Working Papers

Do Black Politicians Matter?

Abstract: This paper exploits the history of Reconstruction after the American Civil War to estimate the causal effect of politician race on public finance, using the number of free blacks in the antebellum era (1860) as an instrumental variable (IV) for black political leaders during Reconstruction. Free blacks were particularly overrepresented as officeholders, but their geographic distribution before the Civil War was unrelated to local preferences for redistribution, electoral outcomes, the tenure of black elected officials, political competition, or voter education campaigns. IV estimates show that an additional black official increased per capita county tax revenue by $0.20, more than an hour's wage at the time. Consistent with the stated policy goals of black officials, I find positive effects of black politicians on land tenancy and show that exposure to black politicians increased black literacy by 6% and decreased the black-white literacy gap by more than 7%. The effects were not persistent, however, disappearing entirely once black politicians were removed from office at Reconstruction's end. These results suggest that politician race has large effects on public finance and individual outcomes over and above electoral preferences.


On the Marital Status of U.S. Slaves
(with Jonathan B. Pritchett)

Abstract: We estimate marriage rates for enslaved African Americans using hospital records that report marital status for both free and enslaved patients. We find that marriage rates increased with age, that females had higher marriage rates than males, and that relatively more slaves than whites were married, a result we partly attribute to the demographic composition of the hospital population. In addition, the admission records allow us to identify those slaves owned by slave traders. Overall, we find relatively high marriage rates among enslaved African Americans and low marriage rates for those slaves owned by traders. Comparisons with other sources provide suggestive support for the marriage patterns found in these hospital data.


Segregation and Southern Lynching
(with Lisa D. Cook and John M. Parman)

Abstract: The literature on ethnic fractionalization and conflict has yet to be extended to the American past. In particular, the empirical relationship between racial residential segregation and lynching is unknown. The existing economic, social, and political theories of lynching contain implicit hypotheses about the relationship between racial segregation and racial violence, consistent with more general theories of social conflict. Since Southern lynching occurred in rural and urban areas, traditional urban measures of racial segregation cannot be used to estimate the relationship. Earlier analysis has analyzed the relationship between lynching and racial proportions, a poor proxy for racial segregation. We use a newly developed household-level measure of residential segregation (Logan and Parman 2017) which can distinguish between the effects of increasing racial homogeneity of a location and the tendency to segregate within a location given a particular racial composition to estimate the correlation between racial segregation and lynching in the southern counties of the United States. We find that conditional on racial composition, racially segregated counties were much more likely to experience lynchings. Consistent with the hypothesis that segregation is related to interracial violence, we find that segregation is highly correlated with African American lynching, but uncorrelated with white lynching. These results extend the analysis of racial/ethnic conflict into the past and show that the effects of social interactions and interracial proximity in rural areas are as important as those in urban areas.


Do Gender Neutral Custody Laws Increase Divorce Rates?
(with Yang Chen)

Abstract: Between the 1970s and the 1990s, state custody laws moved from maternal preference to the “best interest of the child” doctrine, giving fathers and mothers equal treatment in child custody decisions in the case of marital dissolution. We exploit exogenous variation across states in the timing of the legal changes to identify the effect of custody law reform on divorce. We find that changes in custody laws raised divorce rates in the long term. The divorce rate began to increase approximately seven years after a state’s adoption of the new custody law and persisted thereafter. The magnitude of the increase was between 0.1 and 0.2 divorces per 1,000 people per year, increasing the divorce rate by more than 5%. Changes in custody laws also increased the likelihood of being separated by roughly 0.5 percentage points for women and 0.3 percentage points for men. We also show that states’ movement from maternal preference to gender-neutral custody laws was independent of the adoption of unilateral divorce laws. The results suggest that child custody law reform plays an important and overlooked role in marital dissolution in the United States.


Is the Best Interest of the Child Best for Children? Educational Attainment and Child Custody Assignment
(with Yang Chen)

Abstract: We examine the educational impact of gender-neutral custody laws on child outcomes. Between the 1970s and 1990s, state custody laws moved from maternal preference to the “best interests of the child” doctrine which gives fathers and mothers equal treatment in child custody cases, a change that is independent of divorce law reforms. While standard household bargaining models predict that changes in custody laws give fathers greater bargaining power in marriages, the net effect of the custody law reform on all children is unknown. We exploit the exogenous variation across states in the timing of custody law changes to estimate the long-term implications of exposure to a gender-neutral custody law regime. We find that childhood exposure to gender-neutral custody laws has a negative and significant effect on educational attainment, both the likelihood of completion of schooling milestones and years of education. For example, a man exposed to the new custody law as a child is less likely to graduate from high school by, on average, 2.04 percentage points. Results are similar for women. Moreover, the negative effects are independent of the effects of childhood exposure to unilateral divorce laws.


The Implications of Applying Population Weights to Social Network Data
(with Chih-Sheng Hsieh and Jaromir Kovarik)

Abstract: We consider the implications of adopting simple population weights to network data. We employ single and multiplicative weights on a rich bipartite (two mode) network and consider the distributional properties of connections when the data is weighted to reflect the underlying population. Simulation results confirm that the procedure is effective when the network data is not representative of the underlying population. In our empirical application, the weights do not produce a uniform shift to the degree distribution nor are the weights proportionately applied to low- or high-degree nodes. Irrespective of the weight used, the network data is more connected once the weights are applied. Tests of distributional differences between the weighted and unweighted network data reject the hypothesis of distributional equality. The higher level of connectedness also results in a significant change in the epidemiological threshold for the spread of contagion. Threshold levels differ by more than five percent between the weighted and unweighted data. Overall, our results imply that inferences on networks are quite different when networks are weighted to reflect population distributions.


Moveable Feasts: A New Approach to Endogenizing Tastes
(with Paul Rhode)

Abstract: We provide a new empirical approach to endogenizing tastes in consumer demand. We argue that tastes can be understood as the result of utility maximizing behavior in the past, whose properties can be used to partially endogenize tastes. As the old maximization problem depends critically on relative prices, we use old relative prices to endogenize tastes, overcoming many of the empirical criticisms of the taste formation literature while at the same time being consistent with a broad class of existing theoretical approaches to taste and preference formation. To test the empirical implications of our approach, we estimate the demand for food using unique household consumption and price data from the nineteenth century. We use contemporaneous relative prices and old relative prices from the home countries of immigrants measured fifteen years prior to our consumption survey. We first establish that the old relative prices are uncorrelated with the contemporaneous relative prices. We then find that older relative prices have a large and significant effect on the demand for food. On average, a one standard deviation in the old relative price changes the current food budgetshare by .2 standard deviations. We also provide suggestive evidence of persistence—the effect of old relative prices on demand persists more than 40 years later. We conclude by noting how our empirical strategy can be used to parameterize changes in tastes in both microeconomic and macroeconomic contexts.


On Family Allocation Strategy in the Late Nineteenth Century

Abstract: I analyze the intrahousehold allocation of resources among nineteenth century industrial families. The narrative record and economic theory suggest that we should find allocation differences by gender. Using a large survey of industrial households in the late nineteenth century, I find no evidence of gender bias in household allocations to children, nor can I reject the hypothesis that allocations were efficient. These findings cannot be explained by parental egalitarianism. I find that parents were strategic out of necessity—the future cooperation of children was unknown and highly uncertain, tempering any desire for gender bias in household allocations. Narrative and quantitative evidence supports this conclusion.