Colloquia - Fall 2015

IPR Colloquia

Mesmin Destin

Assistant Professor of Psychology and Human Development and Social Policy and IPR Fellow

"Psychological Approaches to Reducing Socioeconomic Disparities in Educational Outcomes"

A growing number of social psychological studies provide new insight into understanding 
how a students socioeconomic status (SES) of origin influences educational experiences and outcomesThese studies also yield implications for subtle, research-based strategies to reframe how students experience their socioeconomic contexts in order to increase academic motivation and engagement.This talk will first describe a series of studies that illustrate how information and messages about opportunity in society can be utilized to increase student motivation during adolescence. A second series of studies examine the effectiveness of several strategies to improve the academic experience and outcomes of students from low-SES backgrounds in college. The research also reveals potentialimplications for broader notions of health, well-being, and public policy to be discussed.

Monday, October 5, 2015 • Hardin Hall, Crown Center, 633 Clark Street • IPR

Laurel Harbridge

Assistant Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow

"Legislative Holdouts"

Legislative gridlock not only results from a lack of common ground among elected officials, but also from 
legislators who vote down legislation even when the policy proposal is closer to their most preferred policy than to the status quo. In her presentation, Harbridge will examine why some legislators hold out. She and her fellowresearchers use an original survey of state legislators to examine their willingness to vote in favor of a compromiseproposal that moves the state gas tax more in alignment with their preferred policy position. More than a quarter of thelegislators—a surprisingly large number—say they would vote against such a compromise proposal. This runs counterto the expectations generated by a spatial model with proximity voting. The findings show that the legislators most likelyto hold out are those in the majority, those who fear voter backlash, and Republicans. These patterns point to one waythat legislative gridlock can occur even when the proposed policy changes would benefit all the legislators involved.

October 12, 2015 • Chambers Hall, 600 Foster Street • IPR

Lauren Wakschlag

Professor and Vice Chair for Scientific and Faculty Development, Medical Social Sciences, and IPR Fellow

"Preschoolers Are Not Delinquent! A Science of When to Worry in Early Childhood"

Abstract:  Preschool disruptive behavior is one of the most common mental health problems of early childhood and one of the strongest impediments to school readiness in young children. Its negatively spiraling effects reverberate across development,presaging nearly two-thirds of adult mental disorders, and virtually all life-course persistent antisocial behavior. It is also aco-occurring condition for a range of developmental conditions, including autism and language disorders. This suggests that early identification and prevention of disruptive behavior could substantially reduce the burden of mental disorder and thesignificant social, economic and adjudication costs associated with life-course antisocial behavior. But early identification ofantisocial syndromes comes with both risks and benefits. This talk will present a theoretical and empirical framework for “whento worry” about young children’s disruptive behavior. Blending approaches from developmental and clinical science, neuroscience, and measurement science, data will be presented on empirically-derived parameters for differentiating normal from abnormalbehavior in young children, including psychometric differentiation, linkage to neurocognitive markers, and utility for prediction.Next steps for research and application to early intervention will also be discussed.

October 19, 2015 • Chambers Hall, 600 Foster Street • IPR

Quincy Thomas Stewart

Associate Professor of Sociology and IPR Fellow

"Acknowledging Gender Inequality in the Academy: A Network Analysis"

Abstract:  Gender inequality is a central aspect of the American social experience that emerges in social interaction. In this project, the researchers examine how gender inequality is produced and persists in interactions within a community of scientists. More specifically, they use a network dataset with informationon author-acknowledgement ties in top sociological journals for more than three decades to examine the extent to which women are central actors in this scientific community. This empirical approach allows them to see beyond just the increasing presence of women in a field, and unpack how women are included in the scientific enterprise. Their results suggest that while the absolute number of women has increased both as authors of articles and as those acknowledged, there exists a gender gap when they look at how often women are acknowledged by their peers.

November 2, 2015 • Chambers Hall, 600 Foster Street • IPR

Daniel Galvin

Associate Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow

"Wage Theft, Public Policy, and the Politics of Workers' Rights"

Is “wage theft” exclusively an economic phenomenon or is there a political dimension to it 
as well? A long tradition of scholarship holds that the employer’s incentive to underpay employees rises with expected economic benefits, while the government-imposed costs are so low as to be effectively irrelevant. But this literature has narrowly focused on the federal-level regulatory regime, ignoring the rich variety of penalty schemes that operate in tandem at the state level. Using an original dataset ofstate-level wage-and-hour laws, new estimates of minimum wage violations, and a variety of statistica ltests, Galvin finds that stronger penalties can serve as an effective deterrent against wage theft, but the structure of the policy matters a great deal, as does its enforcement. Wage theft must therefore be seen as the result of policy choices—which are shaped by advocacy group pressures and political alignments—and not solely economic forces.

November 9, 2015 • 617 Library Place, Evanston Campus • IPR

James Rosenbaum

Professor of Education and Social Policy and IPR Fellow

Caitlin Ahearn

Research Study Coordinator

"The New College-for-All Reality and Pathways Out of Poverty"

In recent years, the United States has created “College-for-All,” an education policy that seeks to enroll all high school graduates into college. Rosenbaum and Ahearn describe the new College-for-All reality and its nontraditional procedures and programs, and examine whether sub-bachelor’s (sub-BA) credentials are associated with employment and good jobs. Unfortunately, BA degrees reproduce social background and test score obstacles, and this study examines whether sub-BA credentials do the same for credential completion and earnings payoffs. Although College-for-All has increased college access,many students still leave college without credentials, and the researchers examine their subsequent labor market payoffs.College-for-All has the potential to pave pathways out of poverty, but it is not a guarantee of success. As such, the researchers consider obstacles to credential completion and potential solutions. Their study aims to help policymakers and researchers grasp this poorly understood policy and to better address how to respond to this new reality.

November 16, 2015 • Chambers Hall, 600 Foster Street • IPR

Cynthia Coburn

Professor of Education and Social Policy and IPR Associate

"The Social Structure of Policy Implementation: Mathematics and Science Professional Development in the Wake of Common Core"

Many states have adopted Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, or similar ones, creating new visions of K-12 learning. Since these new standards and assessments are placing new demands on teachers in terms of pedagogy andcontent, professional development providers will likely play an especially important role in their implementation. Earlier research has found that these providers—from governmental, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations—are important to the policy implementation process; however, little is known about how they interact. This study draws on institutional theory and social network analysis to uncover the social structure of policy implementation in mathematics and science in the San Francisco Bay area. Coburn and her colleagues analyzehow professional development networks in mathematics and science are configured, highlighting key differences in their composition,connectedness, and centralization of power. The researchers also underscore the way that district actors are differently positioned inboth networks as compared with actors from charter management organizations. They analyze in-depth interviews with the providers to explain these differences. They draw implications for scholarship on institutional theory, social networks, and policy implementation.

November 23, 2015 • Chambers Hall, 600 Foster Street • IPR

Cynthia Kinnan

Assistant Professor of Economics and IPR Fellow

"The Impact of Access to Migration: Evidence from Rural China"

There are over 750 million internal migrants in the world, but the effects of internal migration are not well understood. The decision to migrate might be correlated with unobserved characteristicssuch as wealth or productivity, making inference challenging. Kinnan and her coauthors exploit two uniquefeatures of Chinas history to study the effects of access to internal migration: reforms to the householdregistration (hukou) system, and historical migration flows. The researchers show that temporary migration due to a government policy called the “sent-down youth” (SDY) program created lasting inter-provincelinks, so that decades later, hukou reforms in cities which sent SDY increased migration in provinces where those SDY temporarily resided. Using this variation, the researchers find that improved access to migration
leads to higher consumption levels and lower consumption volatility for rural households. Furthermore,household production shifts into high-risk, high-return activities.

November 30, 2015 • Chambers Hall, 600 Foster Street • IPR

Joint Economics/IPR Seminar Series

Karthik Muralidharan

Associate Professor of Economics, University of California, San Diego

"Building State Capacity: Evidence from Biometric Smartcards in India"


Many governments in developing countries often lack the capacity to deliver payments from anti-poverty programs securely to targeted beneficiaries. Muralidharan and his colleagues evaluate the impact of biometrically authenticated payments infrastructure (“smartcards”) on beneficiaries of employment (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme, or NREGS) and pension (Social Security Pensions, or SSP) programs in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, using a large-scale experiment that randomized the rollout of smartcards over 157 subdistricts and 19 million people. They find that, while incompletely implemented, the new system delivered a faster, more predictable, and less corrupt NREGS payments process without adversely affecting program access. For each of these outcomes, treatment group distributions firstorder stochastically dominated those of the control group. The investment was cost effective, as time savings to NREGS beneficiaries alone were equal to the cost of the intervention, and there was also a significant reduction in the “leakage” of funds between the government and beneficiaries in both NREGS and SSP programs. Beneficiaries overwhelmingly preferred the new system for both programs. Overall, the results suggest that investing in secure payments infrastructure can significantly enhance “state capacity” to implement welfare programs in developing countries.

September 24, 2015 • 3245 Andersen Hall, Jacobs Center • IPR

Benjamin Faber

Assistant Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley

"Tourism and Economic Development: Evidence from Mexico's Coastline"


Despite widespread policy interest in tourism, there is limited empirical evidence on the economic consequences of this facet of globalization. Faber and his colleagues combine a quantitative spatial equilibrium model of trade in goods and tourism services using Mexican microdata with a new empirical strategy to estimate the long-run economic consequences of tourism. They begin by using the data to estimate a number of reduced form effects of tourism on local economic outcomes in today’s cross-section of Mexican municipalities. To base these estimations on plausibly exogenous variation in long-term tourism exposure, they exploit geological and oceanographic variation in beach quality along the Mexican coastline, and use historical high-resolution satellite data to construct instrumental variables. To guide the estimation of tourism’s welfare implications, they write down a spatial equilibrium model, and use the reduced form moments to inform its calibration for counterfactual analysis. They find that tourism causes significant increases in long run local real economic activity, and these effects are driven by sizable positive spillovers on traded goods production. In the aggregate, however, they find that these spillovers are largely offset by reductions in agglomeration economies among non-touristic regions, so that the national gains from tourism are mainly driven by a classical market integration effect. Finally, they find that the distribution of these gains significantly differs across groups of gender, education, ethnicity, and age, and quantify the interplay of forces that underlie this heterogeneity.

November 5, 2015 • 3245 Andersen Hall, Jacobs Center • IPR

Nathan Hendren

Assistant Professor of Economics, Harvard University

"Knowledge of Future Job Loss and Implications for Unemployment Insurance"


Hendren studies the positive and normative implications of individuals’ knowledge about their potential future job loss. Using information contained in subjective probability elicitations, he shows individuals have significant information about their chances of losing their job conditional on a wide range of observable information insurers could potentially use to price insurance. Nonparametric lower bounds suggest individuals would need to be willing to pay at least a 75 percent markup to generate a profitable private unemployment insurance market; semi-parametric point estimates place this markup in excess of 300 percent. In response to learning about future unemployment, individuals decrease consumption and spouses are more likely to enter the labor market. This suggests existing methods to measure willingness to pay for unemployment insurance (UI) understate its value. He provides corrections for these methods and also develops new methods that exploit ex-ante behavioral responses to estimate willingness to pay. From a positive perspective, willingness to pay is below the markups imposed by adverse selection, suggesting that private information provides a micro-foundation for the absence of a private UI market. From a normative perspective, the social value of UI is higher than suggested in previous literature because of the ex-ante value of insurance against learning one might lose their job.

November 19, 2015 • 3245 Andersen Hall, Jacobs Center • IPR

Maurizio Mazzocco

Associate Professor of Economics, University of California, Los Angeles

"Electoral Incentives and the Allocation of Public Funds"


A recognized issue with government expenditures of their country’s GDP on public goods and services is that these expenditures are affected by electoral incentives. This paper addresses two questions related to this issue: What is the size of the distortions generated by electoral incentives? And, which policies can best reduce these distortions? The researchers first provide descriptive evidence showing that electoral incentives are an important determinant of politicians’ decisions of where to allocate public funds. They then develop and estimate a model of politicians’ decisions using data from Brazil’s federal legislature that accounts for the main insights learned from the descriptive evidence. Using the estimated model, the researchers find that 26 percent of the public funds are distorted relative to a social planner’s allocation. Lastly, they use counterfactual simulations to evaluate the effect of two policies on the size of the distortions. The first is a change in the electoral system to score voting, according to which voters are allowed to rank more than one candidate. It has the effect of reducing distortions by 7.5 percent. The second is a change to a system where politicians can be in office for at most one term. The advantage of the policy is that electoral incentives would no longer influence the way public funds are allocated. The disadvantage is that deputies who do not run for re-election divert significantly more of the funds than deputies who still face re-election incentives. The researchers find that this policy has the negative effect of reducing the residents’ welfare since the increase in corruption outweighs the decline in distortions.

December 10, 2015 • 3245 Andersen Hall, Jacobs Center • IPR

David Atkin

Assistant Professor of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"Exporting and Firm Performance: Evidence from a Randomized Trial"


Atkin and his colleagues conduct a randomized control trial that generates exogenous variation in foreign-market access for rug producers in Egypt. Combined with detailed survey data, they causally identify the impact of exporting on profits and productivity. Treatment firms report 15–25 percent higher profits and exhibit large improvements in quality alongside reductions in output per hour relative to control firms. These findings do not simply reflect firms being offered higher margins to manufacture high-quality products that take longer to produce. Instead, the researchers find evidence of learning-by-exporting whereby exporting improves technical efficiency. First, treatment firms have higher productivity and quality after controlling for rug specifications. Second, when asked to produce an identical domestic rug using the same inputs and same capital equipment, treatment firms produce higher quality rugs despite no difference in production time. Third, treatment firms exhibit learning curves over time. Finally, the researchers document knowledge transfers with quality increasing most along the specific dimensions that the knowledge pertained to.

December 17, 2015 • 3245 Andersen Hall, Jacobs Center • IPR

IPR Q-Center Colloquium Series

Xiao-Li Meng

Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Whipple V.N. Jones Professor of Statistics, Harvard University

"Is It a Computing Algorithm or a Statistical Procedure: Can You Tell or Do You Care?"


This talk reports Meng’s contemplation of questions related to the increasingly blurred line between computing algorithms and statistical procedures—questions that he began asking after taking part in a team that has investigated the self-consistency principle introduced by Stanford University’s Bradley Efron in 1967. Meng will start with a simple regression problem to illustrate a self-consistency method that apparently can accomplish something that seems impossible at first sight, and the audience will be invited to contemplate whether it is a “magical” computing algorithm or a powerful statistical procedure. He will then discuss how such contemplations have played critical roles in developing the self-consistency principle into a full bloom generalization of expectation-maximization (EM) algorithm for semi/non-parametric estimation with incomplete data and under an arbitrary loss function, capable of addressing wavelets de-noising with irregularly spaced data as well as variable selection via LASSO-type of methods with incomplete data. Throughout the talk, the audience will also be invited to contemplate a widely open problem: In general, how does one formulate the trade-off between statistical efficiency and computational efficiency? This talk is based on joint work with Thomas Lee of University of California, Davis and Zhan Li of Harvard University.

September 30, 2015 • 617 Library Place • IPR

Jennifer Hill

Professor of Social Sciences, New York University

"Sensitivity Analysis With Relaxed Parametric Assumptions"


When estimating causal effects, unmeasured confounding and model misspecification are potential sources of bias. To mitigate these, sensitivity of a study to potential unmeasured confounders can be evaluated in terms of the strength of confounding needed to invalidate the result, while flexible model fitting techniques reduce parametric assumptions and thus minimize the chance of model misspecification. Hill and her colleagues propose a simulation-based, two parameter sensitivity analysis strategy that uses Bayesian Additive Regression Trees (BART) to fit the model for the response. This results in an easily interpretable framework for testing for the impact of an unmeasured confounder that uses nonparametrics to limit the number of modeling assumptions. The researchers evaluate this approach in a large-scale simulation setting and with high blood pressure data taken from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The model is implemented as open-source software, integrated into the treatSens package for the R statistical programming language.

November 4, 2015 • 617 Library Place • IPR

IPR Seminar on Performance Measurement

Michael McPherson

President, Spencer Foundation

"What is Good Performance of an Education Research Foundation President?"


A nationally recognized economist whose work focuses on the interplay between education and economics, Michael McPherson heads the Spencer Foundation. Before joining the foundation in 2003, he served as president of Macalester College for seven years and spent the 22 years prior to that at Williams College, where he was professor and chair of the economics department and dean of faculty. He has served as a trustee of the College Board, the American Council on Education, and Wesleyan University, and is currently a trustee of McNally Smith College of Music. Founding co-editor of the journal Economics and Philosophy, his books include Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities (2011), with Mellon Foundation President Emeritus William Bowen and Urban Institute Senior Fellow Matthew Chingos, and College Access: Opportunity or Privilege? (2006), with Northwestern President and Professor Morton Schapiro, an IPR fellow. McPherson holds a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago.

November 10, 2015 • Block Museum Auditorium, 40 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston Campus • IPR