Selected Publications

  • Discouraged by Peer Excellence: Exposure to Exemplary Peer Performance Causes Quitting

    2016. Psychological Science. In press. (With T. Rogers)

    People are exposed to exemplary peer performances often (and sometimes by design in interventions). In two studies, we showed that exposure to exemplary peer performances can undermine motivation and success by causing people to perceive that they cannot attain their peers’ high levels of performance. It also causes de-identification with the relevant domain. We examined such discouragement by peer excellence by exploiting the incidental exposure to peers’ abilities that occurs when students are asked to assess each other’s work. Study 1 was a natural experiment in a massive open online course that employed peer assessment (N = 5,740). Exposure to exemplary peer performances caused a large proportion of students to quit the course. Study 2 explored underlying psychological mechanisms in an online replication (N = 361). Discouragement by peer excellence has theoretical implications for work on social judgment, social comparison, and reference bias and has practical implications for interventions that induce social comparisons.

  • Timing and Turnout: How Off-Cycle Elections Favor Organized Groups

    Anzia, Sarah F. 2014. Timing and Turnout: How Off-Cycle Elections Favor Organized Groups.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

  • Polarization and Policy:  The Politics of Public Sector Pensions

    Anzia, Sarah F., and Terry M. Moe. 2017. “Polarization and Policy:  The Politics of Public-Sector Pensions.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 42 (1): 33-62.

    For decades, America’s state and local governments have promised their workers increasingly generous pensions but failed to fully fund them, producing a fiscal problem of staggering proportions. In this paper, we examine the politics of public pensions. While mainstream theoretical ideas in the American politics literature would suggest the pension issue should be polarized, with Democrats pushing for generous pensions over Republican resistance, we develop an argument—rooted in more traditional theoretical work by Schattschneider, Lowi, Wilson, and others—implying that both parties should be expected to support generous pensions during normal times, and that only after the onset of the Great Recession, which expanded the scope of conflict, should the parties begin to diverge. Using a new dataset of state legislators’ votes on hundreds of pension bills passed between 1999 and 2011, we carry out an empirical analysis that supports these expectations.

  • World Scientific Handbook of Global Health Economics and Public Policy - Volumes 1-3
  • Compared to What? Variation in the Impacts of Early Childhood Education by Alternative Care-Type Settings

    2016. Annals of Applied Statistics. In press. (with T. Grindal, L. Miratrix, and L. Page)

    Early childhood education research often compares a group of children who receive the intervention of interest to a group of children who receive care in a range of different care settings. In this paper, we estimate differential impacts of an early childhood intervention by alternative care setting, using data from the Head Start Impact Study, a large-scale randomized evaluation. To do so, we utilize a Bayesian principal stratification framework to estimate separate impacts for two types of Compliers: those children who would otherwise be in other center-based care when assigned to control and those who would otherwise be in home-based care. We find strong, positive short-term effects of Head Start on receptive vocabulary for those Compliers who would otherwise be in home-based care. By contrast, we find no meaningful impact of Head Start on vocabulary for those Compliers who would otherwise be in other center-based care. Our findings suggest that alternative care type is a potentially important source of variation in early childhood education interventions. 

  • The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same? The Safety Net and Poverty in the Great Recession

    Journal of Labor Economics 2016, vol. 34, no. 1, pt. 2.

    Much attention has been given to the large increase in safety net spending, particularly in Unemployment Insurance and Food Stamp spending, during the Great Recession. In this paper we examine the relationship between poverty, the social safety net, and business cycles historically and test whether there has been a significant change in this relationship during the Great Recession. We do so using an alternative measure of poverty that incorporates taxes and in-kind transfers. We explore the mediating role played by four core safety net programs—Food Stamps, cash welfare (AFDC/TANF), the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Unemployment Insurance—in buffering families from negative economic shocks. This analysis yields several important findings. Our most robust and important finding is the safety net is doing less to provide protection for the most disadvantaged. In the post-welfare reform world, TANF did not respond in the Great Recession and extreme poverty is more cyclical than in prior recessions. On the other hand, Food Stamps and UI are providing more protection¬-or at least providing no less protection-in the Great Recession, although these results are less robust across our different models. These programs are more likely to affect households somewhat higher up the income distribution; we find some evidence of a reduction in cyclicality at 100% poverty and little evidence about this at higher income-to-poverty levels.

  • Unemployment Insurance and Disability Insurance in the Great Recession

    "Unemployment Insurance and Disability Insurance in the Great Recession," with Andreas Mueller and Till von Wachter. Journal of Labor Economics 34 (S1, pt. 2), January 2016. p.p. S445-S475. (On journal web site) (Appendix) (NBER digest summary) (Replication archive)

    Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) awards rise during recessions. If marginal applicants are able to work but unable to find jobs, countercyclical Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefit extensions may reduce SSDI uptake. Exploiting UI extensions in the Great Recession as a source of variation, we find no indication that expiration of UI benefits causes SSDI applications and can rule out effects of meaningful magnitude. A supplementary analysis finds little overlap between the two programs’ recipient populations: only 28% of SSDI awardees had any labor force attachment in the prior calendar year, and of those, only 4% received UI.

  • Prison Downsizing and Public Safety

    Lofstrom, Magnus and Steven Raphael (2016), “Prison Downsizing and Public Safety,” Criminology and Public Policy, 15(2): 349-365.