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Determinants of SAT Scores in North Carolina

By Abby Snyder

This paper examines the effects of different school and district characteristics on SAT scores across North Carolina from 2007 to 2014. Such characteristics include demographics, poverty and wealth indicators, measures of classroom environment, and achievement levels. A pooled time series panel across districts and schools with fixed effects is used to determine the strength of influence these variables have on scores. Ultimately, this paper identifies which characteristics lead to over or underperformance relative to predicted values; further, it considers the implications of the SAT being more of an “achievement” test versus an “aptitude” test.

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Advisor: Charles Becker | JEL Codes: I2, I24 | Tagged: Achievement Gap, Aptitude Test, Education, SAT

The Professor and the Coal Miner: The effect of socioeconomic and geographical factors on breast cancer diagnosis and survival outcome

By Shelley Chen

Previous studies reported that patients who live farther from cancer centers do not necessarily experience delayed cancer detection and shortened survival. However, the results are biased because of the incomplete observation of patient survival, which cannot be properly accounted for with the multivariable regression model. In this thesis, I isolated the effect of the breast cancer patient’s distance to a comprehensive cancer center on the stage of diagnosis and survival using the Cox Proportional Hazards model. I linked data from the Kentucky Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results 18, the Kentucky Life Tables, and the Kentucky Area Health Resource Files and identified 37654 patients diagnosed with breast cancer. I estimated the effect of distance on marginal probability of cancer mortality, controlling for non-cancer related death, socioeconomic status, and demographic factors in patients. After controlling for covariates, travel distance between the patient and the nearest comprehensive cancer center was statistically significantly on the breast cancer mortality probability, but not on the stage of diagnosis. In the Kentucky population, patients who were located farther from comprehensive cancer centers experience an increased marginal probability of mortality (proportional hazard = 1.004; 95% CI: [1.000502 1.007311]). The linkage of SEER 18 and AHRF data provided more comprehensive information on the socioeconomic risk factors of cancer mortality than past study datasets. For the stage of diagnosis, a low physician to population ratio and high county-level Medicaid coverage were associated with more advanced stages of diagnosis. In turn, a more advanced stage of diagnosis, lower physician to population ratio, and identification as African American increased the marginal probabilities of mortality.

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Advisor: Charles Becker, Kent Kimbrough | JEL Codes: I1, I13, I14 | Tagged: Breast Cancer, Cancer Mortality, Health Outcomes, Inequality, Socioeconomic, Stage

The Impact of Suburbanization on Poverty Concentration: Using Transportation Networks to Predict the Spatial Distribution of Poverty

By Winston Riddick

The purpose of this paper is to investigate the determinants of concentrated poverty, a phenomenon where socioeconomically deprived groups are heavily concentrated in particular neighborhoods in a metropolitan area. Drawing on Land Use Theory and the Spatial Mismatch Hypothesis, I develop a theory that identifies suburbanization as a principal cause of poverty concentration. Using interstate highway expansion as a source of exogenous variation in suburbanization rates, I evaluate this relationship in 240 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) from 1960-1990, with concentrated poverty measured at the tract level. Panel regressions with MSA Fixed Effects find a positive and significant relationship between highway expansion and increased poverty concentration under a variety of specifications, including alternative measures of highways and an instrumented measure of urban population decline.

Honors Thesis

Advisor: Charles Becker, Michelle Connolly | JEL Codes: I30, J61, R13, R40 | Tagged: Highways, Poverty Concentration, Spatial Mismatch, Suburbanization, Transportation Networks

The Relationship between and Geographic Distribution of Breast Cancer Statistics: Diagnosis, Survival, and Mortality in Selected Areas in the United States, 1973-2004

By Timothy Rooney

Using breast cancer registry data from the United States and regression models controlling for race, marital status, and county-level variation, this research analyzes the connections between these statistics and the geographic variation of each of them. In doing so, it determines that stage of diagnosis has a significant impact on survival likelihood and the likelihood of death due to breast cancer. It also determines that survival reduces mortality likelihood. Additionally, it determines that stage of diagnosis, survival, and mortality all vary geographically, postulating that the reason for this variation is due to lifestyle variation and uneven medical talent distribution.

Honors Thesis

Advisor: Charles Becker, Michelle Connolly | JEL Codes: I1, I10, I19 | Tagged: Cancer, Diagnosis, Health, Mortality, Survival

The effect of Mexico’s Conditional Cash Transfer Program on Migration Decisions

By Aki Ishikawa

The Mexican conditional cash transfer program, Oportunidades, is commonly overlooked for long-term evaluations. One understudied effect of this poverty-reduction program is the change in migration behavior caused by the cash transfers. Using data from the Mexican Family Life Survey, this study outlines the effects of the social net program on international migration of low-income households in Mexico. The results suggest that the program causes a positive increase in likelihood for international migration for program participants. Within participating households, individuals who are responsible for grant income tend to migrate less compared to the other members of the households. This research provides valuable insight into existing literature on migration of low-income households in relation to the availability of the conditional cash transfer program.

Honor’s Thesis

Data Set

Advisor: Charles Becker | JEL Codes: R2, R23, R28 | Tagged: Conditional Cash Transfer Program, Developmental Economics, International Migration

High Occupancy Toll Lines: Do They Reduce Congestion?

By David Wang

In 2009, according to data from the American Community Survey, ninety percent of workers in the U.S. used a privately owned vehicle when commuting. For an average commuter, the annual traffic delay in urban areas has increased from below fifteen hours in 1982 to more than thirty-five hours in 2007 (Winston, 2013). Furthermore, the annual cost of congestion, including travel delays and fuel expenditures, exceeds $100 billion a year (Winston, 2013). From a welfare standpoint, these travel delays cause a total welfare cost of $45 billion a year (Langer, Winston, & Baum-Snow, 2008). Governments have considered a variety of solutions to combat this congestion, the most prevalent being high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes and congestion pricing, including high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes.
The federal government heavily encouraged the construction of HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes, passing the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. It was thought that the speed differential between HOV lanes and general-purpose (GP) lanes would lead drivers to switch to carpools, thereby reducing the number of vehicles on the roads and the amount of congestion. However, in practice, HOV lanes have not been very successful and single occupancy vehicle (SOV) users often complain about underutilized HOV lanes. These observations mirror transportation researchers’ criticisms of the ineffectiveness of HOV lanes in reducing congestion. Dahlgren (1998) argues that adding a GP lane to existing highways is more effective at lowering delay costs than adding an HOV lane.
Another strategy, congestion pricing, involves placing a price on using roadways to offset the social cost arising from such use. Under Vickrey’s theory, the charges should match the marginal social cost of each trip as closely as possible (Vickrey, 1963). In a standard highway with only GP lanes, the personal cost of traveling, in the form of the value of time, often does not equal the social cost imposed on other commuters on the highway. This scenario gives rise to a mismatch in incentives and to a tragedy of the commons. In actual application, few tolling schemes for congestion pricing exist. Since technology has made collecting tolls cheaper, the main challenge now is public resistance. Current implementations of congestion pricing include Singapore’s Electronic Road Pricing system and U.S. HOT lanes.
High occupancy toll (HOT) lanes have potential as a politically feasible policy to improve utilization of HOV lanes and generate revenue. HOT lanes give solo drivers the option to pay a toll for use of HOV lanes. The HOT lanes help address several issues, for example balancing the load and reducing congestion by shifting some solo drivers from GP lanes to HOV lanes, giving drivers the option of traveling on less congested lanes, and generating revenue for highway operators (Poole & Orski, 2000). Many studies of HOT lanes use California State Route 91 as an example of a HOT highway and seek to model any welfare gains from its implementation (Liu & McDonald, 1998; Small & Yan, 2001). Opened in 1995, the SR-91 serves as a good case study because it was one of the first HOT operations in the U.S. The literature also explores the distributional effects of congestion pricing over the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, looking at a network of roads rather than a single one (Safirova et al., 2004). They emphasize that much of the benefit from HOT lanes comes from undoing the inefficiency created by existing HOV lanes. Safirova et al.’s study is one of few empirical ones in the literature. Nevertheless, theoretical models, such as that by Konishi and Mun (2010), could be used as a basis for future empirical studies. The economics literature covers welfare gains, but does not address empirically how the congestion reduction from HOV and HOT lanes has changed over time. Although theory may predict welfare gains in the short term, it is unclear what the long run effects may be. In this paper, we seek to examine the short-run effects of the conversion of HOV to HOT lanes on highway congestion.

Honors Thesis

Advisor: Charles Becker, Michelle Connolly | JEL Codes: R41, R48 | Tagged: Congestion Pricing, HOT lanes, HOV lanes, Tolls, Transportation economics

Geo-Spatial Modeling of Online Ad Distributions

By Mitchel Gorecki

The purpose of this document is to demonstrate how spatial models can be integrated into purchasing decisions for real-time bidding on advertising exchanges to improve ad selection and performance. Historical data makes it very apparent that some neighborhoods are much more interested in some ads than others. Similarly, some neighborhoods are also much more interested in some online domains than others, meaning viewing habits across domains are not equal. Basic data analysis shows that neighborhoods behave in predictable ways that can be exploited using observed performance information. This paper demonstrates how it is possible to use spatially correlated information to better optimize advertising resources.

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Advisor: Charles Becker | JEL Codes: C3, C33, C53, M37 | Tagged: Ad Distribution, Advertising, Online, Real Time Bidding, Spatial

Manufactured Housing Securitization

By Renan Cunha

Through prices of manufactured homes rose in the 2000’s, demand fell dramatically because of the boom in the stick-built housing market. One of the stated goals of securitization is to increase the supply of credit and decrease the cost of lending to make borrowing accessible to more homeowners.  This paper will study the effect of securitization of manufactured home loans on the availability of credit for borrowers in North Carolina.

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Advisor: Charles Becker | JEL Codes: E51, R3, R31 | Tagged: Credit Availability, Manufactured Housing, Securitization, Trailer Parks

Understanding the Value of Amenities: A Study of the Land Value Determination Process in Hangzhou, China

By Ching-Ching Chen

This paper seeks to investigate the determinants of land within Hangzhou China.  There are two main goals that the research paper will attempt to address. The first is to build upon existing research on land pricing in terms of the theories outlined by the monocentric city and hedonic pricing models. Second, the paper will use a dataset of Hangzhou land sales transactions between the years of 2003 and 2011 to investigate the possible existence of “luxury residuals” among commercial and residential land parcels. Nonetheless, due to the presence of large residuals, while Chinese consumers value certain amenities is not fully captured by these results. Rather, a number of case studies or outliers are used to fully examine the influences of these amenity variables in driving extreme prices. The result support the hypothesis that China, located at the bottom of Kuznets environmental curve, values amenities at extreme levels as a result of scarcity.

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Advisor: Charles Becker | JEL Codes: Q51, R0, R14, R52 | Tagged: Empirical Analysis, Hangzhou Land Price Appreciation, Hedonic Pricing Model, Kuznets Curve, Monocentric City Model

Trailer Park Economics

By Caitlin Gorback

In this paper, we explore the various reasons behind the development of the American institution of trailer parks. The first two models arise in equilibrium, the last two respond to housing shocks. Models include “Bad Tenants” in which tenants and landowners contract to protect against bad neighbors, a basic “Capital Constraints model in which tenants and landowners share the burden of capital costs, “Uncertain Growth” in which landowners respond to boom and bust economic growth, and “Long vs. Short Run Growth” in which landowners must decide how to invest on their land given rates of land appreciation.

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Advisor: Charles Becker | JEL Codes: R21, R23, R31 | Tagged: Housing, Manufactured Housing, Rural Growth, Trailer Parks, Urban Growth


Undergraduate Program Assistant
Jennifer Becker

Director of the Honors Program
Michelle P. Connolly