FHSS Valedictorians: Setting the Curve

BYU is famous for many things: Cosmo the Cougar, being ranked the number 1 “Stone Cold Sober” school 20 years running, and our awesome chocolate milk. Our amazing graduates however, trump all. The graduating class this year is one of the school’s biggest, which the majority of the females being returned missionaries.  From undergraduate research in Thailand to managing a neuroscience lab, FHSS boasts some of the most accomplished graduates. Check out our incredible valedictorians:

Boone Robins Christianson, of Provo, had no idea what anthropology was when he declared it as a major his freshman year. He wants to thank his parents Marlin and LaDonn for supporting him even though they were equally confused about what he could do with the degree. Throughout his time at BYU, Boone has spent the majority of his studies researching African agricultural development, including conducting research in Malawi and Namibia. In addition, he speaks Otjiherero, a rare language spoken by small groups of people from those countries. Despite his successes in anthropology, Boone has decided to pursue a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, and will begin his pursuit of this degree at Auburn University in Alabama this upcoming fall. Boone has enjoyed being involved in intermural sports, the Diction Club, and being an active participant in his LDS campus wards. He loves spending long hours playing Boggle and eating cereal.

boone baby

John Frederick Bonney, an economics major, is the son of Philip and Georgia Bonney. He grew up in the US, Senegal, and Italy, and served a mission in the Netherlands. John has thoroughly enjoyed working with faculty at BYU, performing research in areas including behavioral, educational, and familial economics and teaching other students about applied econometric research. He is grateful to the economics faculty for their stellar instruction and would specifically like to thank Drs. Lars Lefgren, Joe Price, and James Cardon for allowing him to enhance his learning through research and teaching assistantships. While attending BYU, John has also completed four internships during which he designed market research and forecasted models currently in use by multiple Fortune 500 companies. Within the community, John has enjoyed serving through educational organizations like Alpha and Project Read. John is happily married to Amanda Bonney, who is graduating with a Master of Accountancy. After graduating, John will continue his passion for economic research as a pre-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago.

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Grayson Morgan, a geography major with a geospatial science and technology emphasis, is the second child born to Daniel and Michelle Morgan and grew up in Beaufort, South Carolina. Geography has surrounded him his whole life, but it wasn’t until his freshman year that he realized that it was exactly what he wanted to do. During his short time at BYU, Grayson has come to thoroughly enjoy his encounters with the various Geography Department Professors, secretaries, TAs, and fellow students. Certainly, much of his learning could not have taken place without their generous help and overwhelming kindness. His family means the world to him and he would like to thank his wife, parents, siblings, and extended family for their support. Grayson loves serving others, BYU sports, playing with his two-month-old daughter, and learning new things. He is excited to continue learning this fall as he begins a master’s degree and eventual PhD program in Global Information Systems/Remote Sensing at the University of South Carolina.

Morgan

Kaytlin Fay Anne Nalder, a history teaching major, grew up in Alberta, Canada. She is the sixth of seven children born to Byron and Deanne Nalder. Her love for history began in high school, but it wasn’t until she came to BYU that she considered majoring in it. While at BYU, Kaytlin was able to work as both a teaching and research assistant for Dr. Underwood, a job which was one of the highlights of her undergraduate experience. She was also the recipient of two history paper awards including the De Lamar and Mary Jensen Student Paper Award in European History and the Carol Cornwall Madsen Student Paper Award in Women’s History. Kaytlin enjoys skiing, reading, cooking, crocheting, and spending time with family and friends. She would like to thank all of the wonderful mentors and professors she was privileged to work with during her time at BYU, as well as her family and friends for their support and encouragement.

Nalder Picture

Marissa Skinner, a family life major with an emphasis in Human Development, is the daughter of Terry and Lottie Anderson. Although she grew up in Salt Lake City, she is a Cougar fan through and through. She discovered her passion for human development simply by taking a general class and has been hooked ever since. During her time at BYU, she served as a council member for Y-Serve, served a mission in the Philippines, and worked closely with many professors to conduct research projects regarding the topics of gender-socialization and moral development. Marissa also conducted two research projects that she presented at conferences on campus. She is so excited to implement what she has learned in her program and hopes she can make a difference because of it. She would like to thank her husband, family, and faculty members for pushing her out of her comfort zone and helping her reach her goals.

Marissa Skinner

Reed Lynn Rasband, a political science major, is the son of Kevin Rasband and Heather Watts and is the oldest of eight children. He grew up raising sheep in Brigham City, Utah and served a mission in Rancagua, Chile. As an undergraduate, he was able to carry out research for his Honors thesis in Thailand, additional research in the United Kingdom, and an internship with a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border. He worked for four years as a teaching and research assistant in the Political Science department. He has also served as the President of the BYU Political Affairs Society, as Editor-in-Chief for the undergraduate journal Sigma, and as a volunteer with two organizations serving the Utah County Latino community. This fall, he will begin work on a Ph.D. in political science, focusing on ethnic and migration politics in the hopes of finding ways to improve intergroup relations around the globe. He is incredibly grateful for the continuing support his family provides him, as well as for the excellent mentorship he has received from BYU faculty.

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Charlotte Esplin, a psychology major with a clinical emphasis, grew up in Basildon, Essex, UK. After serving a mission in the Utah St. George Temple Visitors’ Center, Charlotte came to BYU. The first to attend a university in her family, Charlotte has embraced academics and all that a university life has had to offer.  While at BYU, Charlotte has worked as a teaching assistant for multiple psychology classes, and has performed quantitative research into how personality variables affect marital outcomes with Dr. Scott Braithwaite. This research has resulted in various articles,

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Does Reducing Tuition Boost College Enrollment?

It seems intuitive that a tuition reduction in colleges would increase enrollment; however, BYU Economics professor Dr. Jeffrey Denning recently published a study showing that decreasing the cost of attendance boosted enrollment at community colleges but not necessarily at four-year universities. “Community colleges are a large part of the higher education system in the United States but have received relatively little research attention,” said Dr. Denning, “Voters interested in whether they should support proposals to reduce tuition may…find the study useful.”

Free Tuition Considerations

In 2015, former president Barack Obama decreed that he intended to make community college free, making it easier for people to get a college education. A Washington Post article that cited a previous study of Denning’s—published when he was a PhD student at University of Texas, Austin—as it applied to Obama’s plan said: “If Obama’s proposal is rolled out, Denning’s data [from a case study in Texas] suggest that there will be more people who choose community college over a four-year college, but perhaps not that many, and probably not to their detriment.” He found, however, that tuition cuts at community colleges slightly increased the number of people transferring to four-year colleges, and that the four-year college graduation rate rose slightly: “About a quarter of people helped by the discounted tuition ended up transferring and getting a four-year degree. This is evidence that there are talented students who would use community college as a springboard to a bachelor’s degree, if only they could afford to start down that path.”

Denning’s 2017 study is an expansion of his previous paper, studying data from Texas, but examines it from a slightly different angle and with slightly different findings, showing that lower community college tuition still increased transfer from community colleges to universities, but that there were a variety of mitigating, complicating factors that made it difficult to gauge the exact extent.

Why Does This Matter?

Many states are considering legislation that would enable this transition. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, eleven states are debating laws that would implement free community college tuition, and five either already have legislation passed or programs in place to implement it:

comm college

According to Dr. Denning, it is imperative that people understand the impact tuition reduction in community colleges can have: “Understanding the effects of community college tuition is important because policymakers must decide how to price community colleges…. Reductions in community college tuition [have] very different implications if [they]…increase overall college attendance or shuffle students from the four-year sector to the two-year sector.” Public policy and school attendance can be affected by the price of community college.

Criticism

Despite Obama’s support and Dr. Denning’s study, free community college tuition has been decried by critics. He says: “A common criticism of ‘free tuition’ programs is that they are just subsidizing students who would attend higher education without the subsidy. My study suggests that these sorts of subsidies are likely to target new students and students who would already be in the community college sector.” Instead of denigrating the higher education system, tuition reduction will boost enrollment.

Do you think community college tuition should be reduced?

Map courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislators

Is it Okay to Abstain from Voting?

Is abstaining from voting simply giving up? Although people may believe that abstaining from voting is wasting a chance to tell politicians what you think, BYU economist Dr. Joseph McMurray found the opposite to be true. In a recent study, he found that people can express themselves with parity through both voting and abstaining.

Votes

People use votes not as a tool for change, but as a “microphone for broadcasting their opinions,” said Dr. McMurray. For example, in last year’s presidential election, third party candidate Evan McMullin won 21.5% of Utah’s vote, according to the state’s Office of the Lieutenant Governor. Despite McMullin not winning the election, he served as an outlet for people to voice their disapproval of the major party candidates.

Even though votes for McMullin did not change the election results, Dr. McMurray illustrated their effect: “The biggest takeaway might be to push back on the assertion that votes have no impact when they fail to change the identity of the election winner: if office holders look at vote totals (which they clearly do) and adjust accordingly (which they plausibly might), every vote will have an impact.” 

Abstention

But what about abstention? How do people express themselves by not voting? According to Dr. McMurray, there are two reasons a person abstains:

  • People with hunches feel like they don’t have enough information to accurately vote.
  • People believe that the correct thing to do is stay in the political middle; their abstention communicates that they don’t like/support either character.

Abstention sends a different message than voting does. Dr. McMurray provided the following graph to show that the likelihood of a person voting depends on their confidence level.

voting as communicating

The x axis represents a person’s opinion about candidates while the y axis is their knowledge about them; Negative one on either axis represents an extremely liberal perspective, 0 represents political neutrality, and positive one represents extreme conservatism. The more a person knows about a candidate, and the more liberal they are, the more likely they would be to vote for extremely liberal candidate A, but if that person had a low opinion of candidate A, they might vote for candidate B in the hopes that such a vote will influence candidate A to modify their stance. By the same token, the more a person knows about a conservative candidate, and the more conservative they are, the more likely they would be to vote for candidate D, but if they had a low opinion of that candidate, they might vote for candidate C in hopes of influencing candidate D. But, when a person abstains, they may be saying that they think the correct political stance is somewhere between the two opposites, and that, even though they might have strong beliefs, they may still abstain. Dr. McMurray shows with this graph that abstention can be utilized to communicate political beliefs.

Other Forms of Involvement

The study also showed that there are other ways for people to be involved besides voting and abstention.  These “microphones,” as he referred to them, can include trying to persuade others to vote certain ways, writing letters, endorsing candidates, donating money, attending political rallies, and working campaigns. They are more likely to be utilized by those with extreme political ideologies on either side of the liberal/conservative spectrum, as this graph shows:

voting graph

Outcomes

Regarding the hoped-for outcomes of his study, Dr. McMurray says: “I  hope that [it] will convince them to also consider which electoral systems foster the most useful communication from voters to office holders.” He also hopes that looking at voter communication will provide a window into voter and candidate motivations, which in general are difficult to know, but which are hugely important for productive political analyses.

However, understanding voting is more complicated than those results would suggest. Dr. McMurray understands this and is exploring it in future papers by studying how “logical connections between issues may explain why dozens of multi-faceted issues [are] so frequently reduce[d] simply to a left-versus-right contest” and “political polarization.”

What do you think has a bigger impact: voting or abstention?

How to Invest as a College Student

Many college students dream of becoming multimillionaires who split their time between philanthropic efforts and exotic travel. But the trouble is that we’re not always adept at making or saving money. Few of us will end up as multimillionaires, but learning how to make smart investments will help us live comfortably and provide for our families’ needs. In fact, according to School of Family Life professor Jeff Hill, any student can invest, no matter what how tight a budget he or she keeps.

Investing Tips for Students

Take Advantage of Compound Interest

Professor Hill is an expert on saving and budgeting money. In fact, one of his undergraduate courses — SFL 260, Family Finance — teaches BYU students those important skills, and Dr. Hill even co-authored the textbook that the students use (Fundamentals of Family Finance: Living Joyfully within your Means). In a June 2015 BYU devotional, Dr. Hill told a story about four hypothetical students, who each had $10,000 and who each planned on retiring 50 years down the line.

 

Get rich slowly - Jeff Hill

The first student put his money in a strongbox, meaning he would still have $10,000 in 50 years. The second student put her money in a savings account, where compound interest would double its value every 25 years. She’d have $40,000 at the end of the 50-year period. The third student put his money in a government bond mutual fund, where it would double every 15 years to become almost $100,000 in a 50-year span. The fourth student put her money in a broad diversified stock market fund, where it would double every seven and a half years. In 50 years, the student would have more than $1,000,000.

“That is the miracle of compound interest,” Dr. Hill said. “When you consistently invest like the fourth student, you have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you will be able to retire in the future and that if an emergency happens now, you have a reserve.”

Start Now

Dr. Hill said that any student can invest, no matter what how tight a budget he or she keeps. Some mutual funds even cater to small investors who can only afford to put a little bit of money into the stock market. “I invite my students, and I invite you, to begin to invest now,” he concluded.

 

Take a Little Risk, and Diversify

To Dr. Hill’s tips, Economics professor Scott Condie, who has published papers describing the effects of ambiguity aversion (the preference of known risk over unknown risk) on investment. It’s common among many investors, driving them to have less diversified portfolios and to participate in the market less often. “Ambiguity averse investors will almost surely have their wealth converge to zero if there is a rational expected utility maximizing investor in the market,” Dr. Condie wrote. In other words, investors who remain sufficiently ambiguity averse will not survive.

So make sure that you have a diversified portfolio, that you participate actively in the stock market, and that you don’t entirely avoid risk. After all, what’s life without a little risk?

How do you save, budget, and spend your own money?

Take a minute to think about your own finances. If you’ve got any questions about personal finance or investing, let us know in the comments, and we’ll get a research-based response to you!

 

Econ Major Takes First Place in Wheatley Essay Contest, on the Religious Roots of Rights

“Religious freedom is the first freedom, not merely in order of mention in the Bill of Rights, but as the source of human rights and their best line of defense,” argued Jacob Fisher in an essay that won first-place winner in the Wheatley Institution‘s 10-Year Anniversary Essay Contest. “If we believe that our beloved democracy will simply persist without commitment to religious liberty, we are admiring the flower while killing the root.”

He continues:

Some voices question the validity of promoting religious liberty in modern America. Though it is prominently mentioned in the Bill of Rights, there are those who insist that religious freedom is a “redundant right” because its content, like religious speech and religious assembly, is already included in other enumerated rights. Far from being redundant, religious freedom is the root of all freedoms, because rights are a spiritual concept. Where does society obtain its knowledge of human rights? Do we find inalienable rights under the frontal lobe? Are they secreted by the liver? No. Rights are not a physical attribute of our bodies; any sense in which we believe human rights to be real must be a reflection of our spiritual understanding of human nature.

For limited government to work, personal behavior must be primarily governed by internal directives, rather than fear of legal enforcement. Religious institutions promote this voluntary right living. Those who support the project of limited government should be alarmed at America’s declining religiosity, because as religion recedes from public space, it leaves a gap that expansive State power is all too ready to fill.

Fisher, an undergraduate in the Department of Economics, wrote his essay, entitled “The Roots of Rights” in response to one of 10 prompts provided by the Wheatley Institution. His focus on rights forms part of a larger conversation within the college on a variety of rights, including civil, and the responsibilities and benefits that come with them.

The Wheatley Institution works to “enhance the academic climate and scholarly reputation of BYU, and to enrich faculty and student experiences, by contributing recognized scholarship that lifts society by preserving and strengthening its core institutions.”

Six Dating Tips From FHSS College Resources

If there is one thing on BYU students’ minds as much as academics, it’s dating. A 2014 study by School of Family Life professor Brian Willoughby found that: “young adults…expect to place a high importance on the marital role in their future…. [They] appear to be actively planning on placing time, energy and resources into an eventual spousal role.” Something young adults regard as paramount should not be taken lightly. Various Family, Home, and Social Sciences resources provide tips to aid them in their quest.

Tip #1: Enjoy Being Single

“Most young adults have a desire to marry and one day have a family of their own,” said student Shelece McAllister in a Forever Families article on dating and being happy while single. “However, the process of dating and seeking a marriage partner can be daunting, and sometimes finding your spouse can seem an impossible task. Don’t give up hope! It is possible to successfully navigate the wilderness of the dating world and make it to the promised land.” Student Josh Sorenson of the College’s Comprehensive Clinic advised others to take time to be grateful and optimistic; optimism is key to good emotional and physical health. “In general those with more positive emotions tend to have better health,” he said. “People who report more positive affect socialize more often and maintain more and higher-quality social ties.” Practicing gratitude and optimism will help people enjoy their lives and form more meaningful relationships.

couple

Tip #2: Learn How to Differentiate Between Promptings and Real Life

We’ve all heard the story about the man who received revelation revealing the woman he was to marry. But is that revelation always right? And, what do you do if it’s not? Professors Michael Goodman and Lauren Barnes discuss how to reconcile revelation with relationships in this article from The Daily Universe. “I believe that a lack of understanding [of] the role and interpretation of revelation leads some well-meaning people to mistaken assumptions about what their feelings mean,” said Dr. Goodman.

ring
Courtesy of The Daily Universe

Tip #3: Refine Your Search

“I fall in love with at least three girls every passing period. It happens all the time. I would be walking past the Brimhall building on my to the Harris Fine Arts Center and spot and a girl and say ‘Oh, I love her.’ Then 15 seconds later, I would spot another girl and say, ‘Oh, I love her.’ Then eventually, another girl passes and I see her and think, ‘I love her,’ said BYU Econ graduate Alex Doss. There is an economic theory that describes his experience and how he and others can refine their search for true love; it prescribes beginning by establishing one’s own goals and identity.

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Tip #4: Learn How to Have a Healthy Relationship

People know how to get into a relationship, but they don’t often know what to do once they’re in it. Sometimes, the relationship can turn abusive or just fizzle; there are so many ways a relationship can dissolve. However, when a person is in a relationship, whether or not it lasts, they need to ensure it is a healthy one. The Relate Institute provides some pointers on understanding what abuse is and how to combat it, and onlearning how to have fun.

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Tip #5: Debunk the Myth of Soulmates

“You can certainly see the appeal of a soul mate. Somewhere, someone is out there that is destined to be with you. Someone who will make your happier and more satisfied than anyone else in the world. With our lives full of stress and heartache, this beacon of hope can make us strive forward in relationship after relationship, seeking that one and only true love,” wrote a Relate Institute author. While the idea of a soulmate is enticing, it can lead us to miss out on so many potentially great relationships and opportunities to grow. The Relate Institute advises singles to not have a “grass is greener on the other side” mentality, among other things.

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Tip #6: Develop Your Sense of Self-Awareness and Self-Compassion

Dating can cause one to question one’s identity and value. It is important to cultivate self-awareness and self-compassion, since research shows that these practices can help in alleviating depression, and mediating shame, avoidance, self-criticism, or irrational beliefs. Among other strategies for such cultivation, psychology student Olivia Thompson advises practicing informal mindfulness in everyday life. Be a nonjudgmental observer of the present moment. Try to refrain from making quick value judgements. Periodically take a few conscious, deep breaths.

Dating is cardinal, yet very tricky. It can be done successfully, though, with help.

 

Are Vehicle Safety Inspections Useful? Fulton Winner Says No…

The improvements in car safety technology over the past 20 years have caused a number of lay people and government officials to question the efficacy of state-administered mandatory vehicle inspections. Only 16 of the U.S.’s 50 states require them, according to Economics student Alex Hoagland, and those that don’t have not noticed a corresponding rise in accident fatalities due to car failure. Hoagland won first place in his department for the presentation of his research results in BYU’s recent Fulton Conference, sponsored by the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.

Under the direction of Professor Lars Lefgren, he and his co-researcher Trevor Woolley had studied fatality rates in car accidents, by state, that were caused by car failure. Why did they choose this topic? He said, “In our training in the Econ program, Trevor and I felt that many of our economics projects lacked real investigative questions. Therefore, we decided to do something real, and reached out to our local representatives. We got in contact with Rep. Norm Thurston, who had previously become interested in the topic of vehicle safety inspections and was looking for some new research on the topic. He urged us to choose that as our topic for our Applied Econometrics class project, and so we did.”

The Research

Alex’s research contributes to a large body of research that shows no conclusive evidence exists between vehicle safety inspections and a reduction in mechanical-error car accidents. According to the Libertas Institute, a Utah think tank: “comprehensive studies show that there is no link between mandatory inspections and a reduction in vehicle failures or fatalities, so in absence of that justification, the program should not exist. And now it won’t, once the governor signs it.” Governor Gary Herbert signed the bill into law in March of 2017, and it will take effect in January 2018.

Senator Jim Dabakis corroborated this, saying: “The statistics from all of the states that have revoked and done away with these mandatory inspection systems; the statistics are out, there is no safety increase for the states that have this.”

econ 1st place

If these inspections aren’t helping, why do we have them? Alex theorizes that “…a lot of people have the preconceived notion that they must be useful for two reasons:

  1. we are all a little of the mindset that we are better safe than sorry, and
  2. we all assume that any existing government program must exist because it works.”

“However, if we stop to think about it, vehicle safety inspections are a byproduct of the 1930’s and 1940’s, when cars were at their worst. With advances in technology and increases in driver awareness, however, it seems obvious that what worked for the 30’s and 40’s wasn’t going to work now.”

He suggests that states should instead be focusing on things like distracted drivers, seat belts, and drunk driving. Alex hopes that through his research, governments will be able to make their roads safer: “We want to help state governments focus their attention on the areas where they can make the most impact in order to keep the roads, vehicles, and drivers safe.”

The Fulton Conference

Of his experience at the Fulton Conference, which is an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students in the college to share their research with members of the general public, Alex said: “[It] was an amazing opportunity to describe our research and receive feedback from our colleagues and professors. We also had a wonderful time surveying all of the other research going on in the school; it made me realize just how many bright and clever minds we have at this university working on complicated and important issues.”

Do you think safety inspections are effective?

Utah is Better at Getting People Out of Poverty, But Why? Our Economics Professors Answer.

Utah is a model to many other states of upward mobility, or the ability of people to get themselves out of poverty, according to a 2014 study done by four Harvard and University of California, Berkley analysts. Bloomberg View reporter Megan McArdle visited Utah in March of 2017 to discover its secrets to the American dream. Along the way, she met two BYU economists, who weighed in on Utah’s success.

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How Does Utah Do It?

She learned that The Church of Latter-day Saints leads the way in helping the impoverished rise to economic stability, if not success. She learned that Utahns emphasize education as a means of getting out of poverty. She learned, after meeting with government leaders and civil servants, that they form a “cheerfully effective bureaucracy.” And she saw that, in Utah, the community is heavily involved in helping others out of poverty, and Welfare Square is the center of the action. That is where volunteers provide help to those in need, but they help the needy help themselves.

Exposure to Different Social Networks in Schools

In the 2014 study she worked to understand, she learned that the inequality that best predicts low mobility is the distance between a community’s upper middle class and its poorest citizens. kids-girl-pencil-drawing-159823BYU economist David Sims has researched income mobility, and said that one of the reasons that Utah is better at it than other states is because its schools tend to introduce kids to different social networks, just by virtue of their school boundaries. This makes for a “leveling of the playing field,” so to speak. Says Sims: “What it’s especially good at is a sort of middle classness that’s so broad it’s almost infectious.”

Low Racial Diversity

A child born in Charlotte, North Carolina has a 6.8% less chance that one born in Utah to make it into the top quintile of income, if he or she was born into the lowest income quintile. McArdle theorizes that one of the reasons  has to do with Utah’s relatively low racial diversity:

“When the poor people are, by and large, the same race as the richer ones, people find it easier to talk about them the way they might talk about, well, family members — as folks who may have made some mistakes and started with some disadvantages, but also as folks who could be self-sufficient after a little help from an uncle or a sister. It’s a very different conversation from “victim”/“oppressor” and “us”/“them”: a conversation that recognizes that poor people often make choices that keep them in poverty, but also that the constraints of poverty, including the social environment of poor neighborhoods, make it very difficult to make another choice.”

High Rates of Religious Practice and Marriage

She, along with the authors of the study (Chetty et al), also attribute the higher rate of upward mobility to relatively high rates of religious practice. Chetty et al state that “religiosity is very strongly positively correlated with upward mobility, while crime rates are negatively correlated with mobility.” Since Utah’s population is predominately LDS, there is less alcohol sold and more marriages. These are factors that reduce poverty, say McArdle. Likewise, Kathryn Edin, at a recent Hinckley lecture on poverty, said that family instability and complexity are both consequences and causes of poverty, and that it is more common among low-income families. Chetty et al also suggest that having two married parents is a bedrock foundation of economic mobility. However, society is shifting away from marriage.  “Why don’t we use what we have?” asks BYU economist Joe Price, in response to that trend. pexels-photo-110204“You’ve got this institution that has worked for thousands of years, [but] there’s a reluctance to use the word ‘marriage’ in public policy.”

Utah’s relative success at providing opportunities for getting out of poverty isn’t due to any heavy-handed government policy or large amounts of per-pupil spending on education. It is due, not only to the factors already listed, but also:

  • an aggressive war on homelessness by its government,
  • a brand of “compassionate conservativism that went hand-in-hand with an unusually functional bureaucracy”
  • the Mormon welfare network, which strongly encourages emergency preparedness, is staffed by an “unrivaled system of highly-organized community volunteer work,” and is structured so that recipients of financial help are led back to self-sufficiency.

What Does This Mean for Other States and People?

Beyond the reasons for Utah’s relative success in this area, though, there are bigger questions, the biggest of which is whether or not other states can replicate what Utah has done. She says:

This does raise some questions about the viability of Utah’s “compassionate conservative” model outside the state. The vast welfare infrastructure from the Mormon Church naturally makes it easier to have smaller government. Perhaps that could be replicated by other communities. But the values of the Mormon Church may create a public that simply needs less help. That’s harder for another community to imitate. I’m not sure this key ingredient is available in a secular version; I think religion might only come in religion flavor.

I really, really wanted to find pieces of Utah’s model that could somehow be exported. Price gave me some hope. The Mormon Church, he says, has created “scripts” for life, and you don’t need religious faith for those; you just need cultural agreement that they’re important. We have lots of secular authorities who could be encouraging marriage, and volunteering, and higher levels of community involvement of all kinds. Looking at the remarkable speed with which norms about gay marriage changed, thanks in part to an aggressive push on the topic from Hollywood icons, I have to believe that our norms about everyone else’s marriages could change too, if those same elites were courageous enough to recognize the evidence, and take a stand.

 

 

 

 

 

Alumni Brigitte Madrian to Speak on Household Financial Decision-Making

Keeping track of one’s monthly expenses can perhaps seem a fruitless task in light of the often meager incomes that college students receive. But it is during those college years when mastering one’s finances is so crucial, both because it enables them to spread those meager incomes farther and to learn and implement money management skills that will provide the basis for a happy family life after college. Whether you are an FHSS student, faculty, or alumni, financial awareness is crucial to your peace and security, now and in the future. On October 13th, alum Brigitte Madrian will be speaking on how to make smart financial decisions, and how to avoid common financial mistakes. All are invited.

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Who is Brigitte Madrian?

Doctor Madrian is respected as an authority on the matter of household finances. She graduated from BYU with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics, and went on to obtain a PhD in the same subject from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has since been on the faculty of several universities and authored a book, as well as a plethora of studies in peer-reviewed academic journals. Madrian co-directs the Household Finance working group of the National Bureau of Economic Research.  Today, she is the Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Legislation regarding employer-sponsored 401(k) plans been impacted because of Madrian’s research, according to Ideas42, a nonprofit working to apply cutting-edge behavioral insights to some of the world’s toughest social problems. Since her days as a cougar, Madrian used skills gained from her education and research to help many people make smarter financial decisions. Whether you are an E-con major, or just trying to be the master of your money, there is something in her lecture for you.

Are you in control of your money, or is your money in control of you?

 

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Brigitte Madrian at a Cougar football game with her family

 

Alumni Spotlight: Randall Lewis and Big Data

randall_3cropped_headshot_blur-941x1024If you’ve ever googled or binge-watched  something, or read news online, then you’ve more than likely used Google, Netflix, or Yahoo. Other than being some of the most frequently-used apps and sites in the “interverse,” they have another thing in common: Randall Lewis. The BYU graduate has worked at each of these tech companies. Currently employed at Netflix, he statistically analyzes data he has gathered from sales both offline and online, searches, clicks, page views, and survey outcomes. big-data-1667212__180In his own words: “As an applied econometrician, I use causal statistics to extract valuable insights from large data sets. In today’s digital economy, this requires inventing new types of measurement systems and cleverly adapting econometric algorithms to efficiently perform advanced analyses at scale (i.e., causal machine learning).”

With a job description like that, it is no surprise that Lewis has a doctorate in Economics, with a focus on econometrics and industrial organization, from MIT. It’s also no surprise that he has won several related award, which include:

  • BYU Hinckley Presidential Scholar and Valedictorian, with a double major in mathematics and economics
  • MIT Presidential Fellow
  • Yahoo! Superstar Runner­Up, Nominee

While attending BYU, he was an economics programmer/researcher for a year and a half. This was followed by a similar post at MIT and a pre-doctoral job at Yahoo as a research assistant. After two years, Lewis was promoted to Economic Research Scientist at Yahoo upon completing his PhD. write-593333__180After four years at Yahoo, he moved to Google to work as an Economics Research Scientist. Three and a half years later, Lewis was hired by Netflix for a similar role.

Randall Lewis is one of a growing number of economists who are breaking the mold of the job type economists are usually hired to do, which is to research exchange rates and recessions. Today, according to the New York Times: “businesses are studying the data trails of consumer behavior to help digital companies make smart decisions that strengthen their online marketplaces in areas like advertising, movies, music, travel and lodging.” Lewis is part of this new wave of corporate economic research that is revolutionizing the way tech companies market their products.

If you are an alumni of BYU’s School of Family Life, or any of the nine other departments in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, we’d like to hear your story! Please share with us your accomplishments, your stories of service and inspiration. Share them at Rise.byu.edu.