Spring 2006 Awards

Avoiding and Escaping Persistent Poverty
Christopher B. Barrett, Department of Applied Economics and Management

Evaluating an Employer-Supported Child Care Program: An Ecological Approach

Moncrieff Cochran, Department of Human Development

Rethinking Sustainability and Development: A Return to Vicos, Peru
Billie Jean Isbell, Department of Anthropology

Interagency Cooperation in Social Services for Families and Children: Application of Group Dynamics Theory
Poppy McLeod, Department of Communication

Picking Stocks for Fun or Buying Stock Funds: The Portfolio Choices of U.S. Individual Investors
David Ng, Department of Applied Economics and Management

The Surgeon’s Body: Surgical Practice in an Age of Digital Medicine
Rachel Prentice, Department of Science and Technology Studies

Assessing Gender Differences in Time Consistency
Jeffrey Prince, Department of Applied Economics and Management

Does Unconscious Bias Affect Trial Judges?
Jeff Rachlinski, Cornell Law School
Sheri Johnson, Cornell Law School

Workshop on Projectification, Governance and Sustainability: US-EU Synthesis and Comparison
Steven Wolf, Department of Natural Resources

Avoiding and Escaping Persistent Poverty
Christopher B. Barrett, Department of Applied Economics and Management

Fighting persistent poverty – long-term deprivation that saps hope and initiative from those in its grasp – is one of the most important policy challenges of the new Millennium. Success in meeting this challenge will require understanding the mechanisms that underpin the escape from, the collapse into, and the inter-annual and inter-generational reproduction of human suffering. How can public and private sector entities effectively help the chronically poor climb out of poverty and how can they help prevent today’s non-poor from becoming persistently poor in the wake of adverse shocks? Unfortunately, the social science evidence base for answering these crucial policy questions remains thin and methodologically fragile, especially in the low- and middle-income countries in which most of the world’s poor reside. Are some of the poor ‘trapped’ in poverty, as so much current policy discourse presumes? If so, what sort of trap is it?  What sorts of interventions does such analysis suggest for fighting persistent poverty?

This research addresses these questions (i) by developing new econometric methods to model household-level welfare dynamics and to test for the existence of poverty traps, and (ii) by applying these methods to rich panel data sets from the developing world. The project will have three significant outputs: (i) academic papers that will improve the toolkit used for policy-relevant empirical analysis of household welfare dynamics and poverty traps, (ii) evidence on how best to fight persistent poverty in particular developing countries, and (iii) proposals to major donors for a multi-year research program and to the Institute for the Social Sciences for a Theme Project.

Update: This project explored methods of studying welfare dynamics among poor populations with a particular eye toward identifying poverty traps and their effects on risk-taking behavior in poor populations. This project developed techniques to model changes in households’ asset holdings over time, which is considered ‘direct approach’ to identifying poverty trap thresholds, and have applied these new techniques to data from Ethiopia, India and Pakistan in a working paper. The second paper illustrates that the duration of sampling intervals in longitudinal data affect the degree to which poverty appears transitory versus structural. This explores the implications of poverty traps for the design of poverty reduction strategies, using simulation methods to show how and why social protection policies in the form of safety nets against catastrophic asset loss can have significant poverty reduction and economic growth benefits even relative to direct transfers to the poorest in society. This research has led to multiple publications including “Risk Responses to Dynamic Asset Thresholds,” co-authored with Travis Lybbert in the Review of Agricultural Economics. Additional funding in the amount of $698,751 has been awarded by the agency USAID to help further this joint research.

Media Coverage: Highway Robbery On The High Seas (2014). Depleted Soil Locks Rural Farmers in Trap of Ultra Poverty (2015)

Evaluating an Employer-Supported Child Care Program: An Ecological Approach
Moncrieff Cochran, Department of Human Development

Child care is necessary for the majority of employed parents, but high quality care is expensive and hard to find. Employers and economists recognize this lack of affordability and accessibility, and the implications for employee productivity and long-term human capital. In 2002, Cornell University joined the growing number of employers to offer employer-subsidized child care and created its Child Care Grant Program. In 2005 the program was expanded to graduate students. Despite growing public and employer interest, there have been few systematic evaluations of program impacts on child care quality and parental employment. Furthermore, University Human Resource staff lack a forum through which to share and learn from the experiences and impacts of other universities that have or are implementing similar programs. To date, Cornell has invested $1.8 million over three years in their child care grant program and we can track the impacts on 400 families. Rarely in social science do we have large-scale social experiments. We propose a two-phase project involving a multi-disciplinary working group composed of Human Resource staff at Cornell, faculty and graduate students across campus, and members of the local Day Care Council. Using an ecological framework, we will design and implement an evaluation of the effects of Cornell’s Child Care Grant Program on parents’ child care choices, employment factors, and the regional economy. Initial ISS support will enable the development of a research design, which may later position the Cornell team to apply for NICHD or Child Care Bureau funding for a larger-scale evaluation. Grant funds will also be used to organize a symposium of universities from across the country to see if we can take the Cornell evaluation model to scale.

Update: Paper published in Journal of Marriage and Family, September 16, 2016.

Rethinking Sustainability and Development: A Return to Vicos, Peru 
Billie Jean Isbell, Department of Anthropology

ISS funding supports a conference on Sept. 8, 9, and 10 of 2006 in which junior faculty members will participate from: Anthropology, History, Development Sociology and Education in collaboration with the American Indian Program. The conference is sponsored by the Society for the Humanities and the Department of Anthropology. A discussion of the ethics of intervention, sustainability and development by three of the original Cornell researchers from the 1952-1966 Cornell Peru Project and three representatives of the Vicos community will be videotaped. These activities will bring the perspectives of recipients of intervention and development, whose voices are seldom heard, together with academics to explore these topics. Our goal is that a theme project will grow out of these efforts. The project makes a landmark contribution to the history of Anthropology and Development and advances participatory research. Our hope is to bring a broad range of disciplinary representatives and local participants together for reflection.

Update: The successful findings of this project were published in the article, “A half-century later, Cornell revisits a small Andean village” in July of 2009.

Interagency Cooperation in Social Services for Families and Children: Application of Group Dynamics Theory
Poppy McLeod, Department of Communication

The research addresses the general problem of how different social service agencies coordinate with each other when working with the same client. The specific application area will be agencies that work with children and families. In contrast to past approaches to the problem, which have largely been at macro and institutional levels, the proposed research focuses on the micro-level group dynamics among the agencies’ representatives who work directly with clients. An action research methodology will be followed, which will include collecting interview and survey data from social service workers and clients, observing meetings of relevant social service programs, and designing and evaluating training procedures. The research is envisaged to span several years and to involve multiple communities.

Update: This study supported examined linguistic biases in an intergroup context through analysis of interview data of social service agents from various types of agencies with respect to their past effective and ineffective interagency collaborations. This project tested the hypotheses that bias would be manifested in different patterns of references to self and one’s own organization, to other agents and their organizations, and to joint references.  No evidence was found for classic intergroup bias, and to the contrary, the data suggested that respondents perceived themselves and other agencies as belonging to the same ingroup. This research was published in the article “An Intergroup Perspective on Coordination between Social Service Agencies: Linguistic Category Analysis of Collaboration Accounts” and presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association.

Picking Stocks for Fun or Buying Stock Funds: The Portfolio Choices of U.S. Individual Investors
David Ng, Department of Applied Economics and Management

Traditional finance theory states that investors should hold a market portfolio with a fixed proportion of risky assets plus a risk-free asset. The transaction costs required to create such a market portfolio implies that most individual investors should hold index funds. In reality, however, many investors hold and trade stocks directly rather than using mutual funds exclusively. In 1996, approximately 47 percent of equity investments in the United States were held directly by households, and only 23 and 14 percent were held by pension funds and mutual funds respectively (Barber and Odean 2000). In this proposed study, we plan to examine the “funds versus stocks” choices of U.S. individual investors. Using the brokerage records for several tens of thousands of U.S. individual investors, we will examine investor trades in stocks and funds. We will identify personal characteristics (such as age, income, wealth, geographic location, investment performance, and turnover) that are associated with the propensity to individual stocks, open end stock funds. Given data on both individual investor trades and individual investor characteristics, we seek a more complete understanding of the phenomena that many individuals just hold a few stocks in their portfolios and are heavily under-diversified.

Update: Using extensive individual brokerage account records, this project sought to examine whether behavioral biases affect mutual fund selection and whether the mutual fund industry attempts to exploit those biases. The research concluded that while many informed, experienced investors make good use of mutual funds, other good-intentioned investors appear to select mutual funds for the wrong reasons. In particular, investors who frame decisions narrowly, trade frequently, or prefer speculative securities often hold mutual funds but trade too frequently and select high expense funds that detract from performance. The mutual fund industry appears to target these investors with particular types of funds. The findings of this research were presented at the Ohio State Alumni Summer Conference, the Northern Finance Association, and the 2006 BSI Gamma Foundation conference and McGill University. Additional funding in the amount of 10,000 euros has been awarded by the BSI Gamma Foundation to help further this joint research.

The Surgeon’s Body: Surgical Practice in an Age of Digital Medicine 
Rachel Prentice, Department of Science and Technology Studies

The proposed research project uses detailed ethnographic investigation of anatomical teaching, surgical practice, and surgical training to examine technological and social changes accompanying the advent of digital medical teaching technologies. This work emerges from earlier dissertation fieldwork in a laboratory that develops digital teaching tools for medicine. Moving away from technology development, this project uses detailed observation of traditional anatomical and surgical teaching to interrogate the connections among embodied practice, technological change, and social structures in medical training. Earlier ethnographies of surgery have focused on social aspects of surgical hierarchies, while excluding technological change and surgical practice as subjects for ethnographic investigation. My early findings reveal that the technical and social aspects of surgery are wholly intertwined phenomena. This initial research will lay the groundwork for an application to the National Institutes of Health or the Spencer Foundation to fund the final stages of research and writing of a book, tentatively titled, The Surgeon’s Body: Surgical Practice in an Age of Digital Medicine.

Assessing Gender Differences in Time Consistency
Jeffrey Prince, Department of Applied Economics and Management

I will conduct an experiment using real money to determine whether males and females differ in time consistency; specifically, are males more prone to reverse their preferences over time than females? In a previous experiment comparing public and private time consistency, my collaborator and I collected data on gender as an extra control. When analyzing the results, we found a striking and highly significant pattern of preference reversal among males, but no such pattern among females, for both private and public decisions. In the proposed new experiment and follow-up research and writing, we wish to further investigate the robustness and properties of this phenomenon. Extensive review of economics and psychology literature and discussions with colleagues in both fields indicate that our work is the first to look for time consistency differences between males and females. Such differences could have important implications for efforts to address irrational individual decision-making, for increased prevalence of women in decision-making roles, and for some modeling in the social sciences.

Update: In a simple experiment, using real money, this project tested whether men’s and women’s preferences differ in time consistency. The experiment provided strong evidence of time-inconsistent preferences among males, but no evidence of such preferences among females.  This finding may have important implications for efforts to improve inter-temporal decision-making and for the marketing strategies and product offerings of businesses.  In addition, this research found that men’s time inconsistency is such that they can be either significantly more or significantly less likely than women to choose the “patient” option in a decision between two income streams, depending on how far in advance the decision is made.  This second finding may help explain why prior research measuring differences in patience levels between men and women has been largely inconclusive.

Does Unconscious Bias Affect Trial Judges?
Jeff Rachlinski & Sheri Johnson, Cornell Law School

Evidence of unconscious racism and sexism has proliferated in recent years. Even people who embrace explicitly egalitarian norms harbor invidious implicit associations concerning women and minorities. But do these implicit associations affect behavior? To study this, we recruited 80 active trial judges from a large urban jurisdiction to participate in a study of “the psychology of judging.” In this preliminary study, we had judges assess hypothetical scenarios in which the race or gender of the primary character varied. We also measured implicit associations that judges held concerning race and gender. Although we found evidence that the judges held invidious implicit associations, these implicit associations did not affect their judgment. We also found, contrary to prior research, that judges were not affected by exposure to a subconscious racial prime. Our data thus far suggest that unconscious bias cannot account for the widespread racial and gender disparities observed in the criminal justice system. We have the opportunity to collect data from a similar sample of judges and submit this proposal to complete our initial research.

Update: This project led to the development of the article”Does Unconscious Bias Affect Trial Judges?” which was published in the Notre Dame Law Review in April of 2009.

 Workshop on Projectification, Governance and Sustainability: US-EU Synthesis and Comparison
Steven Wolf, Department of Natural Resources

We propose to host an academic workshop on the Cornell campus in winter 2006-2007 provisionally titled, Projectification, Governance and Sustainability: US-EU Synthesis and Comparison. The aim of the workshop is to explore the significance of proliferation of organizational structures that focus on achieving sustainable development objectives through short-term projects. Through comparative analysis and intensive dialogue, we hope to develop conceptual and analytic tools to advance research and synthesis. The set of researchers we seek to bring together is comprised of an existing European network and a germinal US network, and in this respect the project seeks to identify and integrate relevant domestic research, both on and off campus. The workshop will result in publication of a book and an application for major funding to the EU 7th Framework Programme that will support research and continued international collaboration.

Update: This workshop laid a foundation for new collaborative research possibilities and created a very strong network of actors encompassing essential expertise in the field of regional and environmental governance. Topics of projectification were discussed, such as the relationship to concepts and tendencies such as neoliberalism, privatization, multi-level governance, and network organizations, as well as differences in evaluate structure, procedures, culture and performance of different administrative forms. The workshop will result in publication of a book and an application for major funding to the EU 7th Framework Programme that will support research and continued international collaboration.