(Fall 2013)

Professor Kevin Lang


For the review sheet for the first midterm click here

For last year’s first midterm click here
For the review sheet for the second midterm click here

For last year’s second midterm click here
For the review sheet for the final click

For last year’s final click here


For information on short paper click here

Office hours: M 2:00-3:30, W 10:30-12:00


Office address: Room 302A. 264 Bay State Road


Telephone: x5694




Secretary: Norma Hardeo


Jump to:
Preliminary Schedule and Readings


Overview: This course is an upper-division economics course designed to help you use your knowledge of economics and statistics to examine important policy issues. The course covers both theory (why is there discrimination? how can discrimination persist in a competitive labor market?) and empirical work (what explains long-run trends in poverty rates?). The goal of this course, however, is not to resolve these issues but to demonstrate their complexity. You may leave this course feeling that you know less about poverty and discrimination than you did when you began the course. In many ways the goal of this class is to help students to “think like an economist,” but the readings and discussion will not be limited to economics. Above all, I hope that this course will help students to develop as rigorous thinkers and precise presenters of their ideas. By the end of the course, students will be stronger analytical and critical thinkers and will be much more adept at assessing the meaning and limits of arguments based on statistics.


Prerequisites: The formal requirements for this course are EC201 (or EC211) and EC305. Students have taken this course without those prerequisites, and I will cover the necessary theory in class. However, the course will generally be easier for those who have already taken intermediate economics. I strongly recommend against trying to take this course unless you have had at least introductory microeconomics. Students who have not taken intermediate microeconomics may feel the need to do some remedial reading.


We will also make extensive use of statistical data. Most of the issues concerning statistical analysis that are covered in this course are generally not covered in statistics courses. However, students who have not taken EC305 or the equivalent often feel that they would have been more comfortable with the new material had they taken a statistics course. In previous years, I spent much of two lectures going over key concepts from statistics. Two hours was simultaneously too fast for those with no familiarity with the concepts and too slow for those who needed only bits and pieces of the review. Therefore, I have prepared a brief outline with links to various video clips covering the important elements of statistics. I encourage you to make sure that you have a good grasp of the material covered there,


Texts: The required text is:


Kevin Lang, Poverty and Discrimination, Princeton University Press, 2007.


Additional readings: There is a moderate amount of reading for this class beyond the textbook. I have included a link to on-line materials on the course page. Some readings will (I hope) help you come up with a topic for the short paper. Others contain important supplemental information that I cannot cover in class.


Course Web Page: The material for this class (this syllabus, readings, course schedule, announcements) will be posted on the course web page at I will use Blackboard only for making your grades available to you, for posting material restricted to the BU community and as a portal for you to submit the short policy paper.


Class participation

Credit is given for participation, not for showing up


In-class assignments

There will be a variety of short (@ 5- minute) unannounced exercises


1st midterm exam:

October 8


2nd midterm exam:

November 12


Short paper:

Due: December 5, 9:00 AM


Final exam:  

Monday, December 16, 3:00-5:00



Although I take attendance, showing up does not give you credit towards class participation although if you do not show up, you cannot get credit for in-class exercises. I use the attendance information in case your parents call the university wondering whether something has happened to you. Quality and quantity of comments count. The in-class exercises will be collected and a sample will be graded.


I reserve the right to alter the weighting in order to take account of exceptional circumstances.


Many issues reappear throughout the semester so early classes are still important for the second midterm and final exams. The final will be more heavily weighted towards the last part of the course but will nevertheless be cumulative. You are welcome to bring calculators to exams. Cell phones, tablets and similar devices must be turned off and stored out of sight.


All exams are required. No makeup midterm exams will be given. If you miss an exam, you will receive a grade of zero. The only exceptions will be for a verified family emergency or illness/injury. If you miss a midterm exam for a legitimate reason, your remaining exams will be reweighted appropriately.


If you have three final exams on the same day, you are entitled to an alternate time for any exam not at the time scheduled by the registrar. If all exams are at the time set by the registrar, then the exam scheduled for 12:30-2:30 must be offered to you at an alternate time.  If neither of these conditions applies, talk to me and the other professors will in advance of the end of the semester.


It is your responsibility to plan your travel ahead around exams dates. In particular, the date of the final exam is determined by the registrar and cannot be changed for any reason. If you miss the final for a legitimate reason, I will schedule a make-up exam at a time when all students taking the make-up are available. This will probably not be before the second week of spring semester.


I recently discovered that I am mildly face-blind, which means that I have unusual difficulty remembering faces. In order to make my life easier and, in particular, to make it easier for me to grade class participation, starting with the fifth class meeting, you should choose a permanent seat for the rest of the semester.


Policy on Cheating: You are responsibility for reading and understanding the Boston University Academic Conduct Code, which you find at Academic misconduct involves not only direct cheating on tests, but some more subtle acts as well. All work handed in for credit must be your own, with the exception that you are encouraged to discuss your papers with each other but must turn in separate work demonstrating independent thought and investigation. I will report cases of suspected academic misconduct to the Dean's Office. In addition to any punishment determined by the College, you will receive a 0 for the test or assignment.




Please note that the dates on which material will be covered are approximate. Topics may take more or less time than I anticipate, and I may decide to change the order in which we address various topics. Exams will cover material that has been covered in the actual lectures regardless of whether we are ahead of or behind the projected schedule.


P&D refers to Poverty and Discrimination.


You may need to be logged on to the Boston University network to access some of the links.





Introduction/Why policy analysts disagree

P&D chapter 1, pp. 1-13


Retention in Grade/ Who is poor (theory)?

P&D chapter 1, remainder

P&D chapter 2, pp. 31-37


The official measure

P&D chapter 2, pp. 37-48

Blank, Rebecca, “How to Improve Poverty Measurement in the United States,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 27:2 (2008): 233-54.


Consumption-based measures

Meyer, Bruce D. and James X. Sullivan, “Identifying the Disadvantages: Official Poverty, Consumption Poverty, and the New Supplemental Poverty Measure,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 26 (Summer 2012): 111-36.

P&D chapter 2, pp. 48-58


Dynamics of poverty

Mary Jo Bane and David Ellwood, 1986, "Slipping Into and Out of Poverty: The Dynamics of Spells, Journal of Human Resources, 21, 1-24.

Ann Huff Stevens, “The Dynamics of Poverty Spells: Updating Bane and Ellwood,” American Economic Review, 84 (May 1994): 34-37

Finalize your seating choice!


Evolution of poverty policy

P&D chapter 3

Scholz, John Karl, Robert Moffitt, and Benjamin Cowan. 2008. “Trends in Income Support,” Focus, 26:2 (Fall 2009): 43-49


Trends in poverty

P&D chapter 4

Hoynes, Hilary W., Marianne E. Page and Ann Huff Stevens, “Poverty in America: Trends and Explanations,’’ Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20 (Winter 2006): 47-68


Labor market policies I

P&D chapter 5, parts 1-5


Intent to treat /Labor market policies II

For a discussion of intent-to-treat and treatment-on-the-treated click here

P&D chapter 5, remainder

Greenberg, David, Victoria Deitch and Gayle Hamilton, “Welfare-to-Work Program Benefits and Costs: A Synthesis of Research,’’ New York: MDRC, 2009. (Executive Summary & Conclusions)


 Nonmarital births/ Decline of marriage

Kathryn Edin, “A Few Good Men,” The American Prospect, 11 (November 30, 2002): 1-8. Link

George Akerlof and Janet Yellen, “An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Births in the United States,” Brookings Policy Brief No. 5, August 1996. Link

P&D chapter 6, parts 1-5


First Midterm Exam (covers material through 9/26)




Teen motherhood /Policies Aimed at Children I

 P&D chapter 6, parts 6-8

Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine, “Why Is the Teen Birth Rate in the United States So High and Why Does it Matter?” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 26 (Spring 2012): 141-66.


Policies Aimed at Children II

P&D chapter 6, remainder

Douglas Almond and Janet Currie, “Human Capital Development Before Age Five,” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 15827, pp: 18-56.


Concentrated Poverty

Greg J. Duncan & Anita Zuberi, “Mobility Lessons from Gautreaux and Moving to Opportunity

P&D chapter 7


Education reform I

P&D chapter 8, parts 1-3

Jacob, Brian and Jens Ludwig, “Improving Educational Outcomes for Poor Children,” NBER Working Paper No. 14550, 2008.


Education Reform II

P&D chapter 8, remainder

National Research Council report on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education chapter 4 (optional)


Welfare reform

P&D chapter 9


Defining discrimination, theories

P&D chapter 10


Second Midterm Exam (covers material not covered in midterm 1 through the end of the poverty section)


Black-White Wage Differentials: Trends

P&D chapter 11, 283-93


Race Discrimination in the Labor Market I

P&D chapter 11, 293-307

James Heckman, “Detecting Discrimination,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 12 (Spring 1998): 101-116


Race Discrimination in the Labor Market II

P&D chapter 11 remainder

Christopher A. Parsons, Johan Sulaeman, Michael C. Yates, and Daniel S. Hamermesh “Strike Three: Discrimination, Incentives, and Evaluation,” American Economic Review, 101 (June 2011): 1410–1435  (optional, for baseball fans)

Justin Price and Justin Wolfers, “Discrimination Among Basketball Referees,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, (November 2010):  1859-87 (optional, for basketball fans)


Discrimination in Education

William T. Dickens & James R. Flynn, Black Americans Reduce the Racial IQ Gap: Evidence from

Standardization Samples, Psychological Science, 17 (October 2008): 913-20.

William T. Dickens and Thomas J. Kane, “Racial Test Score Differences as Evidence of Reverse Discrimination: Less Than Meets the Eye,” Industrial Relations, 38 (July 1999): 331-63.

P&D chapter 12


Discrimination in Housing & Other Markets

P&D chapter 13


Sex Discrimination: Theory

P&D, Chapter 14, parts 1-3


Sex Discrimination: Evidence

P&D Chapter 14, remainder


Sex Discrimination: Policy


P&D Chapter 15, optional


FINAL EXAM 3:00 - 5:00