Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A book contract

A got a nice present at the end of last month, which was a contract to publish my book from Palgrave Macmillan. The book is part of a project I've been describing in articles on this blog over the last year. The title is, Data and the American Dream, Contemporary Social Controversies and the American Community Survey.

This book describes scholarly economics articles that have in common the use of the same underlying data: individual responses to the American Community Survey (ACS), the nation's largest household survey. A novel feature of this book is that the replication files I provide all draw from a single master data file. To bring the survey data to life, I also include many stories about some of the survey's target population--Americans--including some about me and my household. My aim was to write a readable introduction to the tools, methods and applications of econometric analysis, in a way that lights the fire of interest in students and professionals to want to do their own original data analysis. It could be read by a self-directed learner, or used in introductory undergraduate or graduate econometrics courses, that emphasize applied economics, policy applications, and/or research methods.

The explosion of data from web transactions has generated substantial interest in "big data analytics," but web transaction data is often highly unstructured and therefore more complicated. Today, students and researchers can access over 2 billion respondent records from structured surveys from over 100 countries, dating from 1703 to the present. Seeing how causal effects are measured in the setting of structured survey data provides valuable insights into how it can be done in any type of data analytics environment.

The conclusion explains how to put empirical results to use in Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA), a tool that can help improve decision making in general, and in public policy in particular. The emphasis on how careful empirical analysis informs decision making is another novel feature of this book.

I was on sabbatical from teaching during the Fall 2019 semester, and was able to complete most of the manuscript. At this point, some writing remains to be finished, but I have completed replications for all the studies listed below. As the Spring semester gears up, I will be teaching one section of Introductory Econometrics, and I'm excited to have the chance to pilot this book in that course. Here is a copy of the syllabus I'll be using.

Many undergraduate students have never been exposed to real, published economics research, but in this class they'll be reading dozens of actual studies. They'll also be replicating the studies listed below, using the replication files I produced over the last six months. In addition, they'll be carrying out their own replications in term papers that also require original extensions. Students who have never written an academic style article before need very explicit instructions about what to and what not to do, and the assignment I describe in the syllabus I link to above reflects everything I've learned over the years about how to teach undergrads and beginning grad students to do applied econometric research. My hope is that other instructions will find this syllabus, and my book once its published, to be helpful in designing their own econometrics term paper assignments.

Here are the studies that appear on the syllabus and that will be discussed in Data and the American Dream:

Bailey, James, and Dhaval Dave. "The effect of the Affordable Care Act on entrepreneurship among older adults." Eastern Economic Journal 45, no. 1 (2019): 141-159.

Comolli, Chiara Ludovica, and Fabrizio Bernardi. "The causal effect of the great recession on childlessness of white American women." IZA Journal of Labor Economics 4, no. 1 (2015): 21.

Costa, Dora L., and Matthew E. Kahn. "Electricity consumption and durable housing: understanding cohort effects." American Economic Review, 101, no. 3 (2011): 88-92.

Holian, Matthew J. "The impact of urban form on vehicle ownership." Economics Letters 186 (2020): 108763.

Holian, Matthew J. "The impact of building energy codes on household electricity expenditures." Economics Letters 186 (2020): 108841.

Orrenius, Pia M., and Madeline Zavodny. "The Impact of Temporary Protected Status on Immigrants' Labor Market Outcomes." American Economic Review 105, no. 5 (2015): 576-80.

Winters, John V. "Is economics a good major for future lawyers? Evidence from earnings data." The Journal of Economic Education 47, no. 2 (2016): 187-191.

DARPA Big Data


  1. Replies
    1. That's from Sam Lepler, over at Harker!

    2. Thanks Sam! This book would be a great resource for your awesome students at Harker.

  2. Replies
    1. I will read your syllabus with interest, as I'm prepping to teach intermediate micro next fall for the first time since before SJSU. I'm going to spend some time on causal inference. I'm limited in what I can do, of course, but I will touch on it some. Thanks for giving me some material to work with. Looking forward to the book.

    2. Thanks Ed! I'm assuming you meant you're prepping to teach intermediate's a great time to jump in these waters, the quality of the textbooks has improved a lot (so many of the older econometrics books are really bad.)