Date-onomics

This short spark plug of a book written in 2015 by author Jon Birger was hard to put down. The book is informative on the idea of “marriage markets” and makes the case that, “college and post-college hookup culture, the decline in marriage rates among college-educated women, and the dearth of marriage-material men willing to commit are all by-products of lopsided gender ratios and a massive undersupply of college educated men.” (p. 5)

Recall from an earlier blog post, when there are more women relative to men, women compete with each other and effectively lower their “asking price” (their share of the marital benefits). This also applies to dating markets too. If you’re having trouble seeing how sex ratios matter, consider this example from the book,

“Among undergrads at UNC there are 50 percent more women than men …” That is for every 40 men there are 60 women which means 3 women for every 2 men, “If you want to visualize what 3:2 looks like, imagine you’re back in college. Imagine it’s late at night, and you’re hanging out with friends in someone’s dorm room. Imagine everyone has had a few beers, the mood is flirty, and people are thinking about pairing off. Now imagine there are three women and two men.” 

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Cryptocurrencies, 1: What Exactly Is Bitcoin?

Everybody knows that Bitcoin is a “digital currency”. But what does that really mean, and what is Bitcoin really good for? Who developed it? Turns out, oddly, that we don’t actually know. Can you buy a pizza with it? Turns out that perhaps the most famous pizza purchase of all time was made with Bitcoin.

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Academia as tax shelter

A very brief story:

My advisor was Laurence Iannaccone, student of Gary Becker, seminal and in many ways founding contributor to the economic study of religion, now of Chapman University. His observation is a common one in academia, a point of pride for some even, though that varies greatly by discipline, as does their market options outside of the academy. And, yes, flexible work schedules, post-tenure job security, and sometimes picturesque campuses all should be counted towards the total compensation of those fortunate enough to secure a faculty appointment. But the power of the observation goes far beyond proper labor market accounting.

As I find so often to be the case, there is good sociology to be done, but the best first step in doing so is a little bit of economics. To wit:

The academy is, on average, considerably to the left of the population at large. Now this difference, mind you, is grossly exaggerated by your typical right-wing windbag who seems to think that universities begin and end in the English department, but the difference remains. So why would your typical economics, chemistry, or architecture professor tend to be left of the popular center? Well, if the median self-identified lefty got to choose the federal and state tax rates, what would they be? Ok, and how much of that will I have to pay out of my non-pecuniary income? Until they figure out how to tax the thrill of pursuing my own self-determined research agenda, not very much. Taxes are cheap when half of your compensation is non-pecuniary.

The academy is a club.

Scratch that.

The academy is a hierarchy of nested clubs. Which means that we often suffer from exclusionary FOMO akin to fourth tier English gentry trying to marry off five daughter in the early 19th century. Membership in those clubs– those famed research groups, donor-named centers, or even (god forbid) schools of thought — they become more than just sources of funding, workshop critique, and coauthor match-making sock hops. These clubs become the well springs from which ever increasing portions of our non-pecuniary income come from. They become our social networks, our friends, and even ,with a handful of co-authors you’ve gone into scientific battle alongside, a second family. The next time you see someone dig in their heels, seemingly denying the mounting evidence that they were on the wrong side of a scientific argument, don’t just blindly assume they are too stubborn and arrogant to acknowledge they might have been wrong. Consider how unfunded or, more importantly, how lonely they stand to be if they’re the first to give up the fight.

It’s why we covet tenure so much. Don’t get me wrong, everyone wants job security. But for most of us, the prospect of being laid off doesn’t necessarily include the possibility of being jettisoned from what you’ve slowly constructed as a separate parallel universe within which you have carefully curated the technical, educational, and social capital necessary to produce your career and life. If you get laid off from programming for Netflix, the next few weeks or months will be unpleasant, scary even. You may begin to doubt your ability or life choices. But that next job will come, and you will as often as not find yourself with a nearly identical life on the other side.

There are those in the academy though for whom this is all they’ve ever known. Bachelors, doctorate, tenure-track academic placement. Throw in a post-doc and that’s 20 years, and you’re entire adult life, in and around universities. Even if they’re from a field fortunate enough to have robust private sector options, how much will doubling your salary really soften the blow for such a person?

I say all of this now not as a critique of academia, or even to lead to prescriptions or advice. You want my advice? Fine, here: don’t go straight to grad school. Dip your toe in the real world, see how you like it. Come back in a few years with a little experience and distaste for office life. It’ll serve you well when your dissertation hits one of its many inevitable nadirs.

Rather, I invite you to consider this: what does the world start to look like when our utility comes less from the goods that we buy and the experiences we have, and more from the clubs we are members of? What does it look like when those clubs find newer and better ways to monitor our behavior and our expressed beliefs? What does it look like when the purging of membership rolls becomes a part of the culture of those clubs?

Education and Marriage

In class today we discuss education and marriage. While we see a general trend toward fewer and later marriages there are substantial differences across education. More educated men and women are marrying more than less educated men and women. They are also divorcing less. So highly educated people who are well-paid are combining their incomes and securing the benefits that come from marriage. Meanwhile less educated individuals are either not forming relationships (single parents) or forming relationships and living arrangements that are less durable (e.g. cohabitation). So on average there is either a low single income or two low but combined incomes. This is a topic that has been discussed substantially in news outlets. For example, here are articles from The Atlantic, Forbes, and Freakonomics.

You can imagine this has lead to substantial income inequality. For example, this study from a few years ago in the NBER reports that, “Data from the United States Census Bureau suggests there has been a rise in assortative mating….[I]f matching in 2005 between husbands and wives had been random, instead of the pattern observed in the data, then the Gini coefficient would have fallen from the observed 0.43 to 0.34, so that income inequality would be smaller.”

That assortative mating refers to people sorting into relationships with people like them. In this case, people with high education marrying people with high education. But, even for its coverage in the media, we probably do not discuss enough how rising income inequality is driven by patterns in marriage and divorce among those with high and low education.

Sunk Costs and The Sense of Self

My 3 year-old will scream. She will lay on the floor, thrash about, and make demands as an infant would if they could communicate and develop the motor control adequate to do so. It doesn’t matter whether she can remember the reason for her disposition – she will continue. My wife and I usually sense the situation. We could get angry and threaten punishments. Alternatively, we know that no amount of reasoning and attempts at persuasion will convert our daughter’s behavior into the sweet, desirable sort. We have found that smothering her with love works best. And when the demands of other children prevent such single-minded attention, we at least try to act lovingly toward her.

My wife is quite beside herself. Why is this happening? (Truth be told, it’s all my fault. It’s in the genes.) Sometimes we see the momentary consideration of a calmer world in our daughter’s face. Then, she rejects it like there is no goodness left in the world. To be clear: I see my daughter know that she can stop her comprehensive riot and instead enjoy some other activity, then definitively decline the opportunity. She has cognitive dissonance.

My child is not crazy. One might say that she is irrational. The entirety of her behavior up to that point is a sunk cost. She could just stop the outburst and feel better. But she doesn’t. Why the heck doesn’t she?

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The Massive SolarWinds Hack: A Work of Art

With all the uproar around the election in December, the news of the SolarWinds data breach did not get the attention it deserved. Some well-resourced foreign organization, almost certainly in Russia, succeeded in infiltrating the data systems of an astounding 18,000 or more U.S. organizations. These included major federal agencies such as the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the Treasury, and other big targets like Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, and Deloitte, and organizations like the California Department of State Hospitals, and Kent State University. Security watchdogs run out of adjectives (“11 out of 10”) in characterizing the magnitude of this hack.

At the same time, security experts cannot help admiring the sheer artistry of this exploit. Hackers themselves often view their codes as a work of art. According to one cybersecurity expert, “Programmers and hackers like to sign their work like artists…So they sign that code in various ways. Often, they’ll leave their initials or they’ll try to be cute and put some sort of cryptic message.” So how was this hack accomplished?

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Economics of Romance

In the immortal words of Haddaway, “What is love?” Despite being in bed all of Tuesday, and not being up-to-the-task of teaching Wednesday, I mustered enough energy to talk with the Economics Club at FSU about the “Economics of Romance”.

In that talk, I started with some good economics jokes — some of which can be found here. Skipped some really bad economics pick-up lines, and waxed about the dangers of thinking at the margin in a world that thinks about levels. For example, the next time your spouse asks whether the presentation you’re writing is more important than them …. well, don’t try to explain marginal thinking to them.

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Age-Old Dads

Do you know how old you are?

I’m 33. Specifically, I’m 33 years, 29 days old. I don’t know the time of day that I was born, but my mom probably remembers within a couple of hours. My dad did not keep track of my age. Growing up, it was normal for him to take me to a sports registration event and need to ask me for plenty of my details in order to complete the paperwork.

Do you know the age of your children? Is it normal for parents to lose track? Or is it just the dads?  …Or just my dad? I have no idea what is typical.

But I do have some decent evidence that, had my dad lived in 1850, he would not have been such an anomaly. Consider exhibit A: A histogram of US ages in 1850. The population was only about 23 million at the time and we have the age for about 19 million of those people. So the graph is relatively representative (IPUMS census data).

Do you notice anything weird about the graph?

That’s the question I asked my Western Economic History class.

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Why Short Selling Is a Good Thing for the Stock Market and Investors Large and Small

We noted earlier the hubbub over a hive of little investors on Reddit outfoxing some big Wall Street firms who had made massive short bets on the stock of GameStop. Some of the narrative around this event has painted short selling as a secret, evil practice only available for the big guys. But none of that is true.

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Helpful Teaching Resources

In this brief post, I want to commend a few teaching resources that have been helpful over the past few months of teaching.

For teaching students the nuts and bolts of causal inference, the new Mastering Metrics videos with Josh Angrist on Marginal Revolution University are terrific. The causal animations from Nick Huntington-Klein (and other resources) are also very helpful. This app on linear regression from Luke M. Froeb and Keyuan Jiang is a helpful way to help students gain econometric intuition. They have a companion paper to the app on SSRN.

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