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Article

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.

Article

Aida Farmand and Teresa Ghilarducci

Most monopsony research leaves out the employer as an active agent. The cause of monopsony rests solely on the workers: Their idiosyncratic preferences, their lack of information, and their geographical isolation create the monopsony conditions. Employers are viewed as mainly passive and only choose to exploit their monopsony potential when the conditions allow. The theoretical passivity of employers leaves out a whole class of behaviors necessary to identify and understand the persistence of monopsony. For instance, the models consider gender as a monopsony factor because wives and mothers are presumed to have intensely inelastic labor supply functions. Women’s attachment to children and the children’s schools and to their husband’s locational decisions means women are less likely to leave a geographical area to pursue a competitor’s better offer. Again, it is the woman’s idiosyncratic choices that allow for monopsony exploitation. However, it is likely employers consciously use race and gender stratification to segregate and divide workers to create differential labor supply elasticities and, thus, create monopsony conditions to the firm. A firm would maintain practices that use race to allocate jobs and separate men from women workers to maintain divisions among the workforce. Moreover, government policies that make it difficult for workers to unionize, keep minimum wages low, and subsidize low-paid work through the earned income tax credit help employers create and maintain monopsony power among subaltern groups, non-White workers, and women. Future research on monopsony should focus on specific employers’ practices that create monopsony conditions such as providing firm specific childcare, perpetuating occupational segregations, limiting opportunities of promotion for women and non-White workers, and lobbying for the wage subsidy programs such as the earned income tax credit.

Article

Alessandra Bonfiglioli, Rosario Crinò, and Gino Gancia

International trade is dominated by a small number of very large firms. Models of trade with heterogeneous firms have been developed to study the causes and consequences of this observation. The canonical model of trade with heterogeneous firms shows that trade leads to between-firm reallocations and selection: It shifts employment toward firms with the best attributes and forces marginal firms to exit. The model also illustrates the role of heterogeneity, and its various sources, in explaining the volume of trade and the firm-level margins of adjustment. Consistent with the model, the empirical literature has documented that exporting is a rare activity, that exporting firms are larger and more productive than other firms, and that trade liberalization reallocates market shares toward the best-performing firms in various countries. Studies using transaction-level data have unveiled additional salient features of trade flows. First, sales by foreign firms are very heterogeneous and highly concentrated. Second, both the extensive margin (number of exporting firms) and the intensive margin (average export per firm) are important in explaining the level of exports and its changes over time. More heterogeneity in sales across firms is associated with a higher volume of trade along both margins. Third, increased foreign competition reallocates market shares toward top firms and hence can increase concentration from any country of origin. Numerous extensions of the benchmark model have been proposed to study other important aspects, such as the relevance of multi-product and multinational firms, the import behavior of firms, and the extent to which heterogeneity is endogenous to firms’ choices, but some open challenges still remain.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

Michael Carr and Bradley L. Hardy

Volatility is an under-explored facet of economic insecurity, and it further helps to characterize otherwise omitted nuance in the economic situation facing many socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. Defined as a measure of short-run intragenerational mobility, standard measures of volatility leverage panel data in order to estimate higher moments of the growth rate of earnings or income, most often as variance transformations. Broadly, volatility can arise from one of two sources: instability in earnings among the continuously employed due to variable hours, hourly earnings, or salary changes; and/or instability in employment. The current literature shows that while both sources play an important role in the level of volatility for both men and women, trends are similar whether or not employment instability is accounted for, with overall declines in volatility for women and a largely flat trend for men over the last 40 years. The overall flat trend in volatility for men does seem at odds with other evidence that shows falling labor force participation for working-age men, and for Black men in particular. The link between these two processes—earnings changes over short periods of time and weekly or monthly snapshots of employment and labor force participation—remains largely absent from the literature because the most commonly used panel data sets are unable to capture within-year fluctuations in employment instability. Whether declining labor force participation for men increases or decreases volatility depends on whether there is a bifurcation in employment where some men are consistently employed over longer time horizons and some are not employed at all, or if declines in labor force participation at a point in time reflect increasing instability in employment over time. If the latter is true, then volatility could increase and could result in notably different trends in volatility over time by both race and gender.

Article

Between 1850 and 1920, during the Age of Mass Migration, more than 30 million Europeans moved to the United States. European immigrants provided an ample supply of cheap labor as well as specific skills and know-how, contributing to American economic growth. These positive effects were not short-lived, but are still evident in the 21st century: areas of the United States that received more European immigrants during the Age of Mass Migration have higher income per capita, a more educated population, and lower poverty rates. Despite its economic benefits, immigration triggered hostile political reactions, which were driven by cultural differences between immigrants and natives, and culminated in the introduction of country-specific quotas. In contrast to the concerns prevailing at the time, European immigrants eventually assimilated. The process was facilitated by the inflow of 1.5 million African Americans who left the rural South to move to northern and western cities between 1915 and 1930. Black in-migration increased the salience of skin color, as opposed to that of religion and nativity, as a defining feature of in- and out-groups of the society. This reduced the perceived distance between native whites and European immigrants, thereby facilitating the integration of the latter. European immigrants also had long-lasting effects on American ideology. Parts of the country that hosted more immigrants during the Age of Mass Migration have a more liberal ideology and stronger preferences for redistribution well into the 21st century. This resulted from the transmission of political ideology from (more left-leaning) immigrants to natives.

Article

A small literature on the relationship between employee training and firm performance is currently emerging. This line of research is particularly promising given the underexplored potential of training to drive productivity, wages, and employment. Until recently, training was regarded as a costly and risky investment because workers may leave their firm after being trained. However, studies on labor and education economics have found that training results in high returns for firms and that the costs of training can be recouped in a relatively short time. These results follow from different econometric identification approaches, including a small but growing number of randomized controlled trials. Moreover, most training is of a general nature and therefore applicable in other firms, which is at odds with the original theory of training but consistent with novel models that emphasize labor market power. There are a number of possibilities for future research, including a better understanding of the heterogeneity and patterns of training contents and formats across firms and workers, the differentiation of the effects of training along such dimensions, the role of labor market competition in driving training, the extent to which the productivity effects of training are shared with employees, the role of labor market institutions (including minimum wage, collective bargaining, and occupational licensing) in the dimensions above, and the firm performance effects of training provided to unemployed job seekers (as opposed to employees). Evaluation of the public training programs developed during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis and new forms of training in the context of the growth of remote work also merit further investigation.

Article

Samuel Muehlemann and Stefan Wolter

The economic reasons why firms engage in apprenticeship training are twofold. First, apprenticeship training is a potentially cost-effective strategy for filling a firm’s future vacancies, particularly if skilled labor on the external labor market is scarce. Second, apprentices can be cost-effective substitutes for other types of labor in the current production process. As current and expected business and labor market conditions determine a firm’s expected work volume and thus its future demand for skilled labor, they are potentially important drivers of a firm’s training decisions. Empirical studies have found that the business cycle affects apprenticeship markets. However, while the economic magnitude of these effects is moderate on average, there is substantial heterogeneity across countries, even among those that at first sight seem very similar in terms of their apprenticeship systems. Moreover, identification of business cycle effects is a difficult task. First, statistics on apprenticeship markets are often less developed than labor market statistics, making empirical analyses of demand and supply impossible in many cases. In particular, data about unfilled apprenticeship vacancies and unsuccessful applicants are paramount for assessing potential market failures and analyzing the extent to which business cycle fluctuations may amplify imbalances in apprenticeship markets. Second, the intensity of business cycle effects on apprenticeship markets is not completely exogenous, as governments typically undertake a variety of measures, which differ across countries and may change over time, to reduce the adverse effects of economic downturns on apprenticeship markets. During the economic crisis related to the COVID-19 global pandemic, many countries took unprecedented actions to support their economies in general and reacted swiftly to introduce measures such as the provision of financial subsidies for training firms or the establishment of apprenticeship task forces. As statistics on apprenticeship markets improve over time, such heterogeneity in policy measures should be exploited to improve our understanding of the business cycle and its relationship with apprenticeships.

Article

Dania V. Francis and Christian E. Weller

U.S. workers need to save substantial amounts to supplement Social Security, a near-universal but basic public retirement benefit. Yet wealth inequality is widespread by race and ethnicity, so that households of color often have less wealth than White households. This wealth inequality is reflected in a massive retirement savings gap by race and ethnicity, so that households of color often have less wealth than White households. In 2016 Black households had a median retirement savings account balance of $23,000, compared to $67,000 for White households. Many people of color will face substantial and potentially harmful cuts to their retirement spending. They may, for example, find it more difficult to pay for housing or healthcare. This retirement gap is the result of several factors. Households of color, especially Black and Latino households, are less likely to receive large financial gifts and inheritances from their families. They have less wealth decades and often centuries of discrimination and exploitation in society. They thus have to save more for retirement on their own. Yet Black, Latino, and many Asian American workers face greater obstacles in saving for retirement than is the case for White workers. These obstacles are especially pronounced in retirement savings accounts. People of color have less access to these retirement benefits through their employers, contribute less due to greater concurrent economic risks, and build less wealth over time due to less stable earnings and more career disruptions. As a result, people of color often use home equity as a form of retirement savings, but they also face more financial risks associated with homeownership. In addition, many people of color face higher costs during retirement, especially higher healthcare costs and more widespread caregiving and financial responsibilities for family members. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many of the obstacles and risks associated with retirement saving for people of color, who experienced sharper increases in unemployment and more widespread healthcare challenges due to greater exposure to the virus. Many Black, Latino, and Asian families had to rely more heavily on their own savings during the pandemic than was the case for White households. A range of public policies have been proposed or implemented, especially at the state level, to address some of the obstacles that people of color face in saving for retirement. Retirement researchers will need to investigate whether and how the pandemic has affected racial differences in retirement security as well as analyze how new policy efforts could shrink the racial differences in retirement wealth.