Highlights from 2020

Even though 2020 was an unprecedented year, our faculty were still able to push their work forward—in ways that would be impressive even in a normal year. We wish we could share their good news and collaborate in person, but we didn’t want to miss out on celebrating their achievements just because we’re not in the same place. Here’s what some of our faculty have been up to in the past year, from grants to publications to research.

Rachel Kranton and Duncan Thomas: Project ROUSE

Professor and Dean of Social Sciences Rachel Kranton and Professor Duncan Thomas, along with other faculty from around the university, asked a simple question: How are you coping with the pandemic? Using university employees, they aim to look at the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on people’s health and well-being. Thomas realized that Duke was uniquely positioned to study the effects of those who are working in person (such as those in labs) and those who are working remotely. “I was especially concerned about the impacts of the lockdown on our younger colleagues who were building their careers, developing professional connections, and contemplating their next steps,” he noted.

Researchers are asking about people are coping with uncertainty, family issues, and work responsibilities. They plan to follow up with participants throughout the pandemic to see how answers change and vary. They are hoping that the results of the study will guide policy when it comes to safely resuming operations at Duke. “While much focus is on the disease itself, there are conceivably large effects on individuals' work and overall well-being,” said Kranton. “We are extremely fortunate to be able to ask how people in our own workplace have been coping with the on-going situation, and I hope our findings help inform policies today and in the future.”

Thomas Nechyba: National Endowment for the Arts Grant

Professor Thomas Nechyba has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant to study music education in low-income communities. The three-year grant, entitled “Evaluating the Effects of Music Education Programming in Low-Income Communities: A Longitudinal Randomized Control Study Assessing Executive Function and Emotional Development” will look at the effects of orchestral programming on youth.

Nechyba and several other researchers from Duke will be partnering with Kidznotes, a multi-site, El Sistema-inspired program that works in Durham and Wake counties in North Carolina. They will look at how children’s development is affected in a variety of ways, from social, emotional, and academic performance. Additionally, the study will break down the effects of the programming by race/ethnicity, gender, family income level, and school. It will also examine how length of time spent in the music program affects outcomes, specifically looking at coronavirus-related challenges.

Erica Field and Robert Garlick

Professors Erica Fieldand Robert Garlick have received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study labor market flow via a job search platform. The grant, entitled “A Labor Markets Research Agenda through a Job Search Platform” will use modern economic theory and experimental methods to study how information flows affect the functioning of labor markets, especially in low-income communities. Field and Garlick will be running the study along with one other researcher from Duke and another at the Center for Economic Research in Pakistan.

Garlick explains that “We run a platform that connects jobseekers and firms in Lahore, Pakistan. This platform allows us to develop and evaluate interventions that help jobseekers find and apply for better jobs.”

Researchers hope that the grant will allow them to add and evaluate a new feature of this platform: verifying the work experience jobseekers report on their resumes, reducing firms' worries about misreported or exaggerated work experience. They are hopeful that the results of the research could increase investment in human capital, improve matching in labor market, hence employment, wages, incomes, and economic growth.

Juan Carlos Suárez Serrato: Policy and Local Labor Market Behavior

Professor Juan Carlos Suárez Serrato’s paper "Policy and Local Labor Market Behavior" was published in the American Economic Review: Insights March 2020 edition. The paper was co-written with Ph.D. candidate Daniel Garret and Professor Eric Ohrn of Grinnell College.

Suárez Serrato said the motivation from the paper came from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which implemented a version of the policy the researchers analyzed. The paper looks at the results of $300 billion dollar tax break that was meant to boost both hiring and wages. However, the paper found that these policies have only small effects on job creation and virtually no effect on the earnings of the average worker.

Another major concern was that researchers found this could lead corporations to replace workers with machines. “Tax policy often has disparate impacts across locations,” said Suárez Serrato. “This paper helps us see that even though federal policy is set at the national level, some places benefit more than others.”

Andrea Lanteri: Credit Shocks and Equilibrium Dynamics in Consumer Durable Goods Markets

Professor Andrea Lanteri’s paper "Credit Shocks and Equilibrium Dynamics in Consumer Durable Goods Markets," joint with Alessandro Gavazza, is forthcoming in Review of Economic Studies

For this paper, researchers combined rich micro data on US car markets with a new general-equilibrium model with heterogeneous households to highlight a new transmission mechanism that linked a decline in the availability of credit with the drop in expenditures on vehicles. Through the lens of the used car market, they looked at how different income households made decisions regarding car buying. They also used this framework to analyze the effects of fiscal-stimulus policies, such as “Cash for Clunkers.”
“I hope that our paper will lead to more attention to secondary markets for durable goods,” said Lanteri, “because these markets tend to experience large price swings that in turn affect production and consumption decisions.”