Roland Kupers, 25 July 2014

Complexity science is changing the way we think about social systems and social theory. Unfortunately, economists’ policy models have not kept up and are stuck in either a market fundamentalist or government control narrative. This Vox Talk argues for a new, more flexible policy narrative, which envisions society as a complex evolving system that is uncontrollable but can be influenced.

André Carlos Martínez, Aldo Musacchio, Martina Viarengo, 09 July 2014

Institutions are known to play a powerful and enduring role in countries’ divergent levels of economic development. This column presents evidence that institutions matter for within-country inequality, too. In Brazil, changes in export prices and export tax revenues led to an increase in education spending in states that experienced commodity booms, which increased the number of schools and improved educational outcomes such as literacy rates. However, the effect was limited in states where slavery was predominant in colonial times.

Davide Cantoni, Yuyu Chen, David Yang, Noam Yuchtman, Jane Zhang, 29 May 2014

Schooling changes are associated with ideological ones but it is difficult to claim a causal relationship. This column attempts to analyse the causal effect of curriculum changes in China on shaping preferences of students. The new curriculum moves one’s belief about democracy by about 25% of a standard deviation in the direction desired by the government. The findings suggest the state can use education to promote socially-useful beliefs and cultivate good citizenship.

Diane Coyle, 04 May 2014

The undergraduate economics curriculum is hugely influential, since today’s undergraduates are tomorrow’s policymakers. The massive policy failures before and after the Global Crisis have thus prompted a rethink. This column argues that there is a reasonable degree of consensus on the need for curriculum reform, but no agreement on whether this means rejecting the basic building blocks of the subject. Nevertheless, undergraduate courses in five or ten years will almost surely have changed considerably in character.

Amparo Castelló-Climent, Rafael Doménech, 23 April 2014

Most developing countries have made a great effort to eradicate illiteracy. As a result, the inequality in the distribution of education has been reduced by more than half from 1950 to 2010. However, inequality in the distribution of income has hardly changed. This column presents evidence from a new dataset on human capital inequality. The authors find that increasing returns to education, globalisation, and skill-biased technological change can explain why the fall in human capital inequality has not been sufficient to reduce income inequality.

Gregory Clark, 04 April 2014

Gregory Clark talks to Viv Davies about his new book titled "The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility". Using surname data from eight countries, the study concludes that fate and social status is determined by ancestry and that social mobility rates are lower than conventionally estimated, they do not vary across societies and are resistant to social policies. Effectively, capitalism has not led to pervasive, rapid mobility. The interview was recorded in London in March 2014.

Sarah Lewis, Stephanie von Hinke Kessler Scholder, George Wehby, Luisa Zuccolo, 08 March 2014

Excessive drinking during pregnancy is known to harm the foetus, but estimating the effects of moderate prenatal alcohol consumption is difficult, since mothers who choose to drink may differ systematically from those who do not. This column presents recent research showing that a genetic variant in a maternal alcohol-metabolising gene (ADH1B) is negatively related to prenatal alcohol exposure, and unrelated to any of the background characteristics associated with prenatal drinking. Using this genetic variant as an ‘instrumental variable’, the authors find strong negative effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on child educational achievement.

Tomohiko Inui, Ryoji Matsuoka, Makiko Nakamuro, 16 January 2014

Parents worry that their children waste too many hours playing video games or watching TV that would be better spent studying. Whereas past research has focused on teenagers, this column presents evidence on the causal effects of study and leisure hours for children of elementary school age, when key lifetime habits are being developed. Video entertainment is found to be a less significant determinant of time spent studying than parental involvement (such as supervision).

Thorvaldur Gylfason, 17 November 2013

Based on statistical measures of different degrees of democracy vs. autocracy, this article briefly reviews the progress of democracy around the world during the past 212 years, and places democratic developments in Africa since 1960 in that context. Democracy is positively associated with education, which in turn is associated with lower fertility and greater longevity. Democracy is also associated with reduced corruption. Together, these effects suggest democracy should be good for growth – a hypothesis that is borne out by the data.

Jason Fletcher, Stephen Ross, 03 November 2013

There is a large and growing literature on peer effects, but much less is known about the role of friendships and social relationships in student outcomes. The best evidence on the mechanisms behind aggregate peer effects suggests an important role for discipline and disruption. Very recent research suggests that friends can also have a substantial effect on student outcomes, and in many cases the effect of friends appears to be independent of aggregate peer effects.

Debopam Bhattacharya, 13 April 2013

Elite universities’ admission policies are perennially surrounded by controversy given the thorny efficiency and equity issues involved. This column discusses research into such policies focusing on the degree of meritocracy and non-academic bias. It suggests that men and private-school applicants have somewhat higher application success rates despite being held to higher academic admission standards.

Augusto de la Torre, Julián Messina, 07 March 2013

The last decade has seen unprecedented economic and social achievements in Latin America. This column investigates the relationship between changes in the labour market and the drop in income inequality across the continent. There is certainly room for more research to help us better understand Latin America’s spectacular decline in income inequality, but what is clear is that the good news is tempered by the fact that the specialisation of the region’s economies are relatively low in skill intensity and therefore productivity.

Massimo Anelli, Giovanni Peri, 23 February 2013

What causes fewer women than men to choose high-earning potential subjects such as engineering, economics or science at undergraduate level? This column presents new evidence from an accidental natural experiment in Italy, suggesting mixed-gender classes at the high-school level reduce the number of women pursuing these subjects. These results suggest that gender-separated classrooms are an effective way to increase women’s career opportunities and salaries.

Daiji Kawaguchi, 02 February 2013

Japan switched to five-day weeks for its primary and junior high schools and saw an increase in educational inequality. This column discusses new evidence suggesting a loose tie between number of days at school and inequality. Importantly, this tie reflects the fact that homes with university-educated parents tend to offset the official reduction in hours with additional tuition.

Simon Commander, Alexander Plekhanov, 29 January 2013

Russia aims to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on natural resources. Despite laudable aims, this column argues that progress has been sluggish. Longstanding obstacles of corruption, low business-entry rates and weak competition afflict other countries that, like Russia, are in transition. Yet Russia comes pretty much bottom of the class. Crucially, the fact that economic diversification requires improvements to education and skills acquisition has been somewhat overlooked by the state. What attempts the state has made, such as supporting technology innovation, appear to have been ineffectual and, at times, counterproductive. Going forward, Russia would do well to focus on improving incentives for market-relevant research and development, complemented by private sector-led sources of finance for early-stage firms.

Fabrice Murtin, Martina Viarengo, 18 January 2013

A workforce’s cognitive skills and ability to learn are regarded as crucial factors for countries hoping to develop and become competitive in the global knowledge economy. This column argues that many developing countries‘ basic educational attainment and learning outcomes remain wanting. Taking a look at Europe’s historical record can shed light on the developing-country context, and evidence suggests that simply expanding an ill-functioning educational system will be wasteful. It’s advisable for policymakers to pursue institutional reform aimed at cost-efficiency before they begin implementing school reforms.

Jennifer Hunt, 17 November 2012

Are poorly-educated immigrants’ kids dragging native classmates down? Or do schoolchildren push themselves when new, smarter immigrants join their class? This column argues that although child immigrants may sometimes bring down native minorities, on the whole, poorly educated natives upgrade their education in response to new immigrants in the classroom.

Josep Pijoan-Mas, Víctor Ríos-Rull, 30 September 2012

What explains differences in life expectancy at age 50? This column looks at the effect of wealth, education, and marital status. It finds that by far the most important factor is education, and explores what this might mean for policy.

Diane Coyle, 19 September 2012

Five years after Lehman’s collapse, economics is under fire both from outside and inside the profession for irrelevance, arrogance and more. This column introduces a new Vox debate focused on two questions: What’s the use of economics, and how should we be teaching it to the next generation?

Matthew Jackson, Yves Zenou, 09 September 2012

This paper provides an overview and synthesis of the literatures analysing games where players are connected via a network structure. While it focuses on the game theoretic modeling, it also also include some discussion of analyses of peer effects, as well as applications to diffusion, employment, crime, industrial organisation, and education.

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