The first studies of higher education mismatch were motivated by a desire to understand the consequences of affirmative action policies, which lowered academic admission requirements for underrepresented students (typically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups). This is the so-called “mismatch hypothesis,” which suggests that affirmative action may actually be harmful because it enables students to attend colleges they are academically underprepared for (“mismatched” to) while squeezing out students who would otherwise have enrolled and succeeded. At its heart, the study of mismatch is motivated by the proposed existence of complementarities between students and courses—the assumption that the highest-achieving students would get the most benefit from attending the highest-quality schools, and vice versa. Both undermatch—where high-attaining students attend low-quality universities—and overmatch—where low-attaining students attend high-quality universities—have been studied. Only a very small number of studies have been able to causally examine the impact of mismatch. A major challenge is that unobserved factors that influence individuals’ decisions to attend a particular college (and for the college to accept them) are likely to affect their likelihood of completion and their probability of doing well in the labor market. Several recent studies have made progress in this area, but the evidence on the impact of mismatch still shows mixed results, suggesting that more research is needed, for example, in studying different policy shocks (e.g., natural experiments such as the use of affirmative action bans, which create exogenous variation in mismatch) for students at different margins. There is also a need to expand the study of mismatch beyond the United Kingdom and the United States, which has been the main focus of studies so far, and also beyond higher education into other contexts such as further education colleges.
Mismatch in Higher Education
Missing Women: A Review of Underlying Causes and Policy Responses
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.
Peer Effects in Education
The identification of peer effects is challenging. There are many factors not related to social influences that could explain correlations among peers. Peers have been shown to affect many important outcomes, including academic performance and educational trajectories. Confirming the existence of peer effects is important from a policy perspective. Both the cost-benefit analysis and the design of policies are likely to be affected by the existence of social spillovers. However, making general policy recommendations from the current evidence is not easy. The size of the peer effects documented in the literature varies substantially across settings and depends on how peers are defined and characterized. Understanding what is behind this heterogeneity is thus key to extract more general policy lessons. Access to better data and the ability to map social networks will likely facilitate investigating which peers and which characteristics matter the most in different contexts. Conducting more research on the mechanisms behind peer effects is also important. Understanding these drivers is key to take advantage of social spillovers in the design of new educational programs, to identify competing policies, and to gain a deeper understanding of the nature and relevance of different forms of social interactions for the youth.
Population Issues in Welfare Economics, Ethics, and Policy Evaluation
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.
Poverty and Social Policy in the United States
James P. Ziliak
The interaction between poverty and social policy is an issue of longstanding interest in academic and policy circles. There are active debates on how to measure poverty, including where to draw the threshold determining whether a family is deemed to be living in poverty and how to measure resources available. These decisions have profound impacts on our understanding of the anti-poverty effectiveness of social welfare programs. In the context of the United States, focusing solely on cash income transfers shows little progress against poverty over the past 50 years, but substantive gains are obtained if the resource concept is expanded to include in-kind transfers and refundable tax credits. Beyond poverty, the research literature has examined the effects of social welfare policy on a host of outcomes such as labor supply, consumption, health, wealth, fertility, and marriage. Most of this work finds the disincentive effects of welfare programs on work, saving, and family structure to be small, but the income and consumption smoothing benefits to be sizable, and some recent work has found positive long-term effects of transfer programs on the health and education of children. More research is needed, however, on how to measure poverty, especially in the face of deteriorating quality of household surveys, on the long-term consequences of transfer programs, and on alternative designs of the welfare state.
Race and the Economics Professoriate in the United States
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.
School Choice and Accountability
Simon Burgess and Ellen Greaves
School choice and accountability are both mechanisms initially designed to improve standards of education in publicly provided schools, although they have been introduced worldwide with alternative motivations such as to promote equality of access to “good” schools. Economists were active in the initial design of school choice and accountability systems, and continue to advise and provide evidence to school authorities to improve the functioning of the “quasi-market.” School choice, defined broadly, is any system in which parents’ preferences over schools are an input to their child’s allocation to school. Milton Friedman initially hypothesized that school choice would increase the diversity of education providers and improve schools’ productivity through competition. As in the healthcare sector and other public services, “quasi-markets” can respond to choice and competition by improving standards to attract consumers. Theoretical and empirical work have interrogated this prediction and provided conditions for this prediction to hold. Another reason is to promote equality of access to “good” schools and therefore improve social mobility. Rather than school places being rationed through market forces in the form of higher house prices, for example, school choice can promote equality of access to popular schools. Research has typically considered the role of school choice in increasing segregation between different groups of pupils, however, due to differences in parents’ preferences for school attributes and, in some cases, the complexity of the system. School accountability is defined as the public provision of school-performance information, on a regular basis, in the same format, and using independent metrics. Accountability has two functions: providing incentives for schools, and information for parents and central authorities. School choice and accountability are linked, in that accountability provides information to parents making school choices, and school choice multiplies the incentive effect of public accountability. Research has studied the effect of school accountability on pupils’ attainment and the implications for teachers as an intermediate mechanism.
The Economics of Gender and Educational Achievement: Stylized Facts and Causal Evidence
Judith M. Delaney and Paul J. Devereux
There are two well-established gender gaps in education. First, females tend to have higher educational attainment and achievement than males, and this is particularly the case for children from less advantaged backgrounds. Second, there are large differences in the fields of specialization chosen by males and females in college and even prior to college, and females disproportionately enter less highly paid fields. Gender differences in noncognitive traits, behavior, and interests have been shown to relate to differences in educational outcomes; however, this evidence cannot generally be given a causal interpretation. In contrast, the literature has been creative in estimating causal impacts of a wide range of factors using experimental and quasiexperimental variation. While the approaches are compelling, the findings vary widely across studies and are often contradictory. This may partly reflect methodological differences across studies, but it also may result from substantial true heterogeneity across educational systems and time periods. Lower educational achievement of males has been linked to gender differences in attitudes, behaviors, and educational aspirations as well as the tendency of males to mature at older ages. Differential field choices by gender are related to differences in comparative advantage by gender and gender differences in preferences for types of study and work and for nonpecuniary aspects of jobs, such as their flexibility and gender mix. There are reasons to believe that policy should address the two gender gaps, and many possible policy approaches exist. However, their effectiveness is unclear, and there is scope for further work to determine which policies are likely to be effective and in which circumstances.
The Economics of Health and Migration
Osea Giuntella and Timothy J. Halliday
Migration and health are intimately connected. It is known that migrants tend to be healthier than non-migrants. However, the mechanisms for this association are elusive. On the one hand, the costs of migration are lower for healthier people, thereby making it easier for the healthy to migrate. Empirical evidence from a variety of contexts shows that the pre-migration health of migrants is better than it is for non-migrants, indicating that there is positive health-based selection in migration. On the other hand, locations can be viewed as a bundle of traits including but not limited to environmental conditions, healthcare quality, and violence. Each of these can impact health. Evidence shows that moving from locations with high mortality to low mortality can reduce mortality risks. Consistent with this, migration can increase mortality risk if it leads to greater exposure to risk factors for disease. The health benefits enjoyed by migrants can also be found in their children. However, these advantages erode with successive generations.
Value-Added Estimates of Teacher Effectiveness: Measurement, Uses, and Limitations
Jessalynn James and Susanna Loeb
Since the turn of the 21st century, an abundant body of research has demonstrated that teachers meaningfully contribute to their students’ learning but that teachers vary widely in their effectiveness. Measures of teachers’ “value added” to student achievement have become common, and sometimes controversial, tools for researchers and policymakers hoping to identify and differentiate teachers’ individual contributions to student learning. Value-added measures aim to identify how much more a given teacher’s students learn than what would be expected based on how much other, similar students learn with other teachers. The question of how to measure value added without substantial measurement error and without incorrectly capturing other factors outside of teachers’ control is complex and sometime illusory, and the advantages and drawbacks to any particular method of estimating teachers’ value added depend on the specific context and purpose for their use. Traditionally, researchers have calculated value-added scores only for the subset of teachers with students in tested grades and subjects—a relatively small proportion of the teaching force, in a narrow set of the many domains on which teachers may influence their students. More recently, researchers have created value-added estimates for a range of other student outcomes, including measures of students’ engagement and social-emotional learning such as attendance and behavioral incidences, which may be available for more teachers. Overall, teacher value-added measures can be useful tools for understanding and improving teaching and learning, but they have substantial limitations for many uses and contexts.