– 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.