be tailored to the specifics of employer political recruitment. New survey research from an ongoing academic project from Mr. Hertel-Fernandez, however, has provided precisely that information, documenting the extent to which workers have experienced political coercion from their employers. Our present Essay summarizes that survey evidence, using the empirical data to craft a bipartisan policy proposal that would address employer political coercion in the private sector by adding political opinions and beliefs to the list of protected classes in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Lastly, we draw on survey research to describe why this proposal could attract bipartisan political support.

Network Effects in Mexico—U.S. Migration: Disentangling the Underlying Social Mechanisms
Garip, Filiz, and Asad L. Asad. 2016. “Network Effects in Mexico—U.S. Migration: Disentangling the Underlying Social Mechanisms.” American Behavioral Scientist 60 (10): 1168-1193. Abstract

Scholars have long noted how migration streams, once initiated, obtain a self-feeding character. Studies have connected this phenomenon, called the cumulative causation of migration, to expanding social networks that link migrants in destination to individuals in origin. While extant research has established a positive association between individuals’ ties to prior migrants and their migration propensities, seldom have researchers interrogated how multiple social mechanisms—as well as exposure to common environmental factors—might account for these interdependencies. This article uses a mixed-methods strategy to identify the social mechanisms underlying the network effects in Mexico–U.S. migration. Three types of social mechanisms are identified, which all lead to network effects: (a) social facilitation, which is at work when network peers such as family or community members provide useful information or help that reduces the costs or increases the benefits of migration; (b) normative influence, which operates when network peers offer social rewards or impose sanctions to encourage or discourage migration; and (c) network externalities, which are at work when prior migrants generate a pool of common resources that increase the value or reduce the costs of migration for potential migrants. The authors first use large-sample survey data from the Mexican Migration Project to establish the presence of network effects and then rely on 138 in-depth interviews with migrants and their family members in Mexico to identify the social mechanisms underlying these network effects. The authors thus provide a deeper understanding of migration as a social process, which they argue is crucial for anticipating and responding to future flows.

Explaining Durable Business Coalitions in U.S. Politics: Conservatives and Corporate Interests across America's Statehouses
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander. 2016. “Explaining Durable Business Coalitions in U.S. Politics: Conservatives and Corporate Interests across America's Statehouses.” Studies in American Political Development 30 (1): 1-18. Abstract

Scholars of business mobilization emphasize that national, cross-sector employer associations are difficult to create and maintain in decentralized pluralist polities like the United States. This article considers an unusual case of a U.S. business group—the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—that has succeeded in creating a durable coalition of diverse firms and conservative political activists. This group has emerged since the 1970s as an important infrastructure for facilitating corporate involvement in the policymaking process across states. Assessing variation within this group over time through both its successes and missteps, I show the importance of organizational strategies for cementing political coalitions between otherwise fractious political activists and corporate executives from diverse industries. A shadow comparison between ALEC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce further serves to reinforce the importance of organizational structure for business association management. My findings engage with literatures in both American business history and comparative political economy, underscoring the difficulties of forming business coalitions in liberal political economies while also showing how savvy political entrepreneurs can still successfully unite otherwise fragmented corporate interests. These conclusions, in turn, have implications for our understanding of business mobilization and corporate influence in politics.

How Judges Think About Racial Disparities: Situational Decision-Making in the Criminal Justice System
Clair, Matthew, and Alix S. Winter. 2016. “How Judges Think About Racial Disparities: Situational Decision-Making in the Criminal Justice System.” Criminology 54 (2): 332-359. Abstract

Researchers have theorized how judges’ decision-making may result in the disproportionate presence of Blacks and Latinos in the criminal justice system. Yet, we have little evidence about how judges make sense of these disparities and what, if anything, they do to address them. By drawing on 59 interviews with state judges in a Northeastern state, we describe, and trace the implications of, judges’ understandings of racial disparities at arraignment, plea hearings, jury selection, and sentencing. Most judges in our sample attribute disparities, in part, to differential treatment by themselves and/or other criminal justice officials, whereas some judges attribute disparities only to the disparate impact of poverty and differences in offending rates. To address disparities, judges report employing two categories of strategies: noninterventionist and interventionist. Noninterventionist strategies concern only a judge's own differential treatment, whereas interventionist strategies concern other actors’ possible differential treatment, as well as the disparate impact of poverty and facially neutral laws. We reveal how the use of noninterventionist strategies by most judges unintentionally reproduces disparities. Through our examination of judges’ understandings of racial disparities throughout the court process, we enhance understandings of American racial inequality and theorize a situational approach to decision-making in organizational contexts.

Getting 'What Works' working: Building blocks for the integration of experimental and improvement science
Peterson, Amelia. 2016. “Getting 'What Works' working: Building blocks for the integration of experimental and improvement science.” International Journal of Research and Method in Education 39 (3): 299-313. Abstract

As a systemic approach to improving educational practice through research, ‘What Works’ has come under repeated challenge from alternative approaches, most recently that of improvement science. While ‘What Works’ remains a dominant paradigm for centralized knowledge-building efforts, there is need to understand why this alternative has gained support, and what it can contribute. I set out how the core elements of experimental and improvement science can be combined into a strategy to raise educational achievement with the support of evidence from randomized experiments. Central to this combined effort is a focus on identifying and testing mechanisms for improving teaching and learning, as applications of principles from the learning sciences. This article builds on current efforts to strengthen approaches to evidence-based practice and policy in a range of international contexts. It provides a foundation for those who aim to avoid another paradigm war and to accelerate international discussions on the design of systemic education research infrastructure and funding.

Intergroup Behavioral Strategies as Contextually Determined: Experimental Evidence from Israel

Why are the negative effects of social diversity more pronounced in some places than in others? What are the mechanisms underlying the relationship between diversity and discriminatory behaviors and why do they vary in prevalence and strength across locations? Experimental research has made advances in examining these questions by testing for differences in behavior when interacting with individuals from different groups. At the same time, research in American and comparative politics has demonstrated that attitudes toward other groups are a function of context. Uniting these two lines of research, we show that discriminatory behaviors are strongly conditioned by the ways in which groups are organized in space. We examine this claim in the context of intra-Jewish conflict in Israel, using original data compiled through multi-site lab-in-the-field experiments and survey responses collected across 20 locations.

The Populist Style in American Politics: Presidential Campaign Rhetoric, 1952-1996
Bonikowski, Bart, and Noam Gidron. 2016. “The Populist Style in American Politics: Presidential Campaign Rhetoric, 1952-1996.” Social Forces 94 (4): 1593-1621. Abstract

This paper examines populist claims-making in US presidential elections. We define populism as a discursive strategy that juxtaposes the virtuous populace with a corrupt elite and views the former as the sole legitimate source of political power. In contrast to past research, we argue that populism is best operationalized as an attribute of political claims rather than a stable ideological property of political actors. This analytical strategy allows us to systematically measure how the use of populism is affected by a variety of contextual factors. Our empirical case consists of 2,406 speeches given by American presidential candidates between 1952 and 1996, which we code using automated text analysis. Populism is shown to be a common feature of presidential politics among both Democrats and Republicans, but its prevalence varies with candidates' relative positions in the political field. In particular, we demonstrate that the probability of a candidate's reliance on populist claims is directly proportional to his distance from the center of power (in this case, the presidency). This suggests that populism is primarily a strategic tool of political challengers, and particularly those who have legitimate claims to outsider status. By examining temporal changes in populist claims-making on the political left and right, its variation across geographic regions and field positions, and the changing content of populist frames, our paper contributes to the debate on populism in modern democracies, while integrating field theory with the study of institutional politics.

(No) Harm in Asking: Class, Acquired Cultural Capital, and Academic Engagement at an Elite University
Jack, Anthony Abraham. 2016. “(No) Harm in Asking: Class, Acquired Cultural Capital, and Academic Engagement at an Elite University.” Sociology of Education 89 (1): 1-15. Abstract

How do undergraduates engage authority figures in college? Existing explanations predict class-based engagement strategies. Using in-depth interviews with 89 undergraduates at an elite university, I show how undergraduates with disparate precollege experiences differ in their orientations toward and strategies for engaging authority figures in college. Middle-class undergraduates report being at ease in interacting with authority figures and are proactive in doing so. Lower-income undergraduates, however, are split. The privileged poor—lower-income undergraduates who attended boarding, day, and preparatory high schools—enter college primed to engage professors and are proactive in doing so. By contrast, the doubly disadvantaged—lower-income undergraduates who remained tied to their home communities and attended local, typically distressed high schools—are more resistant to engaging authority figures in college and tend to withdraw from them. Through documenting the heterogeneity among lower-income undergraduates, I show how static understandings of individuals’ cultural endowments derived solely from family background homogenize the experiences of lower-income undergraduates. In so doing, I shed new light on the cultural underpinnings of education processes in higher education and extend previous analyses of how informal university practices exacerbate class differences among undergraduates.

Parties, Brokers and Voter Mobilization: How Turnout Buying Depends Upon the Party's Capacity to Monitor Brokers
Larreguy, Horacio, John Marshall, and Pablo Querubin. 2016. “Parties, Brokers and Voter Mobilization: How Turnout Buying Depends Upon the Party's Capacity to Monitor Brokers.” American Political Science Review 110 (01): 160-179. Abstract

Despite its prevalence, little is known about when parties buy turnout. We emphasize the problem of parties monitoring local brokers with incentives to shirk. Our model suggests that parties extract greater turnout buying effort from their brokers where they can better monitor broker performance and where favorable voters would not otherwise turn out. Exploiting exogenous variation in the number of polling stations—and thus electoral information about broker performance—in Mexican electoral precincts, we find that greater monitoring capacity increases turnout and votes for the National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Consistent with our theoretical predictions, the effect of monitoring capacity on PRI votes varies nonlinearly with the distance of voters to the polling station: it first increases because rural voters—facing larger costs of voting—generally favor the PRI, before declining as the cost of incentivizing brokers increases. This nonlinearity is not present for the PAN, who stand to gain less from mobilizing rural voters.

Sticker Shock: How Information Affects Citizen Support for Increased Public School Funding
Schueler, Beth, and Martin R West. 2016. “Sticker Shock: How Information Affects Citizen Support for Increased Public School Funding.” Public Opinion Quarterly 80 (1): 90-113. Abstract

This study examines the role of information in shaping public opinion in the context of support for education spending. While there is broad public support for increasing government funding for public schools, Americans tend to underestimate what is currently spent. We embed a series of experiments in a nationally representative survey administered in 2012 (n= 2,993) to examine whether informing citizens about current levels of education spending alters public opinion about whether funding should increase. Providing information on per-pupil spending in a respondent’s local school district reduces the probability that he or she will express support for increasing spending by 22 percentage points on average. Informing respondents about state-average teacher salaries similarly depresses support for salary increases. These effects are larger among respondents who underestimate per-pupil spending and teacher salaries by a greater amount, consistent with the idea that the observed changes in opinion are driven, at least in part, by informational effects, as opposed to priming alone.

Teaching to the Student: Charter School Effectiveness in Spite of Perverse Incentives

Recent work has shown that Boston charter schools raise standardized test scores more than their traditional school counterparts. Critics of charter schools argue that charter schools create those achievement gains by focusing exclusively on test preparation, at the expense of deeper learning. In this paper, I test that critique by estimating the impact of charter school attendance on subscales of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System and examining them for evidence of score inflation. If charter schools are teaching to the test to a greater extent than their counterparts, one would expect to see higher scores on commonly tested standards, higher-stakes subjects, and frequently tested topics. Despite incentives to reallocate effort away from less frequently tested content to highly tested content, and to coach to item type, I find no evidence of this type of test preparation. Boston charter middle schools perform consistently across all standardized test subscales.

Stand and Deliver: Effects of Boston’s Charter High Schools on College Preparation, Entry, and Choice
Angrist, Joshua D., Sarah R. Cohodes, Susan M. Dynarski, Parag A. Pathak, and Christopher R. Walters. 2016. “Stand and Deliver: Effects of Boston’s Charter High Schools on College Preparation, Entry, and Choice.” Journal of Labor Economics 34 (2). NBER Working Paper 19275. Abstract

We use admissions lotteries to estimate effects of attendance at Boston's charter high schools on college preparation and enrollment. Charter schools increase pass rates on Massachusetts' high-stakes exit exam, with large effects on the likelihood of qualifying for a state-sponsored scholarship. Charter attendance boosts SAT scores sharply, and also increases the likelihood of taking an Advanced Placement (AP) exam, the number of AP exams taken, and AP scores. Charters induce a substantial shift from two- to four-year institutions, though the effect on overall college enrollment is modest. Charter effects on college-related outcomes are strongly correlated with gains on earlier tests.

Unhappy Cities
Glaeser, Edward L., Joshua D. Gottlieb, and Oren Ziv. 2016. “Unhappy Cities.” Journal of Labor Economics 34 (S2). Abstract

There are persistent differences in self-reported subjective well-being across US metropolitan areas, and residents of declining cities appear less happy than others. Yet some people continue to move to these areas, and newer residents appear to be as unhappy as longer-term residents. While historical data on happiness are limited, the available facts suggest that cities that are now declining were also unhappy in their more prosperous past. These facts support the view that individuals do not maximize happiness alone but include it in the utility function along with other arguments. People may trade off happiness against other competing objectives.

Compounded Deprivation in the Transition to Adulthood: The Intersection of Racial and Economic Inequality Among Chicagoans, 1995–2013

This paper investigates acute, compounded, and persistent deprivation in a representative sample of Chicago adolescents transitioning to young adulthood. Our investigation, based on four waves of longitudinal data from 1995 to 2013, is motivated by three goals. First, we document the prevalence of individual and neighborhood poverty over time, especially among whites, blacks, and Latinos. Second, we explore compounded deprivation, describing the extent to which study participants are simultaneously exposed to individual and contextual forms of deprivation—including material deprivation (such as poverty) and social-organizational deprivation (for example, low collective efficacy)—for multiple phases of the life course from adolescence up to age thirty-two. Third, we isolate the characteristics that predict transitions out of compounded and persistent poverty. The results provide new evidence on the crosscutting adversities that were exacerbated by the Great Recession and on the deep connection of race to persistent and compounded deprivation in the transition to adulthood.

Toward a Multidimensional Understanding of Culture for Health Interventions
Asad, Asad L., and Tamara Kay. 2015. “Toward a Multidimensional Understanding of Culture for Health Interventions.” Social Science & Medicine 144: 79-87. Publisher's Version Abstract

Although a substantial literature examines the relationship between culture and health in myriad individual contexts, a lack of comparative data across settings has resulted in disparate and imprecise conceptualizations of the concept for scholars and practitioners alike. This article examines scholars and practitioners’ understandings of culture in relation to health interventions. Drawing on 169 interviews with officials from three different nongovernmental organizations working on health issues in multiple countries—Partners in Health, Oxfam America, and Sesame Workshop—we examine how these respondents’ interpretations of culture converge or diverge with recent developments in the study of the concept, as well as how these understandings influence health interventions at three different stages—design, implementation, and evaluation—of a project. Based on these analyses, a tripartite definition of culture is built—as knowledge, practice, and change—and these distinct conceptualizations are linked to the success or failure of a project at each stage of an intervention. In so doing, the study provides a descriptive and analytical starting point for scholars interested in understanding the theoretical and empirical relevance of culture for health interventions, and sets forth concrete recommendations for practitioners working to achieve robust improvements in health outcomes.

Latest policy, research briefs, and expert testimony

Undergraduate Financial Aid

Toward a New Understanding of Financial Aid: Analysis from the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education

May 11, 2017
American Academy of Arts and Sciences | The Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a new publication: Undergraduate Financial Aid in the United States, authored by Judith Scott-Clayton (PhD '09), Associate Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
View the publication
The Ambition-Marriage Trade-Off Too Many Single Women Face

The Ambition-Marriage Trade-Off Too Many Single Women Face

May 8, 2017
Harvard Business Review | By Leonardo Bursztyn, Thomas Fujiwara, and Amanda Pallais. Harvard economist Amanda Pallais and co-authors discuss the findings of their latest research on marriage market incentives and labor market investments, forthcoming in the American Economic Review: "Many schooling and initial career decisions, such as whether to take advanced math in high school, major in engineering, or become an entrepreneur, occur early in life, when most women are single. These decisions can have labor market consequences with long-lasting effects," they write. 
View the research
Lessons from the end of free college in England

Lessons from the end of free college in England

April 27, 2017
Brookings Institution | By Richard J. Murphy, Judith Scott-Clayton, and Gillian Wyness. Judith Scott-Clayton (PhD '09) is Associate Professor of Economics and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University.
The Hamilton Project

Leveling the Playing Field: Policy Options to Improve Postsecondary Education and Career Outcomes

April 26, 2017

The Hamilton Project | A policy forum held at the Brookings Institution. The forum began with introductory remarks by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, followed by three roundtable discussions. Papers by David J. Deming (PhD '10) and by Tara E. Watson (PhD '03) and Adam Looney (PhD'04) were the focus of two of the roundtables. View event video and dowload papers, full transcript, and presentation slides from the event webpage.

David Deming is Professor of Education and Economics at HGSE and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Tara Watson is Associate Professor of Economics at Williams College and served in the U.S. Treasury Department from 2015-2016 as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Microeconomic Analysis. Adam Looney is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings and served in the U.S. Treasury Department from 2013-2017 as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Tax Analysis.

The Hamilton Project

A Risk Sharing Proposal for Student Loans

April 26, 2017

The Hamilton Project | A policy proposal by Tiffany Chou, Adam Looney, and Tara Watson. Adam Looney (PhD '04) is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings and served in the U.S. Treasury Department from 2013-2017 as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Tax Analysis. Tara Watson (PhD '03) is Associate Professor of Economics at Williams College and served in the U.S. Treasury Department from 2015-2016 as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Microeconomic Analysis.


Documenting decline in U.S. economic mobility

April 24, 2017

Science | By Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger. A discussion of the Chetty et. al. study in this issue of Science. Katz is the Elisabeth Allison Professor of Economics at Harvard.

Economic Mobility: State-of-the-Art

Economic Mobility: A State-of-the-Art Primer

April 3, 2017

Archbridge Institute | By Scott Winship (Ph.D. '09), now project director with the U.S. Joint Economic Committee, Office of Vice Chairman Senator Mike Lee. Winship is an honorary advisor to the Archbridge Institute.

Early Childhood Development

Early Childhood Development: Statewide Policy Forum

March 30, 2017

Judge Baker Children's Center | Julie Boatight Wilson, Harry Kahn Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, joined a panel of experts today for a Statewide Policy Forum on Early Childhood Development, hosted by Judge Baker Children's Center, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School. Wilson also co-authored a companion policy brief, "Early Childhood Development: Implications for Policy, Systems, and Practice," by Robert P. Franks, Matthew Pecoraro, Jayne Singer, Sarah Swenson, and Julie Boatright Wilson.
View the policy brief

The Impact of the House ACA Repeal Bill on Enrollees’ Costs

The Impact of the House ACA Repeal Bill on Enrollees’ Costs

March 16, 2017

Center for American Progress | By David Cutler, Topher Spiro, and Emily Gee. David Cutler is the Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics at Harvard University. Topher Spiro is the Vice President for Health Policy at the Center for American Progress. Emily Gee is a Health Economist at the Center for American Progress.

Crystal S. Yang

The economy and the odds of criminal recidivism

March 7, 2017

Journalists' Resource | Reviews new study by economist Crystal Yang (Ph.D. '13), Assistant Professor at Harvard Law School, which appears in the March 2017 issue of the Journal of Public Economics. 

In the study, "Local Labor Markets and Criminal Recidivism," Yang finds "that being released to a county with higher low-skilled wages significantly decreases the risk of recidivism," with the impact of favorable labor market conditions greater for black and first-time offenders. "Overall," Yang writes, "the findings suggest that the release of a large number of ex-offenders during the Great Recession likely had substantial consequences for recidivism," increasing the risk of recidivism by 5.5 to 9.6 percent.
View the research

Research: Lawyering and Lobbying: Why Banks Shape Rules

Research: Lawyering and Lobbying: Why Banks Shape Rules

March 3, 2017
Stigler Center at Chicago Booth | Brian Libgober, PhD candidate in Government, and Daniel Carpenter, Allie S. Freed Professor of Government and Director of Social Sciences at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, presented their research, Lawyering and Lobbying: Why Banks Shape Rules, at a jointly organized  conference hosted by the Stigler Center. The conference, How Incomplete is the Theory of the Firm?,  was jointly organized by Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, David Moss and Rebecca Henderson of Harvard Business School, and Karthik Ramanna of Oxford University.
Capitol Building

Washington must reduce policy uncertainty for small businesses

February 23, 2017

The Hill | Op-ed by Stan Veuger cites joint research with Daniel Shoag, Associate Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, which found that increased local policy uncertainty contributed to the severity of the Great Recession. Their article, "Uncertainty and the Geography of the Great Recession," appears in the Journal of Monetary Economics (December 2016).

Read more about Washington must reduce policy uncertainty for small businesses
When Do Renters Behave Like Homeowners? High Rent, Price Anxiety, and NIMBYism

When Do Renters Behave Like Homeowners? High Rent, Price Anxiety, and NIMBYism

February 7, 2017

JCHS Housing Perspectives | By Michael Hankinson, Ph.D. candidate in Government & Social Policy. Hankinson's findings, "based on new national-level experimental data and city-specific behavioral explain why it is so hard to build new housing in expensive cities even when there is citywide support for that housing."  Read the full paper in the Joint Center for Housing Studies Working Paper series, and learn more about Hankinson's work at his website.

Dropbox logo

Open letter from political scientists clarifies evidence concerning Trump claim that millions of non-citizens voted in 2016 election

January 30, 2017

An open letter signed by nearly 200 professional political scientists and scholars of political behavior, including Harvard professor Ryan Enos and Inequality & Social Policy alumni Bernard Fraga PhD'13 (Indiana University), Alex Hertel-Fernandez PhD'16 (Columbia University), Jeremy Levine PhD'16 (University of Michigan), Daniel Schlozman PhD'11 (Johns Hopkins University), Ariel White PhD'16 (MIT), and Vanessa Williamson PhD'15 (Brookings Institution).


Will Manufacturing Jobs Come Back?

January 20, 2017

EconoFact | By David Deming (Ph.D '10), Professor at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Graduate School of Education.