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The Digest

A free monthly publication featuring non-technical summaries of research on topics of broad public interest
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Pharmaceutical companies have succeeded in boosting demand for high-priced brand-name drugs by offering coupons to offset patient cost-sharing. While consumers who qualify for these coupons enjoy immediate benefits, the practice has frustrated insurers’ efforts to manage costs and has increased US drug spending, according to a new study. In How Do Copayment Coupons Affect Branded Drug Prices and Quantities Purchased? (NBER Working Paper 29735), Leemore Dafny, Kate...

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In Machine-Learning the Skill of Mutual Fund Managers (NBER Working Paper 29723) Ron Kaniel, Zihan Lin, Markus Pelger, and Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh use a neural network to predict mutual fund performance. They estimate relationships among a large set of fund attributes to identify the US mutual funds with the best relative performance. They apply their model to predict the best-performing decile of funds each month and to compute portfolio weights for different funds that...
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Wars and other periods of conflict typically heighten political uncertainty, but US stock volatility is 33 percent lower than usual in such times. A new study, Stock Volatility and the War Puzzle (NBER Working Paper 29837), proposes to explain this long-standing conundrum. War causes the defense share of government spending to rise, sometimes dramatically. This makes the future profitability of a wide swath of companies more predictable and, thus, less volatile,...
Why the Industrial Revolution succeeded in generating sustained economic growth has long been a subject of analysis and discussion. The burst of innovation that took place in Britain in the late 1700s had historical precedents, but they all petered out without producing a dramatic economic transformation. In The Rise of the Engineer: Inventing the Professional Inventor during the Industrial Revolution (NBER Working Paper 29751), W. Walker Hanlon finds that...
Office and administrative support positions grew from less than 12 percent of US employment in 1950 to a peak of about 17 percent by 1980. By 2019, mass adoption of personal computers had returned the administrative support share to the level of the 1950s. In Computerization of White Collar Jobs (NBER Working Paper 29866) Marcus Dillender and Eliza Forsythe investigate how the increase in computer use changed hiring requirements and job content. Contrary to popular...
States vary widely in the COVID-19 vaccination rates of their populations, from 48 percent in Alabama to 77 percent in Vermont between November 2021 and February 2022. In Vaccination Rates and COVID Outcomes across US States (NBER Working Paper 29884), Robert J. Barro estimates the effectiveness of vaccines in reducing negative COVID outcomes from this state-level variation. He leverages Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on vaccination rates, cases,...
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