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Raj Chetty and Ezra Klein on culture, communities and representation

Ezra Klein: I think we’re very used to thinking about two levels of context that really matter here – what’s happening in your family, like “Is your dad or mum an inventor? Are your parents married?” and then what’s happening in government policy. And it seems to me that what you show is that this mediating space of your direct community is incredibly, incredibly important, and prevailing norms in it are incredibly important, totally separate from what’s happening in your household specifically.

Raj Chetty: That’s exactly right. That’s very well put. One of the strongest patterns that emerges in all these studies is that exposure matters, as a child – what you’re exposed to, what you’re around in terms of career pathways, in terms of getting involved in crime, in terms of when you get married, who you get married to, what types of occupations you pursue.

In every one of these dimensions we see that you tend to follow what was going on around you when you grew up in a very precise way. So just to flesh that out that inventors example … we find that not only is the field in which you innovate sensitive – highly related to where you grew up – but that actually occurs in a gender-specific manner, so if women grow up in an area where there are more female inventors in a particular field, they are more likely to become inventors themselves in that field. But if there were more male inventors in that area it has no impact at all.

So these patterns are very specific … and they reflect the fact that children absorb what’s in their family, in their surroundings, all of which might ultimately be shaped by government policy, but that really seems to be the ultimate critical thing that is leading to different trajectories in different places.

Raj Chetty on The Eza Klein Show: Can Raj Chetty save the American dream?

See more here (“Lost Einsteins” – article in The Atlantic), here (research summary and here (full paper).

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