Posts


Graduation nation: Who benefited from increased UK university admissions?

Access to university has expanded significantly over the last five decades, and plans for further growth figure prominently on many policy agendas. This column examines the enlargement of post-secondary education in the UK after 1970. The authors argue that expanding university access corresponded with a decline in both the average intelligence of graduates and the wage premium across cohorts. Those who benefited from the expansion were primarily less able students from advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, and not the high-ability students from disadvantaged backgrounds the policy was designed to reach.

Dust to dust: How natural air pollution induces work accidents

Air pollution can increase the risk of workplace injury. Workers breathing in harmful pollutants, including dust, are more likely to lose focus, experience fatigue and even become less patient. These factors can lead to a greater risk of getting hurt, from misusing a machine or by falling over. This column takes data from Spain, exploring how dust precipitation affects workplace accidents. The authors find evidence to show that a day of dust precipitation induces an average 1.2% increase in workplace accidents, compared with days with no dust. They argue that firms and policymakers should be wary of the risks posed by pollution, both directly to people’s health but also through increasing their risk of having an accident.

Work life balance: Gender norms and the Swedish labour market

Gender identity norms are possible drivers of persistent gender inequalities in the labour market. But the extent to which such norms restrict the behaviour of couples is debated. This column examines how Swedish households changed their professional and housework balance in response to the introduction of a tax credit that altered the relative take-home pay in different ways for spouses within couples. The research shows that immigrant couples, who tend to come from countries with more traditional gender norms than Sweden, responded more strongly to a reduction in the husband’s tax rate than the wife’s. By not responding to women’s tax cuts, these couples may forgo as much as £2,000 per year in household disposable income.

Financing the green transition: The political economy of investment tax credits

Green policies create economic winners and losers and the unequal distribution of these gains and losses across the population raises questions about the political viability of such measures. This column explores how best to finance the green transition, presenting evidence from a theoretical study of the impact of the introduction of Incentive Tax Credits (ITCs) into a model economy. The authors argue that a mix of debt- and tax-financed ITCs can be used to incentivise investment in green capital, while guaranteeing that most of the population would support the scheme, both at the time of introduction and in the distant future. Without viable political support, there is little hope of getting urgently required policies off the ground.

Pollution solution: The role of scrubbers in cutting emissions and improving health

Air pollution hurts both people and planet, with emissions contributing to higher hospitalisations and deaths in countries around the world. Coal is particularly harmful but remains an important energy source worldwide. This presents policy-makers with a tricky trade-off between energy supply, emissions goals and human health. But technology can help. This column presents evidence from the United States, exploring how the installation of systems called ‘scrubbers’ on coal power station exhausts can reduce SO2 emissions, leading to lower instances of heart disease in nearby and downwind areas. This research could help clarify cost benefit analyses of different climate measures, while also feeding into policies promoting health.

Sailing with Artificial Intelligence: Recommendation systems and digital markets

In this complex digital age, people’s lives are greatly simplified by recommendation systems – AI algorithms that make it easier for online users to find the things they like in a vast ocean of options. These systems have profound impacts on individuals’ decisions and market outcomes. On one hand, they provide a higher match value than when individuals autonomously engage in a costly search for their preferred items. On the other hand, they lead to substantial market concentration and prompt sellers to raise their prices. Although our research generally indicates a positive net effect, the complex influence of these AI tools on economic outcomes requires careful examination and understanding.

Effective supervision and self – confidence : A balancing act

Effective feedback is crucial for career progression. Many women drop out of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields because they lack confidence in their abilities to succeed in these areas. One reason for this could be how supervisors give feedback. This column presents evidence suggesting that supervisors may hesitate to provide critical feedback to employees, particularly women with lower self-confidence. Instead, they might offer them overly positive feedback, hindering their performance in the long run. Getting the balance right between honesty and encouragement is vital.

Fighting fire with fire : Countering political populism

Populism is on the rise around the world. For mainstream political parties, this trend represents an existential threat, as disenfranchised voters flock to support new populist groups. The most effective way to respond to the challenge posed by populist parties is an open question and is explored in this column using evidence from Italy. One option is to try to de-bunk the populists, unpicking their campaigns and exposing the flaws in their promises using a fact-based approach. But this can simply push voters further to the fringes, on a tide of anti-expert sentiment. The other option is to fight fire with fire and go after the populists, using their own tactics against them. But this approach, it turns out, can have concerning unintended consequences.

Urban slums: Poverty traps or stepping stones?

Millions of people around the world live in urban slums. Relative to the life left behind in rural areas, the net consequences of growing up in these conditions on a person’s education and skills later in life are determined by the country’s stage of development and its policies for access and quality of education. This column uses data from Brazil to explore this relationship, highlighting that while slums in Brazil may have historically been a stepping stone for the country’s human capital formation, by 2010 they had transformed into hindrances. The lessons for developing countries that are still rural as well as for developed countries that are receiving low-skill immigrants are also discussed.

Tackling gender discrimination: Lessons from Tunisian inheritance law

Gender discrimination in inheritance is commonplace in many countries around the world. One example is Tunisia where, in accordance with Islamic inheritance law, women receive a smaller share of a parent’s bequest than men. Reforming inheritance law is notoriously difficult and probably even more so when it is of religious origin. But there may be alternatives. This column presents survey evidence from an experiment which tested how learning about gifting can affect people’s attitudes towards women’s inheritance rights. The study shows that gifting is very common in Tunisia and constitutes an alternative way of tackling gender discriminatory inheritance law. However, it also shows that this second-best solution is only available to a wealthy sub-sample of the population.