– The Spotlight series highlights the research of female economists, one at a time.

Eliana La Ferrara is a Professor of Economics at Bocconi University, Italy. She received a Ph.D. degree from Harvard University and is currently the Vice President of the European Economic Association, a Fellow at BREAD and CEPR, and is affiliated with several other organizations. She serves on the editorial boards of Italian Economic Journal, Journal of African Economies, The World Bank Economic Review, and World Development.

Eliana’s research interests lie in the fields of development economics, political economics, and public economics. Her work has been published in top journals, including the American Economic Review and the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

I find almost all of Eliana’s research super interesting, but here I want to highlight just one of her papers that shows how media influences even very private decisions such as how many children people have. With co-authors Alberto Chong and Suzanne Duryea, Eliana estimates the impact of Brazilian soap operas—telenovelas—on fertility outcomes. These soap operas portray families that are much smaller than in reality. Their “content analysis of 115 novelas aired…in the two time slots with highest audience between 1965 and 1999 reveals that 72 percent of the main female characters (age 50 and lower) had no children at all, and 21 percent had only one child. This is in marked contrast with the prevalent fertility rates in Brazilian society over the same period.” They exploit “differences in the timing of entry into different markets of Rede Globo, the main novela producer, and find that women living in areas covered by Globo have significantly lower fertility.” They also find that “parents living in areas that are reached by Globo are significantly more likely to name their children after the main characters of novelas aired in the year in which the children are born,” suggesting that the effects are driven by novelas and not just television.

For more information about Eliana and her research, check out her website.




Early NASA computers (Source: NASA)

Hidden Figures: The untold story of the black women mathematicians who powered early space exploration.

What programming’s past reveals about today’s gender pay gap.

Rural Indian girls chase big-city dreams.

Donald Trump’s new anti-abortion letter should terrify you.

Making House: Notes on domesticity

Lastly, can it be summer break again, please?



  • Does Rosie like Riveting? A new NBER working paper on occupational tastes of men and women. The “results suggest that women may care more about job content, and this is a possible factor preventing them from entering some male-dominated professions.”







– The Spotlight series highlights the research of female economists, one at a time.

Oriana Bandiera is a Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics. She received a Ph.D. degree from Boston College and BSc/ MSc degrees from Bocconi University. Oriana is also the Director of STICERD and a co-director at IGC and CEPR. She is a co-editor of JOLE and Economica and serves on the editorial boards of EJ, JDE, JEEA, and JEL.

Oriana’s research analyses organizations and labor markets in different settings. Her work has been published in top journals, including the American Economic Review, Econometrica, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, and the Review of Economic Studies.

One of her papers that I really like is “Social Incentives in the Workplace,”(joint work with Iwan Barankay and Imran Rasul) where she tests if workers’ behavior is affected by the presence of those they are socially tied to. They find that “compared to when she has no social ties with her co-workers, a given worker’s productivity is significantly higher when she works alongside friends who are more able than her, and significantly lower when she works with friends who are less able than her. The distribution of worker ability is such that the net effect of social incentives on the firm’s aggregate performance is positive. The results suggest that firms can exploit social incentives as an alternative to monetary incentives to motivate workers.”

For more information about Oriana and her research, check out her website. Oriana will be one of the speakers at the Human and Economic Development Seminar at BC this semester.


The Public Voice of Women


An excellent talk by the English Classical scholar Mary Beard, given during the 2014 London Review of Books’ Winter Lecture Series, on how the public voice of women has been silenced or altered or niched throughout history and how that reflects and continues in the contemporary world. An hour long, but well worth the time.

The text of her full speech is here.

(h/t Policy Tensor)

Intimate Partner Violence

By some estimates, the total global cost of intimate partner violence (IPV) is $4.4 trillion, or 5.2% of global GDP, which is significantly higher than the combined costs of civil wars, terrorism, and homicides. Yet, we don’t quite understand IPV.


By Carrie Mae Weems, from the Kitchen Table Series

While most types of violence generally affect both women and men, the victims of IPV tend to be female; in fact, IPV is the most common form of violence experienced by women. The WHO estimates that the global lifetime prevalence of IPV among ever-partnered women is 30%, i.e., one-third of ever-partnered women have been physically or sexually abused by a current or a former partner at some point in their lives. These numbers are likely to be highly under-reported given the acceptance and normalization of IPV, the stigma associated with reporting to the police, and the fact that violent acts like marital rape are not even considered illegal in several countries.


Needless to say, it is difficult to precisely measure all dimensions of the suffering that results from IPV. However, existing data have shown that women who experience IPV are more likely to suffer from depression, to acquire sexually transmitted infections, and to abuse alcohol. Children of abused mothers are more likely to be premature or low-birth-weight, and children who witness violence between parents are not only more likely to experience violence during childhood but are also more likely to become perpetrators (if male) and victims (if female) of IPV during adulthood.


By Carrie Mae Weems, from the Kitchen Table Series

While there are several correlates of IPV—for instance, IPV is more common in poorer countries, and within countries, a higher prevalence of IPV is associated with lower incomes, lower educational attainment, and a range of factors correlated with lower socioeconomic status—causal pathways are harder to identify. Nevertheless, there has been some work in economics that has tried to identify causal factors that lead to IPV.*

Is IPV instrumental/ strategic or (intentionally or unintentionally) expressive, or both? These distinctions are relevant because they imply different approaches to reducing violence. An unexpected loss for the local football team increases the number of police reports of at-home male-on-female IPV in the US, implying that rage induced by unexpected emotional cues is relevant. A range of economic factors has also been explored, such as changes in the gender wage gap, changes in divorce laws, higher educational attainment of women, improvements in women’s labor force participation rates, and the use of violence as a signaling device to extract dowry payments. These papers paint a mixed picture.


By Carrie Mae Weems, from the Kitchen Table Series

While improved intra-household bargaining power of women seems to lower IPV in high-income countries like the US, in less developed and more gender-unequal societies, such as Turkey and Bangladesh, better work or education outcomes for women often instead lead to “male backlash,” i.e., husbands or partners inflict greater abuse in order to either counteract the higher economic status of their female partners or to use coercive instruments for extracting rents from them as women’s income rises. On the other hand, targeting cash, voucher, or food transfers towards female heads of household led to a significant decrease in the prevalence of IPV in Ecuador.

Aside from individual-level changes in women’s status, one may also wonder if a broader improvement in women’s position, say, in their political power, has any impact on IPV. In India, mandated quotas have led to a dramatic increase in the number and fraction of women in political office at the local level. Surprisingly, “there was a large increase of 26% in the documented crimes against women after the increased political representation of women.” However, this increase “is driven not by a surge in the actual crimes committed against women, but by increased reporting of such crimes due to an increase in the responsiveness of the police under women political representatives, which encourages women victims to voice their concerns as well.”


By Carrie Mae Weems, from the Kitchen Table Series

To conclude, while economists are increasingly paying more attention to spousal and domestic violence, much more work is needed. For instance, a unifying theory that can incorporate the worsening of IPV at early stages of advances in women’s position followed by an eventual decline in IPV should not be too hard. What may be harder is to design policies that can prevent the male backlash when women upset the status quo.

*This post focuses on a partial but representative literature on IPV in economics but completely ignores the large body of work in other social sciences on domestic violence. This is primarily due to space constraints but also because I am unfortunately more informed about my field. It would be great to hear from other social scientists working on these issues!

All photos courtesy: Lenny

**Portions of this post were co-authored with Petra Persson for an ongoing project.