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Brian Solomon’s Guide To The Stars: Economics Professor Bruce Sacerdote ‘90

Dartmouth has a wealth of experienced professors who lead their respective research fields, while also working closely with students — inspiring them in the classroom and leading them in laboratory environments. And while at Dartblog we talk frequently about problems that need to be fixed at the College, there are still many bright spots. Our professors deserve more recognition for their achievements. As such, this is one of a series of posts that shines a spotlight on the best professors in Hanover:

Bruce Sacerdote.jpgBruce Sacerdote ‘90 is the Richard S. Braddock 1963 Professor in Economics at the College. An alumnus and now professor for nearly 20 years, he has explored the economic and personal impact of education, crime, and social interaction.

Sacerdote fell in love with the College after a winter visit as a high school junior. Econ hooked him from his first Intro to Macroeconomics course, and by the time he graduated in 1990, he was a star with High Honors in Economics and Salutatorian status. After some time as a management consultant, he went to Harvard, where he earned his Ph.D. in economics.

At Harvard, Sacerdote analyzed data on human behavior changes in response to events or policy changes. One paper he co-authored, Crime and Social Interactions, examined massive data files on crime and arrests product by the FBI and police departments to learn how crime propagates within a city or area due to social peer effects from one person to the next. It remains his most cited paper, and he has continued to research the topic. Sacerdote’s dissertation, funded by the National Science Foundation, involved a survey of hundreds of people who had played and won the Massachusetts State Lottery. His results showed how the extra income from lottery winnings influenced everything from savings and large purchases to labor supply.

Sacerdote has continued to work with data sets that allow him to examine clear before-and-after test cases on behavior. Another of his most-cited papers (overall, Sacerdote has more than 11,000 individual citations and an h-index of 33, according to Google Scholar) concerns the random assignment of roommates at the College. Peer Effects with Random Assignment proved what many people may know intuitively: it matters who is assigned to be your roommate. Sacerdote found that roommates affect both academic effort and social interaction. There is an observable difference in GPA that occurs at the individual room level, and both room- and dorm-mates influence the decision to join a fraternity. That research has been discussed in The New York Times and elsewhere (here and here).

In other papers, Sacerdote has looked at Korean-American adoptees who were randomly assigned to families in the U.S., and what impact their families and environments had on their lives. Today he’s looking at the effect random personnel assignment to Army bases has on children moving with their parents.

Sacerdote returned to Hanover in 1998, was tenured in 2003, and he became a full professor in 2005. In the spring, he’ll teach three sections of Econ 46 Topics in Money and Finance — a seminar that covers topics including financial institutions, capital markets, monetary policy, and debt and deficits. In the course students design and execute their own data-intensive research project. Watch Sacerdote discuss the recent financial crisis here:

Meanwhile, Sacerdote has shifted his research focus to burrow in on education. One recent paper looked at what factors induce high school seniors to apply to college. He showed that in-person coaching had the biggest impact on students. National education non-profits are currently looking to implement policy based on those findings. Right now he’s researching the effect on a student of winning a major college scholarship, and he is running a randomized control trial to text community college students to remind them to file financial aid forms.


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