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Some Ideas for Honors Thesis Projects

This page contains a collection of ideas that may be useful starting points for honors theses.

Disclaimer: I haven't thought about these ideas carefully, so they may not be good ideas. Or they may have been done (note the date next to each idea). Or they may not be doable. Or boring, or fundamentally mistaken, or any of the other things that tend to derail research projects.

Don't take the ideas as given. Use them to get started thinking about a set of questions.


College qualities over time

Are college qualities highly persistent over time? Do colleges move around in the quality distribution?

Which colleges move up and why?

College Stratification

Hoxby (2009) shows that colleges became more stratified in the 1960s. Her data end in 2006. They are also not publicly available.

Moreover, Hoxby's data show that initially highly selective colleges became more selective over time and vice versa. A different, but related, question is: did colleges become more homogeneous? How did the CDF of college "qualities" change over time? What happened more recently?

Possible data sources: IPEDS (since about 1985) and HERI freshmen surveys.

Cross-country Income Differences

Do immigrant earnings rise with source country GDP?

But see JOEG 2018/139 (never published)

Occupational downgrading of immigrants (2020)

Idea: If immigrants from poor countries have less hc (given schooling), they should be employed in jobs that require less hc. Those are jobs held by natives with lower schooling.

Quantify this:

Construct avg native schooling by [occupation, industry].

For each source/host pair: compute the average gap between immigrant and native schooling in [occ, ind] cells. This is a measure of occupational downgrading.

To what extent is the wage gap between immigrants and similar natives explained by this?

Jones (2014) has strong claims about downgrading. How do those hold up?

The task content of immigrant jobs (2020)

Todd Schoellman may have done this.


Hsieh/Klenow for Immigrants

Hsieh et al 2019 show that women and black men were underrepresented in certain occupations in the 1960s. Over time, the gaps diminished, suggesting that the allocation of talent improved.

Is there evidence for a similar convergence among immigrants?

How important are inheritances (2020)

Using the SCF, calculate the fraction of wealth inherited by the rich.

Feiveson and Sabelhaus 2018 do something like this. They conclude that the rich likely inherit a large fraction of their wealth. Those calculations are quite sensitive to the assumed real interest rates.

Sources of earnings "shocks" (2021)

Administrative data show that earnings "shocks" are asymmetric (frequent small positive and rare large negative shocks).

What observable events are associated with earnings shocks?

What fraction of the "shocks" are due to

  • employer changes including layoffs
  • occupation changes
  • big changes in hours worked
  • family events (e.g., having children)

The goal is to inform how one could model earnings shocks (in structural models).

How predictable are lifetime earnings? (2020)

It is fairly easy to get a lower bound on predictability. Take a panel dataset. Use half to fit a statistical model. Use the other half to perform out of sample prediction.

Specification search is a problem.

Skill premium variation across U.S. states / cities

Dispersion supposedly has decreased. Could one explore empirically possible explanations?

This is very open ended without a clear hypothesis or method.

Giannone, Elisa. n.d. “Skill-Biased Technical Change and Regional Convergence”