Research Highlights Article

December 19, 2023

2023 in Research Highlights

Economists addressed issues related to graduate student mental health, teacher diversity, the origin of government, and more.

The top ten research highlights of 2023 cover a wide variety of topics.

Tyler Smith

The Research Highlight series feature summaries of selected AEA journal articles based on interviews with the authors. The top ten highlights of 2023 include pieces about graduate student mental health, teacher diversity, the origin of government, and more. You can read the most popular research highlights from 2023 below. The rankings are based on overall page views. Check out more on our website.  

1. Graduate school and mental health

Valentin Bolotnyy discusses the state of student mental health in eight top-ranked economics programs.

“We found that these moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety were about two to three times more prevalent among PhD students in these eight top-ranked economics PhD programs than in the general population. Suicidality was also about two times what you'd see in the general population. ” Valentin Bolotnyy

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2. The power of word choice

Does slanted language affect public opinion?

Economist Milena Djourelova argues that carefully chosen language gives political parties' preferred policies an edge in the public’s mind. By examining a ban on the politically charged term “illegal immigrant” by the Associated Press (AP) newswire, she found that slanted language significantly lowered support for restrictive immigration policies.

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3. Teacher diversity in the classroom

Does exposure to same-race teachers help students in the long run?

Researchers Seth GershensonCassandra M. D. Hart, Joshua Hyman, Constance A. Lindsay, and Nicholas W. Papageorge showed that assignment to same-race teachers has a long-run impact on their students. In particular, they examined the effect of Black elementary-school teachers on both Black and White students’ high school graduation rates, college aspirations, and college enrollments.

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4. Testing two theories of the origin of government

Leander Heldring discusses the formation of ancient states in Iraq.

"Having an organization that helps with coordinating among people, with resolving disputes, with having people get along and doing what they say they will, is really behind the origins of government, much more than the desire by some people to extract resources from others." - Leander Heldring

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5. The economic fallout from environmental crises

The effect of the Flint water crisis on housing prices.

Authors Peter Christensen, David A. Keiser, and Gabriel E. Lade estimate that Flint’s housing stock suffered more than half a billion dollars in losses becuase of their water crisis. Given that many Americans’ net worth is tied to housing wealth, the findings illustrate that Flint homeowners have experienced significant economic damages.

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6. Mental health therapy in the developing world

Nathan Barker discusses the impact of cognitive behavioral therapy in rural Ghana.

"I could imagine a lot of economic programs, such as job search programs or vocational training programs, where their effectiveness is potentially mitigated by distress or poor mental health. In that case, pairing them with CBT would make these other programs potentially more effective." - Nathan Barker

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7. Colleges and local economic growth

What drives local innovation?

Economist Michael J. Andrews finds that while establishing colleges brings local economic benefits, such as innovation, investments in other institutions can lead to similar effects.

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8. The economics of autocratic legalism

How do modern autocracies immiserate their populace to satisfy the elite?

The ability of autocrats to maintain the appearance of working within the framework of a liberal democracy might help to explain recent patterns of wealth and property redistribution in countries like Russia and China, according to Dan Cao and Roger Lagunoff. They studied the microeconomic foundations of property dynamics in modern autocracies and their implications for economic growth.

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9. Market design and live events

Eric Budish discusses the introduction of auctions to the primary market for tickets.

"Part of what's so special about the tickets market relative to some other economics markets is that there is an emotional bond and a long-run relationship between artist and fan or between sports team and fan. What's bizarre and hard to explain is the combination of setting a below-market price, but also enabling a super active speculative frenzy around obtaining the underpriced tickets because then the rents don't accrue to a fan." - Eric Budish

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10. Falling wages and discretionary pay-setting practices

A decline in the use of standardized pay rates contributed to stagnating wages from the 1970s to the mid-1990s.

Economists Maxim Massenkoff and Nathan Wilmers show that employers moved from standardized pay rates to more flexible pay-setting practices in the 1970s and 1980s, which coincided with stagnating wages. Using new microdata, they found that when employers abandoned standardized pay rates, wages fell, particularly for the lowest-paid workers in a job.

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You can check out the rest of the Research Highlights series on the AEA website. Stay up-to-date with the latest economics research by following @AEAjournals on Facebook and X (formerly known as Twitter) and by subscribing to our monthly Research Highlights Digest.