Economists Cover Everything from Fertility to Football in 2007

By David R Francis columnist | The Christian Science Monitor, December 31, 2007 | Go to article overview

Economists Cover Everything from Fertility to Football in 2007


David R Francis columnist, The Christian Science Monitor


All-white church congregations tend to be less generous in supporting social service activities when the share of black residents in their local community grows.

That's an intriguing trend noted in Working Paper 13323 of the National Bureau of Economic Research in CamA-bridge, Mass. It's also one of about 700 working papers published by the NBER this year, covering a wide range of topics that interest the nation's 18,000- plus economists - and hopefully Monitor readers.

Free summaries of these papers are available at www.NBER.org. Downloads of the complete papers cost $5.

These yellow-covered pamphlets clutter my desk throughout the year. No. 13323 caught my eye because of the amount of charity churches provide across the country.

Author Daniel Hungerman of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana notes that the approximately 35,000 congregations in the United States provide social services to more than 70 million Americans annually. Along the way, they spend an estimated $24 billion on philanthropic activities.

Moreover, federal government agencies provided more than $2.1 billion in grants to religious organizations in 2005, partly under a controversial program devised by President George Bush. In 2002, Mr. Bush spoke of faith-based charities working "daily miracles" in their social programs.

Mr. Hungerman's paper explores whether the racial composition of a community affects the charitable activities of its congregations - apparently it does for all-white congregations.

Such working papers are not necessarily peer-reviewed for the accuracy of their analysis and facts.

Further, as most people know, economists differ widely in their opinions and in the conclusions they reach from their research.

Many papers end up in dozens of economic journals that to a degree satisfy the need for many academics "to publish or perish" at their schools.

So in recognition of those yet to perish, here's a year-end sampling of other noteworthy working paper conclusions from 2007:

* Looking at data for 97 countries, four Harvard University economists find in No. 13583 that when women work they have fewer babies, an effect concentrated in the 20 to 39 age bracket.

Lower fertility, the study suggests, can double the level of output per capita. It also may boost the incentive for women to go to school, making it easier for them to save to help their parents in old age as well as themselves in their retirement years.

Having fewer children also should permit more investment in each child's health and education, the economists conclude.

* One fervid goal of tax cutters in Washington is to "starve the beast" - in other words, cut taxes in order to reduce future government spending. In No. 13548, University of California, Berkeley, economists Christina and David Romer find "no support for the hypothesis." In fact, their research indicates, tax cuts "may actually increase spending" and "induce subsequent legislated tax increases. …

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