Spring 2016

Dondena Seminar Series
Spring 2016


All seminars (and light lunches!) will begin at 12:45 p.m. and be held in Room 3-e4-sr03, unless otherwise noted.

Titles and abstracts will be posted as they become available.

Download the series poster here.


Feb 8
Daniel Stegmueller, University of Mannheim



Feb 15
Anna Matysiak, Vienna Institute of Demography

The Impact of the Great Recession on Age-specific Fertility in Europe

The economic recession that started in 2007 in the US has hit almost all European countries and has been immediately hypothesised to affect fertility. Consistently, many macro-level studies showed that fertility rates, which were increasing in the first half of the 2000s, started to decline in most European countries. Nevertheless, there have been no empirical studies that assess the effects of Great Recession on fertility in Europe. This paper fills this gap. To this end, we link regional-level data (NUTS-2) on age-specific period fertility with regional-level indicators of economic recession for EU member states, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. Three-level growth-curve models are estimated. Our preliminary findings confirm that an increase in unemployment, self-employment or NEETs indeed depress period fertility and that these effects got stronger during the recession. Furthermore, we find that these effects vary by age and country contexts: unemployment depresses period fertility more strongly at very young ages and it has the strongest impact in Central and Eastern European countries whereas the spread of self-employment plays a more important role for fertility at ages 25-34 and it has a particularly strong impact in Southern Europe.


Feb 22
Birgit Pfau-Effinger, University of Hamburg

Contribution of Cultural Change to Institutional Change in Welfare State Policy – Tracing Cultural Processes

It has often been argued that welfare state change is the result of economic, political, social or demographic change in a society or at the supra-national level, or of a shift in power relations between actors with differing interests. So far, less attention has been paid to the role of cultural change for welfare state change, although the cultural foundations of welfare state policies and their contribution to the development of welfare states are gaining increasing attention in comparative welfare state research. The presented paper aims to answer the question: How can cultural change contribute to change in welfare state policies?

The presentation introduces a theoretical framework for historical analyses of the interaction between cultural change and welfare state change. It is based on a multilevel approach to cultural change and to the relationship between cultural change and institutional change, and it emphasizes the role of actors and power relations. The theoretical approach also distinguishes theoretically different ideal types of cultural processes that are relevant for the working of a causal relationship between cultural change and welfare state change

The presentation also uses the findings of an empirical study of change in different fields of welfare state policy (family policy and long-term care policy) in Germany between 1968 and 2007 in order to show how the theoretical approach can be applied. It analyses causal relations between cultural change and welfare state change over time, and it traces the cultural processes that are relevant for explaining such causal impact. With its concept of ‘processes’, the paper relates to the debate about ‘process tracing’ in the context of neo-institutionalism and analytical sociology.

The lecture can make an innovative contribution to the theoretical debate and research about the relationship between cultural change and welfare state change.


Feb 29
Patrick Le Bihan, Toulouse

Oversight and Hierarchies  (with Dimitri Landa of NYU)

Political processes in most democracies are characterized by the existence of hierarchies from policy-implementing agency staff to executive appointees at the head of the agency to cabinet members to chiefs of government to voters. Three attributes characterize these hierarchies: (1) uninformed principal; (2) costly information acquisition by the subordinate overseers; and (3) delegated principal-agent relationship to the subordinate overseers. We study how effective such hierarchies are at solving the entailed principal-agent relationships and show that principals can, indeed, improve the agent’s performance by hiring intermediate overseers. The effectiveness of a hierarchy significantly depends on its length, however. We show that there always exist conditions under which adding a marginal overseer to a hierarchy of a given length increases the effort level of the agent, and, in fact, can do so in a way that is cost-effective for the principal. Surprisingly, the effectiveness of the hierarchy can decrease with the increase in the information available to the overseers.


Mar 7
Francesca Carta, Bank of Italy

The hidden consequences of delaying retirement age (joint work with Francesco D'Amuri, Bank of Italy

Under a deferred compensation scheme, workers are paid less than their marginal productivity when they are young, more when they are old. An exogenous increase in retirement age raises the period over which the firm is paying wages higher than worker's marginal productivity. The wage profile is ex-post suboptimal. In the impossibility to renegotiate the wage contract or to adjust at no cost the age composition of the labour force, the firm will smooth the cost associated to the older workforce on new hirings and investment decisions. The direction of these effects will depend on the substitutability/complementarity relationship with the stock of older workers in the firm. We shed light on the sign of these effects by exploiting yearly variations of retirement flows observed at firm level. We find that higher retirement flows are associated with a higher hiring rate: one new hiring for each two workers who retire. While there is no clear impact on average gross wages and capital per worker, an increase of one percentage point in retirement flows is associated with a 0.2% increase in value added per worker and a 0.4% increase in EBITDA per worker.


Mar 14
Patricia Funk, Università della Svizzera Italiana

Do Close Elections Cause Higher Turnout? Evidence from Swiss Referenda

Voter turnout is among the political behaviors of greatest interest to social scientists, but remarkably little is known about the underlying mechanisms behind the decision to vote. A fundamental question about turnout is whether voters turn out more when they anticipate an election will be close. The canonical pivotal voter model suggests that closeness can cause higher turnout, but in large elections, closeness may not meaningfully affect the turnout decision. Models incorporating social preferences or intrinsic utility from voting, too, might predict higher turnout for close elections if social or intrinsic costs of not voting are higher when elections are close. While theory suggests that anticipated closeness might cause higher turnout, empirically identifying a causal effect of anticipated close elections is extremely difficult. In this paper we exploit natural variation in the existence and dissemination of political polls across space and time to identify the causal effect of anticipated election closeness. Specifically, we examine Swiss voting behavior in national referenda, before and after polls predicting the election closeness have been introduced in the year 1998. Exploiting three levels of variation to identify the causal effects of information about election closeness, we document that citizens systematically react to the reported closeness of an election. These findings represent, to our knowledge, the first evidence based on observational data that causally links election closeness - purged of cross-election issue differences - to voter turnout. This is an important contribution to a literature that up to now has been limited to field experiments on pivotality based on individual elections (often producing null results), and lab experiments that endow subjects with preferences and experimentally vary information.

Apr 11
Lukas Leemann, University College London

Direct Democracy and Political Struggle—Institutional Evolution in the 19th Century

Direct democracy is a fascinating bundle of different institutions. It has the potential to lower the influence of legislative and executive bodies while allowing citizens to do more than periodically elect representatives. As with many other institutions that limit the government’s power, there is a question how these institutions come into existence in the first place. The research question of this paper asks: What explains the adoption of direct democratic institutions (DDIs) in representative democracies? I argue that the adoption and extension of direct democracy is fueled by the electoral distortion caused by majoritarian elections. The analysis is carried out on a novel data set of constitutional changes in all Swiss cantons during the 19th century and provides insights to how and when direct democracy is introduced or extended.


Apr 18
Michael Lovenheim, Cornell University



May 2
Katie Coffman, Ohio State University

Evidence on Self-Stereotyping and the Contribution of Ideas

We use a lab experiment to explore the factors that predict an individual's decision to contribute her idea to a group. We find that contribution decisions depend upon the interaction of gender and the gender stereotype associated with the decision-making domain: conditional on measured ability, individuals are less willing to contribute ideas in areas that are stereotypically outside of their gender's domain. Importantly, these decisions are largely driven by self-assessments, rather than fear of discrimination. Individuals are less confident in gender incongruent areas and are thus less willing to contribute their ideas. Because even very knowledgeable group members under-contribute in gender incongruent categories, group performance suffers and, ex post, groups have difficulty recognizing who their most talented members are. Our results show that even in an environment where other group members show no bias, women in male-typed areas and men in female-typed areas may be less influential. An intervention that provides feedback about a woman's (man's) strength in a male-typed (female-typed) area does not significantly increase the probability that she contributes her ideas to the group. A back-of-the-envelope calculation reveals that a "lean in" style policy that increases contributions by women would significantly improve group performance in male-typed domains.


May 9
Tiziana Leone, London School of Economics

Women's mid-life ageing in low- and middle-income countries

To date there is little evidence on how the health needs and their ageing process of women aged 45-65 in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs), in particular when compared to other age groups as well as men. This is particularly significant  given that this is the period when menopause occurs and the cumulative effects of multiple births or birth injuries can cause health problems across women’s  life course.The aim of the project is to analyse inequalities across socio-economic groups in the ageing process of women between the ages of 45-65 and compare it to that of men within and between countries. Using data from wave 1 of SAGE in 4 countries (Ghana, Mexico, Russia and India) as well as longitudinal data from the Indonesian Longitudinal Family Survey, this study looks at the age pattern of  physical and mental decline looking at objective measures of health such as grip strength, cognitive functions and  walking speed as well as chronic diseases. Ultimately the study aims to understand what policy implications there are for the pace of ageing in LMICs. Results show shows a clear pattern of deterioriation of health in the middle age group significantly different from men who show a more linear pattern. This pattern is particularly prominent when we look at physical health rather than mental health.The study highlights the importance to shed more light into this field as women have health care needs beyond their reproductive life which are potentially neglected.


May 16

Pietro Biroli, University of Zurich

Health and skill formation in early childhood

This paper analyzes the developmental origins and the evolution of health, cognitive, and noncognitive skills during early childhood, from age 0 to 5. We explicitly model the dynamic interactions of health with the child's behavior and cognitive skills, as well as the role of parental investment. A dynamic factor model corrects for the presence of measurement error in the proxy for the latent traits. Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), we find that children's capabilities strongly interact and build on each other: health is an important determinant of early noncognitive development; in turn noncognitive skills have a positive impact on the evolution of both health and cognitive functions; on the other side, the effect of cognitive abilities on health is negligible. Furthermore, all facets of human capital display a high degree of persistence. Finally, mother's investments are an important determinant of the child's health, cognitive, and noncognitive development early in life.


For More Information:
Carlo F. Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics & Public Policies
tel. +39 025836.5384
















Last updated 20 December 2018 - 12:52:53