Sarah Lewis, Stephanie von Hinke Kessler Scholder, George L 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 L. 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 O. 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.

Joshua Aizenman, Ilan Noy, 25 August 2012

In the years leading up to the global crisis, the US focused on subsidising home ownership, whereas Germany placed much more emphasis on education and vocational training. While it is easy to think that this explains the subsequent performance of the two economies, this column provides some much needed economic analysis.

Robert Shiller, 14 October 2013

Robert Shiller of Yale University has just been awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (with Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen). In this interview recorded in May 2012, he talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his book, ‘Finance and the Good Society’, which argues that even after the crisis, rather than condemning finance, we need to reclaim it for the common good. They discuss financial innovation, personal morality, the importance of education and the contribution that finance can make to our lives.

Graziella Bertocchi, Arcangelo Dimico, 22 July 2012

We evaluate the empirical relevance of de facto vs. de jure determinants of political power in the U.S. South between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Our results indicate that de jure voting restrictions reduce black registration but that black disfranchisement starts well before 1890 and is more intense where a black majority represents a threat to the de facto power of white elites.

Davide Cantoni, Noam Yuchtman, 21 May 2012

We like to think that we have moved on from the Middle Ages, but do universities from that period have something to teach us about the role of government in education? This column thinks so.

Martin Kocher, Daniela Rützler, Matthias Sutter, Stefan Trautmann, 16 April 2012

According to recent research, children’s self-control is critical for their development. This column explores whether self-control can be taught – and whether governments should do the teaching.

Diane Coyle, 22 February 2012

The global crisis has plunged the economic profession into a state of anxiety, at least in some quarters. One question, among many, is whether the way economics is taught at universities needs to be rethought. This column summarises the range of views raised at a recent conference on this issue organised by the British government, the Bank of England, and the Royal Economic Society.

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