December 30, 2021

2021 in Research Highlights

Economists tackled welfare generosity, tech clusters, bureaucracy, and more.

The top ten research highlights of 2021 cover a wide variety of topics.

Tyler Smith

The Research Highlight series provides features of selected AEA journal articles based on interviews with the authors. The top ten highlights of 2021 include pieces about the recovery of Southern wealth after the Civil War, why the United States has the best research universities, Facebook filters, and more. You can read the most popular research highlights from 2021 below. The rankings are based on overall page views. Check out more on our website.  

1. Why the United States has the best research universities

“There are a lot of people who speak these days about how universities should go into more interdisciplinary research. . . . One thing that we highlight in the paper is that that may complicate the measurement of performance, which has been a crucial ingredient to the success of the enterprise.”  Miguel Urquiola

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2. The Facebook filter bubble

Economist Ro'ee Levy found rigorous evidence from a field experiment that Facebook's algorithm results in people being exposed to more news matching their own opinions, and it may be increasing polarization.

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3. Welfare generosity and work

Economists Christopher Boone, Arindrajit Dube, Lucas Goodman, and Ethan Kaplan found that extending the length of unemployment insurance had no significant impact on employment.

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4. Rereading "The Road to Serfdom"

“One reason why I'm fascinated by the history of economics is that when you actually read the stuff that people wrote . . . the real story is much more interesting and nuanced and enjoyable and thought-provoking.” – Bruce Caldwell 

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5. Growth by proximity

“There would be a price to pay if we were to spread innovative activity more equally, which doesn't mean that we shouldn't be doing it. It just means that with public policy there are tradeoffs.” – Enrico Moretti 

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6. Making economic tools more reliable

“Folks from what might be called diverse backgrounds are disproportionately likely to be asked to work on tasks enhancing diversity. One thing that I think it would be good for departments in the profession broadly to think about is . . . that ought to be reflected in resource allocation and in being careful who one is asking to invest time in it and who one is not asking to invest time in it.” – Isaiah Andrews

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7. The recovery of Southern wealth after the Civil War

“I think that people were touched by this research because we're able to document the persistence of some of the wealth that was created in a slave society. And so, we can't really say that wealth has dissipated and is gone and therefore we no longer need to take responsibility for it because that's a matter of the past.” – Leah Boustan

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8. How IVF changed Israel’s marriage market

Economists Naomi Gershoni and Corinne Low say that free IVF treatment did more than just help less-fertile women bear children; the policy led younger women to push back their timeline for getting married, giving them more time to invest in their education and careers before starting a family.

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9. School vs neighborhood effects

Economist Jean-William Laliberté found that local schools in Montreal were the most important driver of better outcomes for children who moved to better areas.

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10. Slipping into a Kafkaesque state

Researchers Gabriele Gratton, Luigi Guiso, Claudio Michelacci, and Massimo Morelli say that lawmakers feed a vicious cycle when their desire to be seen as reformers leads them to create Kafkaesque laws that do more harm than good, with hastily written reforms being passed so frequently that bureaucrats become overloaded and even less efficient.

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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 Twitter and by subscribing to our monthly Research Highlights Digest.