Our 2019 Year in Review series of lists – which began with 8 Things We Love About the Keller Center” – continues with a look at Harris faculty research that provides new evidence-based insights into important policy questions.

Research is essential to the work being done at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy – and 2019 was no exception. Fueled by the University of Chicago’s commitment to rigorous inquiry and Harris Public Policy’s focus on social impact, the research that Harris faculty released in 2019 helped provide new insights into public policy. Here are just a few:

1. Ariel Kalil and Susan Mayer on goal-setting, feedback, and reminders

The Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab – led by Professor Ariel Kalil and Professor Emeritus Susan Mayer – found that using text messages to help parents set goals for reading to their children and to remind parents of their goals can double the amount of time that parents of Head Start children spend reading to their children using a digital library. 

The story landed on the front page of USA Today.

2. Christopher Berry and Anthony Fowler on the importance of coaches

Professor Christopher Berry and Associate Professor Anthony Fowler analyzed hundreds of seasons of data, including wins and losses and sports scores and statistics, and estimated that coaches account for 20 percent to 30 percent of the variation in team outcomes.

"Although virtually every aspect of player performance has been examined since the recent emergence of sports analytics, we wanted to bring the same level of rigor to coaches as there is for everyone else on the field at a major sporting event,” said Fowler.

3. Jeffrey Grogger on speech patterns

Jeff Grogger
Harris Public Policy Professor Jeffrey Grogger

Professor Jeffrey Grogger’s research showed that speech patterns, especially among the Black community and white Southerners, can have an effect on wages

“While more research needs to be done, it appears that since listeners generally prefer mainstream to nonmainstream speech, this results in higher wages for mainstream-spoken workers in highly interactive sectors,” said Grogger.

4. Damon Jones on workplace wellness programs

Damon Jones
Harris Public Policy Associate Professor Damon Jones

Associate Professor Damon Jones researched workplace wellness programs. Jones’ work explores who is most likely to participate in workplace wellness programs and also examines how workplace wellness programs might cause changes to medical spending, health behaviors, well-being, and employee productivity. 

We find that employees who chose to participate in our wellness program were less likely to be in the bottom quartile of the income distribution and already had lower medical spending and healthier behaviors than nonparticipants prior to our intervention… An improved understanding of participation decisions would help wellness programs better target these individuals,” Jones said.

Harris’ dean, Katherine Baicker, has also studied the issue.

5. Adam Zelizer on how politicians use formal and informal cues from others to vote on important issues

Harris Public Policy Assistant Professor Adam Zelizer

Assistant Professor Adam Zelizer examined cue-taking in state legislators. With thousands of policy proposals before them during a legislative session, lawmakers are unable to fully digest all of the relevant data on every topic, and so they take cues from their peers, other lawmakers, and experts to decide how to vote. Zelizer studied what that means for legislators' decision-making.

“[On] average, cues complement, rather than substitute for, policy information from other sources of expertise within the legislature,” Zelizer said. 

6. Anthony Fowler on mobile voting

Harris Public Policy Associate Professor Anthony Fowler

Associate Professor Anthony Fowler’s research showed that the ability to vote with a mobile device increased turnout by three to five percentage points in the 2018 federal election in West Virginia, suggesting that mobile voting has the potential to significantly boost turnout in future elections.

“Policymakers must consider the potential voting online offers to increasing the number of voters participating in elections while taking seriously the potential security risks,” said Fowler. 

7. Daniel Moskowitz on electoral competition and turnout in U.S. House Elections

Harris Public Policy Assistant Professor Daniel Moskowitz

Assistant Professor Daniel Moskowitz used turnout records to study how district competitiveness affects voter turnout, finding there to be almost no competitiveness-turnout relationship.

“Although past cross-sectional research reports a link between competitiveness and turnout in House elections, we demonstrate that residents in competitive districts differ markedly from those in uncompetitive districts along a number of observable characteristics correlated with turnout, and we argue that this induces bias in most cross-sectional estimates.”

8. Alicia Menendez on understanding gender inequality through storytelling

Research Associate Professor Alicia Menendez
Harris Public Policy Research Associate Professor Alicia Menendez

Research Associate Professor Alicia Menendez studied story circle sessions for young women in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India to understand the ways gender inequality persists in northern India.

“In response to prompts about daily challenges, their futures, and the role that gender plays in their lives, young women told stories of societal norms restricting their movement; experiences of harassment and assault; and familial, social, and economic challenges to furthering their education – all of which shape their future life directions and opportunities for employment, education, and marriage.”