A newly digitized panel of county-level branch activity of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is used to describe the potential factors underlying the expansion of political participation in the American South, with a particular emphasis on the short period from the late 1930s through the 1940s. This period has long been recognized for its significant progress in reducing sizable racial gaps in labor market outcomes. But little work in economics has considered the role of political participation in shaping that progress. As the preeminent civil rights organization prior to the 1950s, the NAACP provides a natural lens in which to explore the expansion in political activism during this crucial period. Associative evidence suggests that a few potential channels could be especially worthy of future study, including the role of demographics, increased human capital, expansion in labor demand driven by wartime efforts, reduction in racial violence, latent political activism, and expansions in political and social networks, all of which have been highlighted in a variety of history and social science literatures. However, careful causal empirical work does not currently exist on these factors. Filling in this hole is important for providing compelling evidence on the origins of the 20th century’s most important U.S. political movement, as well as adding to a growing literature in political economy and development economics which examines the role that grassroots activism has played on economic growth and income inequality around the world.
Daniel Aaronson, Jala Abner, Mark Borgschulte, and Bhashkar Mazumder
Sarah A. Cordes, Jeehee Han, and Amy Schwartz
Children’s educational outcomes are determined not only by school inputs, such as teachers, curriculum, or classroom peers, but also by a broad range of resources and experiences outside the classroom. Housing and neighborhoods—where children live—are likely where students spend most of their time when not in school and can play a crucial role in children’s development. Housing may influence children’s K–12 educational outcomes through three key channels. First, unit quality (i.e., size, ventilation, etc.) may affect student performance through sleep, ability to concentrate, or health. Second, affordability and tenure may shape student outcomes by affecting disposable income or wealth accumulation, which could be used for complementary educational inputs or could influence outcomes by affecting parental stress and housing stability. Third, housing stability/mobility may itself result in better or worse academic outcomes depending on whether moves are made to access better opportunities or are disruptive. Neighborhoods may also play an important role in education by shaping the peers and adult role models to whom children are exposed, through levels of exposure to crime and violence, and access to opportunities, such as the quality of local schools. A growing body of research points to the importance of both housing and neighborhoods in shaping educational outcomes, suggesting investments in housing or neighborhoods may pay an educational dividend and such investments may be leveraged to improve children’s educational outcomes. Yet there is still work to be done to better understand the roles that housing and neighborhoods play in shaping educational outcomes. In particular, future research should focus on examining how the physical aspects of housing may shape children’s outcomes, disentangling the effects of residential mobility under different circumstances (i.e., forced moves due to job losses versus voluntary moves), and estimating the effects of specific neighborhood changes — or improvements — on academic outcomes.
Michael D. Kurtz, Karen Smith Conway, and Robert D. Mohr
The primary goals of food assistance programs are to alleviate child hunger and reduce food insecurity; if successful, such programs may have the added benefit of improving child academic outcomes (e.g., test scores, attendance, behavioral outcomes). Some U.S. government programs serve children in the home, such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), others serve them at school, such as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP), and still others fall in-between, such as the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Most empirical research seeking to identify the causal effect of such programs on child academic outcomes addresses the endogeneity of program participation with a reduced form, intent-to-treat approach. Specifically, such studies estimate the effect of a program’s availability, timing, or other specific feature on the academic outcomes of all potentially affected children. While findings of individual studies and interventions are mixed, some general conclusions emerge. First, increasing the availability of these programs typically has beneficial effects on relatively contemporaneous academic and behavioral outcomes. The magnitudes are modest but still likely pass cost-benefit criteria, even ignoring the fact that the primary objective of such programs is alleviating hunger, not improving academic outcomes. Less is known about the dynamics of the effects, for example, whether such effects are temporary boosts that dissipate or instead accumulate and grow over time. Likewise, the effects of recent innovations to these programs, such as breakfast in the classroom or increases in SNAP benefits to compensate for reduced time in school during the pandemic, yield less clear conclusions (the former) and/or have not been studied (the latter). Finally, many smaller programs that likely target the neediest children remain under- or un-examined. Unstudied government-provided programs include SFSP and CACFP. There are also a growing number of understudied programs provided primarily by charitable organizations. Emerging evidence suggests that one such program, Weekend Feeding or “Backpack” programs, confers substantial benefits. There, too, more work needs to be done, both to confirm these early findings and to explore recent innovations such as providing food pantries or “Kids’ Cafés” on school grounds. Especially in light of the uncertain fate of many pandemic-related program expansions and innovations, current empirical evidence establishes that the additional, beneficial spillover effects to academic outcomes—beyond the primary objective of alleviating food insecurity—deserve to be considered as well.
Rita Dias Pereira, Pietro Biroli, Titus Galama, Stephanie von Hinke, Hans van Kippersluis, Cornelius A. Rietveld, and Kevin Thom
Nature (one’s genes) and nurture (one’s environment) jointly contribute to the formation and evolution of health and human capital over the life cycle. This complex interplay between genes and environment can be estimated and quantified using genetic information readily available in a growing number of social science data sets. Using genetic data to improve our understanding of individual decision making, inequality, and to guide public policy is possible and promising, but requires a grounding in essential genetic terminology, knowledge of the literature in economics and social-science genetics, and a careful discussion of the policy implications and prospects of the use of genetic data in the social sciences and economics.
Serena Canaan, Anne Sophie Lassen, Philip Rosenbaum, and Herdis Steingrimsdottir
Labor market policies for expecting and new mothers emerged at the turn of the 19th century. The main motivation for these policies was to ensure the health of mothers and their newborn children. With increased female labor market participation, the focus has gradually shifted to the effects that parental leave policies have on women’s labor market outcomes and gender equality. Proponents of extending parental leave rights for mothers in terms of duration, benefits, and job protection have argued that this will support mothers’ labor market attachment and allow them to take time off from work after childbirth and then safely return to their pre-birth jobs. Others have noted that extended maternity leave can work as a double-edged sword for mothers: If young women are likely to spend months, or even years, on leave, employers are likely to take that into consideration when hiring and promoting their employees. These policies may therefore end up adversely affecting women’s labor market outcomes. This has led to an increased focus on activating fathers to take parental leave, and in 2019, the European Parliament approved a directive requiring member states to ensure at least 2 months of earmarked paternity leave. The literature on parental leave has proliferated during the past two decades. The increased number of studies on the topic has brought forth some consistent findings. First, the introduction of short maternity leave is beneficial for both maternal and child health and for mothers’ labor market outcomes. Second, there appear to be negligible benefits from a leave extending beyond 6 months in terms of health outcomes and children’s long-term outcomes. Furthermore, longer leaves have little, or even adverse, influence on mothers’ labor market outcomes. However, evidence suggests that there may be underlying heterogeneous effects from extended leave among different socioeconomic groups. The literature on the effect of earmarked paternity leave indicates that these policies are effective in increasing fathers’ leave-taking and involvement in child care. However, the evidence on the influence of paternity leave on gender equality in the labor market remains scarce and is somewhat mixed. Finally, recent studies that focus on the effect of parental leave policies for firms find that in general, firms are able to compensate for lost labor when their employees go on leave. However, if firms face constraints when replacing employees, it could negatively influence their performance.
Aparajita Dasgupta and Anisha Sharma
One of the most egregious manifestations of gender bias is the phenomenon of “missing women.” The number of missing women is projected to increase to 150 million by 2035, as a result of prenatal sex selection and excess female mortality relative to men, and is reflected in male-biased sex ratios at all ages. The economics literature identifies several proximate causes of the deficit of females, including the widespread use of prenatal sex selection in many Asian countries, which has been fueled by the diffusion of ultrasound and other fetal sex-detection technology. The use of prenatal sex selection has become even more expansive with a decline in fertility, as parents with a preference for sons are less likely to achieve their desired sex composition of children at lower levels of fertility. Gender discrimination in investments in health and nutrition also leads to excess female mortality among children through multiple channels. The deeper causes of son preference lie in the socioeconomic and cultural norms embedded in patriarchal societies, and recent literature in economics seeks to quantify the impact of these norms and customs on the sex ratio. Particularly important are the norms of patrilineality, in which property and assets are passed through the male line, and patrilocality, in which elderly parents coreside with their sons, whereas their daughters move to live with their husbands’ families after marriage. Another strand of the literature explores the hypothesis that the devaluing of women has roots in historical agricultural systems: Societies that have made little use of women’s labor are today the ones with the largest female deficits. Finally, economic development is often associated with a decline in son preference, but, in practice, many correlates of development, such as women’s education, income, and work status, have little impact on the sex ratio unless accompanied by more extensive social transformations. A number of policies have been implemented by governments throughout the world to tackle this issue, including legislative bans on different forms of gender discrimination, financial incentives for families to compensate them for the perceived additional costs of having a daughter, and media and advocacy campaigns that seek to increase the inherent demand for daughters by shifting the norm of son preference. Quantitative evaluations of some of these policies find mixed results. Where policies are unable to address the root causes of son preference, they often simply deflect discrimination from the targeted margin to another margin, and in some cases, they even fail in their core objectives. On the other hand, the expansion of social safety nets has had a considerable impact in reducing the reliance of parents on their sons. Similarly, media and advocacy campaigns that aim to increase the perceived value of women have also shown promise, even if their progress appears slow. Analysis of the welfare consequences of such interventions suggests that governments must pay close attention to underlying sociocultural norms when designing policy.
Francine J. Lipman
Since 2010, Congress has significantly cut the annual budget of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) while requiring the IRS to manage more responsibilities, including last-minute comprehensive tax reform, health care, broad-based antipoverty relief, and a variety of economic stimulus provisions. As a result, the IRS has sustained across-the-board decreases in staffing, with the most significant decreases in tax enforcement personnel. The IRS has fewer auditors than at any time since World War II, despite an explosion of concentrated income and wealth. Predictably, the tax gap, the difference between what taxpayers owe and what taxpayers pay, has skyrocketed to almost $1 trillion a year. Economists have estimated that funding the IRS will pay for itself severalfold, raising more than a trillion dollars of uncollected tax revenues over a decade. Despite evidence that funding will remedy budget shortfalls severalfold, Congress continues to defund the IRS. While the bulk of the tax gap is due to unreported income by high-income individuals, the audit rate of these households has dropped precipitously. By comparison, the lowest income wage earners are being audited five times more often than all other taxpayers. Given centuries of racist policies in the United States, households of color are disproportionately impoverished and white households are disproportionately wealthy. Accordingly, lower income working families of color, especially in the South, are audited at rates higher than their white northern counterparts. Moreover, because these households and the IRS have limited resources, many of these audits result in taxpayers losing antipoverty benefits that they have properly claimed. This discriminatory treatment is counter to Congressional intent to support these families and exacerbates existing racial income and wealth gaps. With President Biden’s 2021 executive order on advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities through the federal government, the U.S. Treasury, IRS, and Congress have been charged to “recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.” Properly funding the IRS is a necessary step to advancing racial equity.
Parental choice over public schools has become a major policy tool to combat inequality in access to schools. Traditional neighborhood-based assignment is being replaced by school choice programs, broadening families’ access to schools beyond their residential location. Demand and supply in school choice programs are cleared via centralized admissions algorithms. Heterogeneous parental preferences and admissions policies create trade-offs among efficiency and equity. The data from centralized admissions algorithms can be used effectively for credible research design toward better understanding of school effectiveness, which in turn can be used for school portfolio planning and student assignment based on match quality between students and schools.
Kevin Kuruc, Mark Budolfson, and Dean Spears
Nearly all large policy decisions influence not only the quality of life for existing individuals but also the number—and even identities—of yet-to-exist individuals. Accounting for these effects in a policy evaluation framework requires taking difficult stances on concepts such as the value of existence. These issues are at the heart of a literature that sits between welfare economics and philosophical population ethics. Despite the inherent challenges of these questions, this literature has produced theoretical insights and subsequent progress on variable-population welfare criteria. A surprisingly bounded set of coherent alternatives exists for practitioners once a set of uncontroversial axioms is adopted from the better-studied welfare criteria for cases where populations are assumed to be fixed. Although consensus has not yet been reached among these remaining alternatives, their recommendations often agree. The space has been sufficiently restricted and well explored that applications of the theoretical insights are possible and underway in earnest. For reasons both theoretical and empirical, the applied literature studying optimal policy and its robustness to welfare criteria has documented a surprising degree of convergence between recommendations under quite different ethical stances on existence value. This convergence has appeared even in cases where population size itself is the choice variable. Although it may not always be the case that policy recommendations are invariant to population welfare criteria, tools have been developed that allow researchers to easily and transparently move between such criteria to study the robustness in their context of interest. The broader point is that the remaining theoretical uncertainties need not prevent population ethics from playing a role in policy evaluation—the tools are available for determining whether and which policies are broadly supported among a range of ethical views.
Gregory N. Price
In 1894, W. E. B. Dubois completed coursework for a doctorate in economics at the University of Berlin, and in 1921, Sadie Alexander was the first Black American to earn a doctorate in economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Notwithstanding these rare early accomplishments by Black Americans in economics, there seems to be a more than one century “color line” in the hiring of Black economists in the United States academic labor market. The persistence of Black economist underrepresentation in economics faculties in the United States suggests that a color line constraining the hiring of Black economics faculty endures. In general, and in particular among economics doctorate–granting institutions in the United States, when sorting them by the number of Black Americans on the economics faculty, the median economics department has no Black economics faculty. Findings from the extant literature on the hiring and representation of Black economists suggest that the underrepresentation of Black PhD economists in economics faculties is consistent with, and conforms to, a history of racially discriminatory employment exclusion. This color line could be constraining the production of economics knowledge that can inform public policies that would reduce racial inequality and improve the material living standards of Black Americans in the United States. Future research on the underrepresentation of Black PhD economists in economics faculties in the United States could potentially benefit from accounting for unobservables that may matter for the supply and demand of Black PhD economists. This includes, but is not limited to, what is not observed about individual PhD economist mentoring experiences and parental occupational backgrounds.