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.

Shadowless theocracies: A study of religion and inheritance norms

Theocratic systems often impose strict rules on those living under them. But long-run economic effects can also be felt centuries later. This column presents evidence from the Papal States, using this case study to explore the role of theocracy in shaping future religiosity as well as political preferences. The study shows that where other pre-existing behaviours and attitudes are present, such as the need for collectivism in an agrarian society, the power of the Church is diminished, with its effect on rules and systems becoming less prominent.

Urban political structures and the historical roots of wealth inequality

The evolution of wealth inequality is driven in part by past political structures. This column presents a case study from Germany, focusing on the history of the southern city-state, Nördlingen. The results of the study highlight how past political elites were able to exploit extreme moments of crisis, such as wars and epidemics, to enrich themselves, driving up wealth inequality. In fact, the extent to which a region had an oligarchic political structure transpires to be a clear driver of wealth inequality trends, today as in the past. 

The prices we pay: Why they matter and where they come from

The extent to which people shop around for the best price for products varies by income level. Households on relatively lower incomes tend to spend more time hunting for bargains and often choose budget options for products where possible. This column presents new evidence using consumer data from the United States, highlighting how prices differ across income groups. It shows how retailers’ response to households’ shopping behaviour reduces inequalities and provides policy-makers with useful lessons for supporting lower-income households.

Mapping honesty and migration: Lessons from Italy

Levels of dishonesty vary by region in Italy. This column measures how behaviours and attitudes relating to rule-breaking differ from place to place using childbirth registration data. By tracking where more people are falsifying birth records, it is possible to make accurate inferences about honesty in a given area. Importantly, the column also shows that migration movements can generate honesty drains or honesty gains in different areas. These changes correlate with regional economic outcomes, from human capital to productivity, to earnings growth, to the quality of local government.

Women in leadership roles: A surprising result

Female representation in senior economic and political positions is still very low in many European countries. But what happens to female empowerment when a woman ‘breaks the glass ceiling’? This column explores the extent to which female leaders appoint more women to other executive positions. Using data from Italian local politics, the research shows the opposite trend: women in senior roles are less likely to nominate women for official positions. This is a startling finding.

The power of pictures: Visual bias in the news

Imagery within media stories has a powerful effect on the way a reader thinks about a particular topic. This column highlights the strength of the effect, presenting evidence from the United States. Readers’ views on a range of topics – from police budgets to pandemic management – are highly sensitive to the pictures that accompany news stories. People also tend to react more extremely to images that directly confirm or challenge their pre-existing opinions, shining new light on the risk of political polarisation.

Understanding the inflation crisis: The importance of a clear narrative

Over the past three years, the global economy has a faced a series of substantial price shocks. The outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020 was followed by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, putting economies around the world under immense strain. This column highlights the importance of understanding the narrative of these shocks for analysing subsequent macroeconomic conditions. Only when policy-makers have got to grips with the economic effects of these episodes will they be able to deliver sufficient policies to support recovery and resilience.

Measuring health outcomes: A new approach

Measuring people’s health status is vital for designing effective policies that support different age groups. But economists working in this field face a difficult challenge when it comes to integrating accurate health measures into their economic models. This then makes it difficult for policy-makers to make straightforward model-based decisions. This column offers a new metric and seeks to solve the issue of measuring health statuses and their associated economic outcomes. The new approach makes integrating important health data into economic models easier, helping yield more accurate results.