Where Does Support for Female Genital Cutting Come From?

In what looks to be its inaugural issue, Nature Human Behaviour–a new social science journal published by the Nature group–discusses some of the research I and other economists have done on the topic of female genital cutting (FGC).

In short, the article’s angle is that, contra a popular theory that holds that FGC persistence is due to community-level factors, the persistence of FGC seems to come from individual and household-level factors:

Some economists say it’s time for a new approach. Their work, itself controversial, questions long-held views on FGC — that communities either all follow the practice, or all give it up – and thereby challenges the very underpinnings of many interventions.

Interventions should stop trying, as most do, to sway entire villages, these scientists say. They should instead target cracks in support for the practice: the influential community leader who has decided his daughters will not be cut, or the husband and wife who are divided on the fate of their daughters.

The article also talks about some of the research that my PhD student Lindsey Novak* has done on FGC in her job-marker paper: Continue reading

No Agricultural Economist Was Harmed–Let Alone Interviewed–During the Making of this Article

This past weekend, the New York Times ran an article about the kinds of food SNAP recipients purchase, based on a new USDA report.

Here is how the NYT article began:

What do households on food stamps buy at the grocery store?
The answer was largely a mystery until now. The United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the $74 billion food stamp program called SNAP, has published a detailed report that provides a glimpse into the shopping cart of the typical household that receives food stamps.

The findings show that the No. 1 purchases by SNAP households are soft drinks, which accounted for 5 percent of the dollars they spent on food. The category of “sweetened beverages,” which includes fruit juices, energy drinks and sweetened teas, accounted for almost 10 percent of the dollars they spent on food.

Had the NYT’s intention been to provide arguments to those who wish to dismantle SNAP–a program which, in 2014, provided an average of $125 to spend on food to 46.5 million Americans with low or no income; that’s one in seven Americans–it wouldn’t have done a better job. This is especially given that title: “In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda.”

My Twitter feed came alive with (justified) criticism of the article. My University of Minnesota colleague Joe Soss wrote a long response on his Facebook page which should be read in full to appreciate just how bad the NYT reporting was, part of which reads as follows: Continue reading

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‘Metrics Monday: Dealing with Imperfect Instruments I

Happy New Year! After running out of easy, off-the-top-of-my-head topics for this series, I have decided to go with a friend’s suggestion of blogging econometrics papers whose results are useful for applied work.

Given that I am working on a paper in which I am dealing with an instrumental variable that is only plausibly exogenous–that is, the exclusion restriction is likely to hold, but there is a small chance that it does not–I thought I should begin the year with two posts on how to deal with imperfect instruments.

This does not mean that these posts will discuss what to do with plain-old bad instrumental variables (IVs), i.e., instruments for which the exclusion restriction clearly does not hold. Again, this post and the next will discuss situations where your IV most likely meets the exclusion restriction, but wherein there is a small chance that it does not. Continue reading