Far apart

Kevin Lewis

April 12, 2019

American geography of opportunity reveals European origins
Thor Berger & Per Engzell
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 26 March 2019, Pages 6045-6050


A large literature documents how intergenerational mobility — the degree to which (dis)advantage is passed on from parents to children — varies across and within countries. Less is known about the origin or persistence of such differences. We show that US areas populated by descendants to European immigrants have similar levels of income equality and mobility as the countries their forebears came from: highest in areas dominated by descendants to Scandinavian and German immigrants, lower in places with French or Italian heritage, and lower still in areas with British roots. Similar variation in mobility is found for the black population and when analyzing causal place effects, suggesting that mobility differences arise at the community level and extend beyond descendants of European immigrant groups. Our findings indicate that the geography of US opportunity may have deeper historical roots than previously recognized.

Genetics and the geography of health, behaviour and attainment
Daniel Belsky et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming


Young people’s life chances can be predicted by characteristics of their neighbourhood. Children growing up in disadvantaged neighbourhoods exhibit worse physical and mental health and suffer poorer educational and economic outcomes than children growing up in advantaged neighbourhoods. Increasing recognition that aspects of social inequalities tend, in fact, to be geographical inequalities is stimulating research and focusing policy interest on the role of place in shaping health, behaviour and social outcomes. Where neighbourhood effects are causal, neighbourhood-level interventions can be effective. Where neighbourhood effects reflect selection of families with different characteristics into different neighbourhoods, interventions should instead target families or individuals directly. To test how selection may affect different neighbourhood-linked problems, we linked neighbourhood data with genetic, health and social outcome data for >7,000 European-descent UK and US young people in the E-Risk and Add Health studies. We tested selection/concentration of genetic risks for obesity, schizophrenia, teen pregnancy and poor educational outcomes in high-risk neighbourhoods, including genetic analysis of neighbourhood mobility. Findings argue against genetic selection/concentration as an explanation for neighbourhood gradients in obesity and mental health problems. By contrast, modest genetic selection/concentration was evident for teen pregnancy and poor educational outcomes, suggesting that neighbourhood effects for these outcomes should be interpreted with care.

Democratization and the Conditional Dynamics of Income Distribution
Michael Dorsch & Paul Maarek
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


Despite strong theoretical reasons to expect that democratization equalizes income distributions, existing empirical studies do not find a statistically significant effect of democratization on measures of income inequality. This paper starts from the simple observation that autocracies are heterogeneous and govern quite extreme distributional outcomes (also egalitarian). Democratization may drive extreme income distributions to a “middle ground.” We thus examine the extent to which initial inequality levels determine the path of distributional dynamics following democratization. Using fixed-effects and instrumental variable regressions, we demonstrate that egalitarian autocracies become more unequal following democratization, whereas democratization has an equalizing effect in highly unequal autocracies. The effect appears to be driven by changes in gross (market) inequality, suggesting that democratization has led, on average, to redistribution of market opportunities, rather than to direct fiscal redistribution. We then investigate which kinds of (heterogeneous) reforms are at work following democratizations that may rationalize our findings.

Consumption Changes, Not Income Changes, Predict Changes in Subjective Well-Being
Gordon Brown & John Gathergood
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Does happiness depend on what one earns or what one spends? Income is typically found to have small beneficial effects on well-being. However, economic theory suggests that well-being is conferred not by income but by consumption (i.e., spending on goods and services), and a person’s level of consumption may differ greatly from their level of income due to saving behavior and taxation. Moreover, research within consumer psychology has established relationships between people’s spending in specific categories and their well-being. Here we show for the first time using panel data that changes in life satisfaction are associated with changes in consumption, not changes in income. We also find some evidence that increased conspicuous consumption is more strongly associated with improved well-being than is increased nonconspicuous consumption.

The Effects of Income Transparency on Well-Being: Evidence from a Natural Experiment
Ricardo Perez-Truglia
NBER Working Paper, February 2019


In 2001, Norwegian tax records became easily accessible online, allowing everyone in the country to observe the incomes of everyone else. According to the income comparisons model, this change in transparency can widen the gap in well-being between richer and poorer individuals. We test this hypothesis using survey data from 1985–2013. Using multiple identification strategies, we show that the higher transparency increased the gap in happiness between richer and poorer individuals by 29%, and it increased the life satisfaction gap by 21%. We provide suggestive evidence that some, although probably not all, of this effect relates to changes in self-perceptions of relative income. We provide back-of-the-envelope estimates of the importance of income comparisons, and discuss implications for the ongoing debate on transparency policies.

Economic Inequality and Campaign Participation
Michael Ritter & Frederick Solt
Social Science Quarterly, forthcoming

Methods: We combine individual‐level data on donations, meeting attendance, and volunteer work for political campaigns with measures of state‐level income inequality to construct a series of multilevel models.

Results: The analyses reveal that, where inequality is higher, campaign participation is lower among individuals of all incomes.

Income inequality and firearm homicide in the US: A county-level cohort study
Ali Rowhani-Rahbar et al.
Injury Prevention, forthcoming

Objective: Income inequality has been rising in the US and thought to be associated with violence especially homicide. About 75% of homicides involve firearms. We quantified the association between county-level income inequality and all-race/ethnicity and race/ethnicity-specific firearm homicide rates among individuals aged 14–39 years.

Methods: We conducted a cohort study of US counties to examine the association of Gini Index (ranging from 0 [perfect income equality] to 1.0 [perfect income inequality]) separately measured in 1990 and 2000 with all-race/ethnicity and race/ethnicity-specific firearm homicide rates in 2005–2015. Generalised linear mixed models with Poisson distribution including a random intercept for state provided IRRs and 95% CIs. Bayesian Poisson-lognormal hierarchical modelling with integrated nested Laplace approximations was used in exploratory spatial analyses. Models accounted for county-level age, sex and race/ethnicity composition, crime rate, deprivation, social capital, urbanicity, and firearm ownership.

Findings: The Gini Index was associated with firearm homicide rates among all races/ethnicities. After accounting for contextual determinants of firearm homicide, the association persisted among African–Americans. In this group, a 1 SD greater Gini Index in 1990 (IRR=1.09; 95% CI 1.02 to 1.16) and 2000 (IRR=1.09; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.17) was associated with greater firearm homicide rates in 2005–2015. Exploratory spatial analyses did not materially change the results.

Women in the One Percent: Gender Dynamics in Top Income Positions
Jill Yavorsky et al.
American Sociological Review, February 2019, Pages 54-81


A growing body of research documents the importance of studying households in the top one percent of U.S. income distribution because they control enormous resources. However, little is known about whose income — men’s or women’s — is primarily responsible for pushing households into the one percent and whether women have individual pathways to earning one percent status based on their income. Using the 1995 to 2016 Surveys of Consumer Finances, we analyze gender income patterns in the one percent. Results show that women’s income is sufficient for one percent status in only 1 in 20 of all elite households. Although self-employment and higher education increase the likelihood that women will personally earn sufficient income for one percent status, marrying a man with good income prospects is a woman’s main route to the one percent. In contrast, men’s one percent status is most closely associated with their own characteristics (self-employment and higher education). Importantly, the gender gap in personally earning one percent income has not narrowed since the mid- to late-1990s, indicating another area in which gender progress has stalled. This research suggests that men retain most of the primary breadwinning positions in top income households and that a financial glass ceiling remains firmly intact at the one percent level.

Feasible future global scenarios for human life evaluations
Christopher Barrington-Leigh & Eric Galbraith
Nature Communications, January 2019


Subjective well-being surveys show large and consistent variation among countries, much of which can be predicted from a small number of social and economic proxy variables. But the degree to which these life evaluations might feasibly change over coming decades, at the global scale, has not previously been estimated. Here, we use observed historical trends in the proxy variables to constrain feasible future projections of self-reported life evaluations to the year 2050. We find that projected effects of macroeconomic variables tend to lead to modest improvements of global average life evaluations. In contrast, scenarios based on non-material variables project future global average life evaluations covering a much wider range, lying anywhere from the top 15% to the bottom 25% of present-day countries. These results highlight the critical role of non-material factors such as social supports, freedoms, and fairness in determining the future of human well-being.

Exposure to Neoliberalism Increases Resentment of the Elite via Feelings of Anomie and Negative Psychological Reactions
Lea Hartwich & Julia Becker
Journal of Social Issues, March 2019, Pages 113-133


For several decades now, neoliberalism has been the dominant economic and political ideology throughout large parts of the world. In many places, its rise has gone hand in hand with growing social inequality and a cultural emphasis on individualism and competition. Lately, concerns are being raised about the effects of these developments on politics and societies. The renewed rise of populism in Europe, the United States, and other countries has been attributed to economic insecurity among the working and middle classes by politicians, journalists, and academics alike. Similarly, the spread of nationalist and anti‐immigration sentiments is frequently interpreted as a result of fears over job security and perceived competition in a hostile economic climate. We examined the effect of neoliberalism on two types of prejudice (anti‐elitism and anti‐immigrant prejudice) across two studies in Germany (N = 198) and the UK (N = 173). Results show that priming neoliberalism leads to higher levels of anti‐elitism but not anti‐immigrant prejudice and that this effect is mediated by anomie and negative psychological reactions (feelings of threat, unfairness, and hopelessness). Thus, our research suggests that while neoliberalism is linked to lower social cohesion and increased outgroup derogation, this is not primarily directed against disadvantaged social groups but against those at the top.

Affluence and Subjective Well-Being: Does Income Inequality Moderate their Associations?
Weiting Ng & Ed Diener
Applied Research in Quality of Life, March 2019, Pages 155–170


Using the Gallup World Poll data, we examined whether national income inequality moderated the effects of affluence on individual subjective well-being (SWB). Multilevel analyses found that people reported higher life evaluation in years when their nation had higher GDP. Between-nation effects showed that people in wealthier nations reported greater SWB (but also more negative feelings) than those in poorer nations. Furthermore, people in unequal nations (i.e., greater income inequality) reported higher life evaluation and positive feelings than those in more equal nations. National income inequality also moderated the effects of individual-level income on SWB — income showed stronger associations with SWB in more equal nations than in nations with higher income inequality. People who earned higher incomes had higher life evaluation and positive feelings, and lower negative feelings than those who earned lower incomes, but the effects were stronger in more equal nations. These findings suggest that money matters less to the SWB of people in unequal nations than those in equal nations.

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