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In the Papers: Gun Control, Gender Equality and Taxes

Every Monday, the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit organization made up of some of North America’s most respected economists, releases its latest batch of working papers. The papers aren’t peer-reviewed, so their conclusions are preliminary (and occasionally flat-out wrong). But they offer an early peek into some of the research that will shape economic thinking in the years ahead. Here are a few of this week’s most interesting papers:

Title: “Guns and Votes”

Authors: Laurent Bouton, Paola Conconi, Francisco Pino, Maurizio Zanardi

What they found: Democratic senators are more likely to oppose gun-control measures when they are nearing an election.

Why it matters: Opinion polls generally show that a majority of Americans support stricter gun-control regulations, but Congress has passed few such measures in recent years. Political science research has suggested an explanation: Gun-control opponents are passionate and well-organized, but supporters are less likely to be single-issue voters. In this paper, the authors take a quantitative approach to the question, building a model that takes into account voter intensity. They find that since the early 1990s, Democratic senators have been more likely to support gun regulations in the first four years of their terms than in the final two years, as they near re-election. (The effect doesn’t hold for Democrats who are retiring rather than running for another term.) Republican senators don’t show the same pattern. They consistently oppose gun-control measures throughout their terms.

Key quote: “We show that electoral incentives can help to explain this ‘gun control paradox.’ We argue that understanding politicians’ stance on gun control requires taking into account not only the direction of voters’ preferences, but also their intensity. … This can lead politicians to support the interests of a minority of pro-gun voters.”

Data they used: Congressional vote tallies compiled by Gun Owners of America.


Title: “Breaking the Glass Ceiling? The Effect of Board Quotas on Female Labor Market Outcomes in Norway”

Authors: Marianne Bertrand, Sandra Black, Sissel Jensen, Adriana Lleras-Muney

What they found: Requiring more female representation on corporate boards in Norway boosted pay for female board members but had little effect on other women.

Why it matters: In both the U.S. and overseas, women are underrepresented on corporate boards and in executive suites. They are also paid less, on average, than men. In an attempt to address the issue, Norway in 2003 passed a law requiring most publicly traded companies to appoint women to at least 40 percent of their board seats. (Several other European countries have since passed similar laws.) Proponents of the laws have argued they will help women crack the “glass ceiling” and will promote gender equality; opponents have argued that the laws will promote tokenism and that companies will struggle to find qualified female candidates. The authors study the Norwegian law and find that the qualifications of female board members actually rose after the law’s passage, and that the pay gap between male and female board members narrowed. But the law apparently had little, if any, impact on hiring of women in non-board executive positions, and there was no “trickle down” effect on wages of lower-level female employees.

Key quote: “Finally we consider broader possible effects of the reform on younger women interested in a business career and who are considering a business education, enrolled in a business education program, or recently graduated from such a program. While these young women are unlikely to be directly impacted by the reform (they are too young to be considered for a board position or a top executive position), it is possible that the reform inspired them to consider a business career, and that they see greater benefits in investing in such a career as a result. However we find no evidence of such an effect.”

Data they used: Norwegian Registry Data, “a linked administrative dataset that covers the population of Norwegians between the ages of 16 and 64 for the years 1986-2010.”


Title: “The ‘Business Climate’ and Economic Inequality”

Authors: David Neumark, Jennifer Muz

What they found: States that rank highly in “quality of life” indexes aren’t more equal, but low-tax/low-cost states do tend to have higher levels of inequality.

Why it matters: Various groups produce “business climate indexes” that purport to grade states on various criteria, usually in an effort to promote policies supported by the groups that release the rankings. Past studies have looked at whether these indexes correspond with faster or slower economic growth; this paper focuses on another issue, inequality. The authors group these indexes into two categories: those that emphasize productivity and quality of life (such as education and infrastructure), and those that emphasize low taxes and low business costs (such as limited regulation or low rates of unionization). The first set of indexes are often, at least implicitly, aimed at promoting equality, but the authors find that states that get high marks in those rankings don’t do any better in terms of income inequality. States that have business-friendly environments under the second set of indexes, however, do have higher rates of inequality; these states also tend to experience faster rates of economic growth.

Key quote: “We do find, however, more direct and, in our view, more easily interpretable evidence of a policy tradeoff between promoting growth and promoting equity. Specifically, the same tax-and-cost related policies that are emphasized in the tax-and-cost indexes are associated with faster economic growth and larger increases in inequality. … The results suggest, then, as economic models would predict, that policymakers — and society at large — have to make some tradeoffs when choosing policies affecting taxes and the costs of doing business; the policies that enhance growth are also associated with more rapidly increasing inequality.”

Data they used: Various business climate indexes; the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic supplements from 1992 to 2008.

Ben Casselman was a senior editor and the chief economics writer for FiveThirtyEight.