Essays in empirical microeconomics

Type Thesis or Dissertation - PhD thesis
Title Essays in empirical microeconomics
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2007
This dissertation is comprised of three papers using empirical methods to study issues in public
and social economics. My first paper, co-authored with Julian Betts, analyzes the performance of
San Diego's charter schools using fixed-effect methods on panel student data. We find that charter
school performance in San Diego varies by subject matter, grades served, school type and years of
operation. In many cases, we find that charter school performance is indistinguishable from that of
traditional public schools. Startup elementary charter schools perform poorly in math in early years,
but catch up after year three, while conversion charter schools persistently underperform in both
elementary math and reading, as well as in middle school reading. Checks for dynamic selection
indicate that transitory performance dips preceding switches between school types do not strongly
bias our estimates. Differences in performance do not seem to be due to school characteristics
such as average class size and teacher experience. Analyses of differential impacts by student
race and ethnicity suggest that charters may benefit some students more than others. Finally,
an alternative test score measure indicates that charter schools at the middle school level may
focus less on state -developed content standards than traditional public schools. My second paper
investigates the relationships between measures of conflict and group composition and economic
and social variables in US primary and secondary schools. Racial tension occurs most often when
there is no majority group. More of it occurs when Asians or whites are the largest group than when
blacks or Hispanics are the largest group. It is most prevalent in middle schools, and occurs more
frequently in larger schools than smaller schools. When the race of the largest group is controlled
for, racial tension increases with poverty, indicating there may be an economic component to racial
tension. I find no strong evidence for any relationship between racial tension and between-group
income disparities. I also find no evidence that recent changes in school racial composition are
related to racial tension. Racial diversity in schools is associated with more racial tension, but not
more violent activity or more gang activity. My third paper analyzes a panel of United States areas
to investigate the contention that rising income inequality may increase crime rates. I first replicate
findings from previous research that a strong positive correlation between local crime rates and
local household income inequality appears across specifications in cross- section ordinary least
squares regressions. I then demonstrate that the positive relationship between inequality and
crime does not survive, and in fact reverses in some cases once local fixed effects are controlled
for. I discuss and examine the possible reasons for this statistical reversal. While rising income
inequality may have some negative social consequences, I find no strong evidence that it causes
increased crime, at least in the short-term

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