Provocative papers

One of the joys of subscribing to the NBER working paper series is the questions that some of the world’s best economists come up with. This week’s questions:

  • Are immigrants to blame for African-Americans going to jail?
  • Do Indonesians who watch Friends have fewer friends?
  • Is it worth buying a safety seat for your two year-old?

And the answers:

Immigration and African-American Employment Opportunities: The Response of Wages, Employment, and Incarceration to Labor Supply Shocks
George J. Borjas, Jeffrey Grogger and Gordon H. Hanson
The employment rate of black men, and particularly of low-skill black men, fell precipitously from 1960 to 2000.  At the same time, the incarceration rate of black men rose markedly. This paper examines the relation between immigration and these trends in black employment and incarceration.  Using data drawn from the 1960-2000 U.S. Censuses, we find a strong correlation between immigration, black wages, black employment rates, and black incarceration rates.  As immigrants disproportionately increased the supply of workers in a particular skill group, the wage of black workers in that group fell, the employment rate declined, and the incarceration rate rose. Our analysis suggests that a 10-percent immigrant-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group reduced the black wage by 3.6 percent, lowered the employment rate of black men by 2.4 percentage points, and increased the incarceration rate of blacks by almost a full percentage point.

Do Television and Radio Destroy Social Capital? Evidence from Indonesian Villages 
Benjamin Olken
In “Bowling Alone,” Putnam (1995) famously argued that the rise of television may be responsible for social capital’s decline.  I investigate this hypothesis in the context of Indonesian villages. To identify the impact of exposure to television (and radio), I exploit plausibly exogenous differences in over-the-air signal strength associated with the topography of East and Central Java. Using this approach, I find that better signal reception, which is associated with more time spent watching television and listening to radio, is associated with substantially lower levels of participation in social activities and with lower self-reported measures of trust. I find particularly strong effects on participation in local government activities, as well as on participation in informal savings groups.  However, despite the impact on social capital, improved reception does not appear to affect village governance, at least as measured by discussions in village-level meetings and by corruption in a village-level road project.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Child Safety Seats and Seat Belts in Protecting Children from Injury
Steven D. Levitt and Joseph J. Doyle
Young children are required to use child safety seats, and the age threshold at which children can legally graduate to seat belts has steadily increased.  This paper tests the relative effectiveness of child safety seats, lap-and-shoulder seat belts, and lap belts in preventing injuries among motor vehicle passengers aged 2-6.  We analyze three large, representative samples of crashes reported to police, as well as linked hospital data.  We find no apparent difference in the two most serious injury categories for children in child safety seats versus lap-and-shoulder belts.  Child safety seats provide a statistically significant 25% reduction in the least serious injury category.  Lap belts are somewhat less effective than the two other types of restraints, but far superior to riding unrestrained.

FWIW, I wrote up an earlier paper by Levitt on child safety seats in an AFR oped.

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3 Responses to Provocative papers

  1. We should take these tales about seat belts and child seats with a pinch of salt. According to Adams, John. 1995. _Risk_. London: UCL Press, seat restraints increase risk.

    Speaking of the situation in 1981, and the fatality statistics for 80% of the world’s cars, he says (p. 116), “Collectively, the group of countries that had not passed seat belt laws experienced a greater decrease than the group that had passed laws… The country that experienced the greatest decrease in the mid-1970s was Denmark, _before_ its law was passed… after its law road deaths increased slightly.

    “Australia – the case that provided the main justification for most of the world’s seat belt laws – stands out as the country whose road death toll varies the least between 1970 and 1978… Australia when compared with most other countries was exceptional in _not_ enjoying a substantial decrease in road accident deaths in the 1970s.”

    He quotes reports of the time that admitted this and that other road users (cyclists, pedestrians) had suffered increases in fatalities following the introduction of seat belt laws.

    Following the 1989 introduction of compulsory child restraint in the rear seat in the UK, there was an increase of 10% in child fatalities and 12% in injuries in 1990 vis-à-vis 1988. The numbers for all road users barely changed. (127)

    The story for helmets on bikes and motorbikes is similar. In the US after 1975, over a few years, 27 states repealed their motorbike helmet requirement. The death statistics shot up – but the states with helmet laws shot up higher and faster than those which had repealed them. (150)

    Safety, and risk, is not what we think it is.

  2. Michael M says:

    Does television envoke Social Capital

    When your sampling is small and not representative of the who population your conclusion are open to criticism. A lot of Nerdie groups have evolved from television so lets limit our study to only people who watch Star trek (all of the Trek shows). You would conclude that their social skills are in fact greater. Their participation in groups and conventions is higher.

    The indonesian study would need to be run over a considerable period of time to have any real relevance. The novality factor needing to be totally eroded before any interesting data comes to light.

    Communities as a whole do have social benefit from Television. I was going to thump the next person who asked me if I saw Mollie Die…

    Mike M

  3. Rebecca says:

    Surely the issue of increasing accidents concerning children in backseats is no more deserving of attention than that of accidents in backseats increasing the number of childen…

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