Princeton professors (and husband and wife) Angus Deaton and Anne Case have made headlines recently. He won the Nobel Prize. She was the first author, along with her husband, of a study showing that the death rates of middle-aged white Americans are rising, even as those rates are falling in other countries.
But the headlines didn’t always give the proper credit to him and her:
Another Princeton University economist has won a Nobel Prize. This year it was Angus Deaton, a member of the Princeton faculty since 1983.
In announcing the award, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited three primary questions on which Deaton’s work has centered.
“How do consumers distribute their spending among different goods? Answering this question is not only necessary for explaining and forecasting actual consumption patterns, but also crucial in evaluating how policy reforms, like changes in consumption taxes, affect the welfare of different groups. In his early work around 1980, Deaton developed the Almost Ideal Demand System – a flexible, yet simple, way of estimating how the demand for each good depends on the prices of all goods and on individual incomes. His approach and its later modifications are now standard tools, both in academia and in practical policy evaluation.
“How much of society’s income is spent and how much is saved? To explain capital formation and the magnitudes of business cycles, it is necessary to understand the interplay between income and consumption over time. In a few papers around 1990, Deaton showed that the prevailing consumption theory could not explain the actual relationships if the starting point was aggregate income and consumption. Instead, one should sum up how individuals adapt their own consumption to their individual income, which fluctuates in a very different way to aggregate income. This research clearly demonstrated why the analysis of individual data is key to untangling the patterns we see in aggregate data, an approach that has since become widely adopted in modern macroeconomics.
“How do we best measure and analyze welfare and poverty? In his more recent research, Deaton highlights how reliable measures of individual household consumption levels can be used to discern mechanisms behind economic development. His research has uncovered important pitfalls when comparing the extent of poverty across time and place. It has also exemplified how the clever use of household data may shed light on such issues as the relationships between income and calorie intake, and the extent of gender discrimination within the family. Deaton’s focus on household surveys has helped transform development economics from a theoretical field based on aggregate data to an empirical field based on detailed individual data.”
Earlier this year Anne Case, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton, published with her husband, Angus Deaton, a study on mortality based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Suicide, Age, and Wellbeing: An Empirical Investigation” is due to be published in Insights in the Economics of Aging from the University of Chicago Press.
The paper’s abstract reads:
“Suicide rates, life evaluation, and measures of affect are all plausible measures of the mental health and wellbeing of populations. Yet in the settings we examine, correlations between suicide and measured wellbeing are at best inconsistent. Differences in suicides between men and women, between Hispanics, blacks, and whites, between age groups for men, between countries or US states, between calendar years, and between days of the week, do not match differences in life evaluation. By contrast, reports of physical pain are strongly predictive of suicide in many contexts. The prevalence of pain is increasing among middle-aged Americans, and is accompanied by a substantial increase in suicides and deaths from drug and alcohol poisoning. Our measure of pain is now highest in middle age — when life evaluation and positive affect are at a minimum. In the absence of the pain epidemic, suicide and life evaluation are likely unrelated, leaving unresolved whether either one is a useful overall measure of population wellbeing.”
In their conclusion, Case and Deaton write:
“Age patterns of suicide are different for men and for women, and have changed differentially over time. The most important facts about suicide over the last decade is that for white non-Hispanics, both men and women, (a) suicide is rising overall, which is driven by (b) increasing suicide rates in middle age, offset by (c) falling suicide rates among the elderly. The suicide epidemic in middle age is the tip of an iceberg of mortality and morbidity, especially pain, among middle-aged Americans. In the Gallup data, “pain yesterday” is now higher in middle age than in old age. We do not know what is driving this epidemic, but it is showing up in at least some of the SWB [self-reported wellbeing] indicators, including low positive affect in middle age, and perhaps even as some of the dip in middle age life evaluation, the presence of which we find little evidence of prior to the last decade. Our tentative hypothesis is that pain is an underlying fundamental cause here, and that it is driving changes in both suicides and SWB.”
In an op-ed in the November 11 New York Times, Justin Wolfers explored the tendency of journalists to undercredit the female halves of husband-and-wife economist teams. Wolfers, an economics professor at the University of Michigan, gave several recent examples, including that of Angus Deaton and Anne Case. His column is excerpted below.
Men’s voices tend to dominate economic debate, although perhaps this is shaped by how we talk about the contributions of female economists. This is easiest to see in how we discuss the work of economist power couples.
Remembering the journalistic cliche that one is an example, two is a coincidence and three is a trend, I figured it worth exploring how female economists are treated. . .
The latest edition of the Slate political podcast, “Political Gabfest,” featured a discussion about the headline-grabbing research by Anne Case and Angus Deaton that found that the death rates of middle-aged white Americans were increasing, even as death rates were falling in other countries. Slate’s David Plotz described the research as having been written by “Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton and Anne Case, who is his wife, and also a researcher.” Likewise, Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times Sunday Review, described this as research by “Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton and his wife, Anne Case.”
Ms. Case is far more than a wife and a researcher. She is a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton, one of the leading health economists of her generation, and has been elected a fellow of the Econometric Society. She is also the first author of the mortality study.
And just as Mr. Plotz and Mr. Douthat confused the author ordering, so too did Martin Sandbu, an economics columnist for the Financial Times, as did The New York Times’s Gina Kolata, who called this research “the Deaton-Case analysis.” This may reflect the journalistic tendency to follow the more exciting narrative, and Mr. Deaton’s recent Nobel Prize certainly made him a newsworthy figure. But even Paul Krugman, who made his reputation as an economist rather than as a journalist, and who spent many years as a colleague of Ms. Case and Mr. Deaton at Princeton, made the same mistake in his column in the New York Times.
The accumulation of these slights suggests that even the world’s best female economists are given second billing too often. And none of this is intended to impugn the motives of any economic commentator. Rather, I suspect that there’s a simple unconscious bias at work here. Close your eyes for a moment, and picture an economist. Odds are you pictured a man. (Chances are, he was also white, most likely middle-aged, and probably fairly confident.) This same reflex makes it easier to recall those who fit this pre-conceived idea of what an economist looks like.
Of course, I have an interest in this, as I’m also partnered with a fellow economist. And so I can add one more story to this list. Anne-Marie Slaughter [the former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and current president of the New America Foundation — and half of an academic power couple as wife of Andrew Moravcsik, a politics professor at Princeton] published a widely read article in the Atlantic on “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” My better half, Betsey Stevenson, was pleased to see our joint research described in the article, but was chagrined to discover Ms. Slaughter had demoted her from first to second author on the paper. At the time Ms. Slaughter’s article was published, Betsey was serving as chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, where she had developed a much larger footprint on work-family balance issues than I ever had.
It left Betsey to suggest — only half-jokingly — that the reason women can’t have it all is because even leading feminists don’t give them credit.