The Latest in Happiness Research

In the L.A. Times, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton highlight some of the more interesting recent findings in the field of happiness research.  Two surprising examples from the article:

1. "A study of women in the United States found that homeowners were no happier than renters, on average. And even if you're currently living in a cramped basement suite, you may find that moving to a nicer home has surprisingly little impact on your overall happiness. Researchers followed thousands of people in Germany who moved to a new home because there was something they didn't like about their old home. In the five years after relocating, the residents reported a significant increase in satisfaction with their housing, but their overall satisfaction with their lives didn't budge."
2. "[D]ozens of studies show that people get more happiness from buying experiences than from buying material things. Experiential purchases — such as trips, concerts and special meals — are more deeply connected to our sense of self, making us who we are. And while it's anyone's guess where the American housing market is headed, the value of experiences tends to grow over time, becoming rosier in the rearview mirror of memory."

More Evidence on Charter Schools

Writing at Slate, Ray Fisman reviews the latest research on the efficacy of charter schools.  The study focuses on students at six Boston schools that had previously demonstrated an ability to improve students' test scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.  This time, however, the researchers wanted to evaluate whether the schools really improved student outcomes or just mastered the art of "teaching to the test." Here's the breakdown:

The study examines the college readiness of Boston public school students who applied to attend the six charter schools between 2002 and 2008, with projected graduation dates of 2006–2013. In just about every dimension that affects post-secondary education, students who got high lottery numbers (and hence were much more likely to enroll in a charter school) outperformed those assigned lower lottery numbers. Getting into a charter school doubled the likelihood of enrolling in Advanced Placement classes (the effects are much bigger for math and science than for English) and also doubled the chances that a student will score high enough on standardized tests to be eligible for state-financed college scholarships. While charter school students aren’t more likely to take the SAT, the ones who do perform better, mainly due to higher math scores.

Are France and Spain Risky Vacation Spots?

Aon just released its 2013 Terrorism and Political Violence Risk Map. Interestingly, reports Business Insider, the risk levels in summer vacation favorites France and Spain are "actually equivalent to China and Russia, presumably on the basis of the former countries' recent, heated demonstrations protesting austerity."

Denmark, Finland, Japan, Australia, Iceland, Uruguay and Botswana, meanwhile, are all pretty safe bets.

FREAK-est Links

1. Six female scientists who didn't get their due.

2. Why kids in France don't get ADHD.

3. When averages don't tell the story: the U.S. has many of the world's brightest students, and also a lot of low-scoring students.

4. Reverse colonialism: high unemployment at home drives Spanish youth to Latin America.

5. The psychology of hoarding.

Convincing Kids to Go to College

A new NBER working paper (PDF; abstract) by economists Scott E. Carrell and Bruce Sacerdote finds that educational incentives, even those that are offered to students late in their senior year of high school, can impact college outcomes.  Here's the abstract:

We present evidence from an ongoing field experiment in college coaching/ mentoring. The experiment is designed to ask whether mentoring plus cash incentives provided to high school students late in their senior year have meaningful impacts on college going and persistence. For women, we find large impacts on the decision to enroll in college and to remain in college. Intention to treat estimates are an increase in 15 percentage points in the college going rate (against a base rate of 50 percent) while treatment on the treated estimates are 30 percentage points. Offering cash bonuses alone without mentoring has no effect. There are no effects for men in the sample. The absence of effects for men is not explained by an interaction of the program with academic ability, work habits, or family and guidance support for college applications. However, differential returns to college and/or occupational choice may explain some of the differences in treatment effects for men and women.

When a Wife Earns More

A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by Marianne Bertrand, Jessica Pan, and Emir Kamenica looks at gender identity and its affect on household income. Their findings will depress anyone concerned with gender equality. Here's the abstract:

We examine causes and consequences of relative income within households. We establish that gender identity – in particular, an aversion to the wife earning more than the husband - impacts marriage formation, the wife's labor force participation, the wife's income conditional on working, marriage satisfaction, likelihood of divorce, and the division of home production. The distribution of the share of household income earned by the wife exhibits a sharp cliff at 0.5, which suggests that a couple is less willing to match if her income exceeds his. Within marriage markets, when a randomly chosen woman becomes more likely to earn more than a randomly chosen man, marriage rates decline. Within couples, if the wife's potential income (based on her demographics) is likely to exceed the husband's, the wife is less likely to be in the labor force and earns less than her potential if she does work. Couples where the wife earns more than the husband are less satisfied with their marriage and are more likely to divorce. Finally, based on time use surveys, the gender gap in non-market work is larger if the wife earns more than the husband.

Who Suffered Most in the Housing Bust?

A new working paper (abstract; PDF) looks at how the recent housing bust affected minorities. Economists Patrick Bayer, Fernando Ferreira, and Stephen L. Ross looked at mortgage outcomes "for a large, representative sample of individual home purchases and refinances linked to credit scores in seven major US markets."  Here's what they found:

Among those with similar credit scores, black and Hispanic homeowners had much higher rates of delinquency and default in the downturn. These differences are not readily explained by the likelihood of receiving a subprime loan or by differential exposure to local shocks in the housing and labor market and are especially pronounced for loans originated near the peak of the boom. Our findings suggest that those black and Hispanic homeowners drawn into the market near the peak were especially vulnerable to adverse economic shocks and raise serious concerns about homeownership as a mechanism for reducing racial disparities in wealth.

A Youth Intervention in Chicago That Works

A new NBER working paper (abstract; PDF) by University of Chicago researchers Sara Heller, Harold A. Pollack, Roseanna Ander, and Jens Ludwig analyzes the effects of a Chicago program targeted at "disadvantaged male youth grades 7-10 from high-crime Chicago neighborhoods."  The results of the intervention look promising:

Improving the long-term life outcomes of disadvantaged youth remains a top policy priority in the United States, although identifying successful interventions for adolescents – particularly males – has proven challenging. This paper reports results from a large randomized controlled trial of an intervention for disadvantaged male youth grades 7-10 from high-crime Chicago neighborhoods. The intervention was delivered by two local non-profits and included regular interactions with a pro-social adult, after-school programming, and – perhaps the most novel ingredient – in-school programming designed to reduce common judgment and decision-making problems related to automatic behavior and biased beliefs, or what psychologists call cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). We randomly assigned 2,740 youth to programming or to a control group; about half those offered programming participated, with the average participant attending 13 sessions. Program participation reduced violent-crime arrests during the program year by 8.1 per 100 youth (a 44 percent reduction). It also generated sustained gains in schooling outcomes equal to 0.14 standard deviations during the program year and 0.19 standard deviations during the follow-up year, which we estimate could lead to higher graduation rates of 3-10 percentage points (7-22 percent). Depending on how one monetizes the social costs of crime, the benefit-cost ratio may be as high as 30:1 from reductions in criminal activity alone.

U.S. Suicide Rates Rise

News reports today discuss the prevalence and rise of suicide in the U.S. We reported in depth on the topic of suicide in our 2011 hour-long podcast "The Suicide Paradox." The episode explores the surprising numbers of suicide (it is twice as common as homicide), the "suicide belt" in America, and the racial differences (blacks are only about half as likely to commit suicide).

What Does That Have to Do With the Price of License Plates in China?

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that in Chinese cities, the cost of obtaining a license plate (about $6,900 back in 2011) can now exceed the cost of a vehicle:

Shanghai is one of four Chinese cities that limit car purchases by imposing quotas on registrations. The prices paid at Shanghai’s license auctions in recent months — 90,000 yuan ($14,530) — have exceeded the cost of many entry-level cars, the stronghold of Chinese brands such as Chery, Geely, and Great Wall. While residents with modest incomes may be able to afford an inexpensive car, the registration cost is often beyond their reach. “Whenever there’s a restriction of new car purchases through the quota system, there is always a big impact on lower-price cars like the ones we make,” says Lawrence Ang, executive director of Geely Automobile Holdings, whose Panda minicar sells for 37,800 yuan.

In our podcast "The Cobra Effect," we looked at license plate rationing in Bogota, where households purchase two cars in order to be able to drive every day of the week. In China, counterfeit military licenses plates, which allow drivers to avoid being pulled over by the police, are popular. This week, the Chinese government announced a crackdown banning military licenses for luxury vehicles.