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Econ890: Topics in Income and Wealth Distribution

Spring 2021. Prof. Lutz Hendricks. UNC

Course Description

Econ890 is a graduate course aimed at PhD students in their second year or higher. It is part of the macro field but may be of interest to students specializing in public policy or even applied micro.

The course will focus on wealth and income inequality, mostly within countries. The objectives will be:

  1. Learn about state of the art research in the area of inequality and perhaps cross-country income differences.
  2. Develop ideas for research projects in the area.


The class meets MW 9:05-10:20 in Carolina 104. The sakai site mainly holds material that should not be visible to the public.

The organization will be similar to a reading group.

There will be a few lectures to provide background material and review classic papers from the literature. But most of the course will consist of student presentations that would be structured like discussions at a conference. The assumption is that everyone has read the papers discussed in each class meeting (probably 4 papers a week). The presenters offer insights into what makes each paper tick, what is compelling and what is not. Much of the time will be spent on simply discussing each paper.

Over time, students come up with project ideas. Once a promising idea is identified, each student develops it as far as possible. This will at least entail placing the idea into the context of the literature, identifying the contribution, and outlining a model. The end product would be a fully written up research proposal.

At various points during the class, students present their project ideas and receive comments from the class.

In the past, this course covered computational methods as well. I have come to the conclusion that mixing these with the economic material is not productive. The department needs a dedicated course on computing structural models, but Econ890 is not that. (But, this too, is up for discussion.)


Grades will be based on:

  • class presentations (35%)
  • class participation (40%)
  • research proposal(s) (25%)

Student Presentations

A typical class will discuss two papers; so we have about 35 minutes per paper.

The discussion will be structured around a presentation that should be structured like a discussion at a conference.

The presentation should accomplish the following:

  • Briefly summarize what the paper does (assume everyone has read it). Focus on key features of the analysis (no details).
  • Comment on what drives results / key assumptions.
  • Identify weaknesses / opportunities for improvements.

Send me your slides a few days before the presentation.

Examples of what good discussions look like:

Research proposal(s)

At various points in time, students are expected to present ideas for possible research papers.

At the end of the course, one of these ideas will be written up as a proposal. This will look a bit like the introduction to a paper:

  • state the question
  • explain why it is important
  • explain how it contributes to the literature
  • explain the approach and why it is reasonable
  • sketch a model and possible data sources
  • outline possible conclusions / the paper's message.


The outline links to the papers that we will discuss.

The exact dates will be filled in as students sign up for presentations.