of research by economics graduates
Nobel Prize for Economics was shared by two scholars whose chief
contributions to the discipline were analytical rather than theoretical:
Each had coined statistical equations that could be used to study
human behavior. To many, the award recognized a revolution in the
"In recent years there has been an explosion of empirical or data-oriented
work," says Peter Ireland, chairman of BC's economics department.
Though the Internet and advanced computing capabilities are making
data more accessible, what's driving the trend "is really economists
themselves," says Ireland. "Lately we've developed interesting ways
of looking at data, coming up with new statistical techniques, new
econometric techniques for applying and analyzing information."
Associate economics professor Robert G. Murphy, director of senior
honors theses, agrees. "There's always been an empirical emphasis,"
he says, but there's been a resurgence prompted in part by "the
recognition that if economists are going to be relevant in social
debate, we need to speak to the real world, to tie theories down
to the data."
Students too are embracing the movement, using statistical methodologies
to analyze everything from the career paths of overeducated waiters
to the prices of old comic books. Three projects by recent BC graduates
illustrate the trend.
James Monks, Ph.D. '95, decided to examine the notion that unqualified
students were getting into top colleges merely because they were
so-called legacies -- the children of alumni -- he asked himself, If that's
true, how do they fare once they arrive on campus?
In "The Academic Performance of Legacies," published in
the April 2000 issue of Economics Letters, Monks analyzed
the records of nearly 12,000 college seniors from 27 private, selective
institutions. He found that at first glance it appears legacies
perform as well as or better than their campus peers.
And well they should, says Monks, now an economist at the Consortium
on Financing Higher Education, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "By
definition," he says, legacies "have college-educated parents; they
are largely white and affluent." But once you control for those
attributes, he says, the academic distinction almost disappears.
Legacies in fact do less well than their nonlegacy counterparts,
though the difference is very slight.
"If droves of unqualified kids are getting in," Monks concludes,
"they're not doing too badly once they get there."
STUNTED GROWTH According
to research by Michael Lowell Hansen, Ph.D. '00, parents nagged
by fear that their child will forever hinder his or her career by
driving a cab or skiing professionally for a few years after graduation
may have a point.
Hansen, now an economist at the Center for Naval Analyses in Alexandria,
Virginia, won BC's Donald and Helene White Prize for the Outstanding
Dissertation in the Field of Social Sciences for his paper, "College
Graduates in Noncollege Jobs: Theory and Evidence." In it he mined
census data to analyze the impact of delaying the start of a career
for a job that "doesn't pay extra for college graduates."
Though Hansen did not examine the motives of young college-educated
carpenters, cashiers, cooks, and office clerks to determine whether
graduates were looking to "find themselves" before stepping into
a career, or simply couldn't get a job in their fields, his study
confirms parents' nightmare that those who take noncollege jobs
might never catch up financially to their fellow graduates.
"By and large," Hansen says, "you see a lot of people moving from
one noncollege job to another." These workers don't generally stay
with the same employer, Hansen says, but they do tend to stay on
the same career path; in other words, a waitress with an English
degree might end up at six different restaurants in her life, but
she may never get out of waitressing.
Hansen did look at why most graduates who start in noncollege occupations
stay in them. Some might just prefer them, he says; but he also
found that employers tend to stigmatize such graduates, particularly
after they have been in noncollege jobs for 18 months or more during
relatively good economic times. "When I send my resume to IBM,"
says Hansen, "and I have two years in high school-level jobs
on it, IBM says, This guy hasn't been on a traditional career path.
Is there something wrong with him?"
COMIC BELIEF Leonard
Coyer '00 chose for his senior honors thesis a topic that might
appeal more to students themselves: "Hedonic Price Indexes and the
Market for Collectible Comic Books."
"I've been reading comic books since I was 12 years old," says Coyer,
an assistant buyer at Filene's department store in Boston. "I wanted
to write my thesis on something that I'd enjoy, so it wouldn't seem
so much like work."
Good idea, except that he ended up hand-entering the data from "a
couple thousand samples and probably 25 variables" into his computer.
Taking his information mainly from the Overstreet Comic Book Price
Guide, he examined how the price of an edition is determined not
only by supply and "creator" variables -- whether the person who drew
the strip is alive or dead, for instance -- but also by such esoterica
as whether a particular issue tells a character's origin, the acquisition
of "new equipment," and even a character's costume change.
Coyer says his research taught him less about comic books than about
the bubble effect -- when irrational expectations for profit falsely
inflate prices. "When they announced they were going to kill Superman,
wow, that was the biggest thing since his first appearance," he
says. "Within a week the issue was selling for a hundred bucks or
more. I wish I had gotten rid of mine then, because now I can't
get 20 bucks for it."
The issue would be worth more, Coyer says, "if, one, they hadn't
printed so many copies, and two, they hadn't brought him back."
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