Aalto University: Research co-operation with a Nobel Laureate

Professor David Card from University of California, Berkeley, is one of the three winners of the 2021 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science. Assistant Professor Ciprian Domnisoru who does research together with the new Nobel Laureate says that this years’ Nobel prize was a source of joy for many researchers in the field of labor economics.

‘Card has mentored and advised so many students all over the world. Economics is a very competitive field but people like David Card make it kinder and more fun.’

The co-operation between the two labor economists started when Ciprian Domnisoru was a doctoral student and did research using data from the 1940 U.S. Census, a source that provides quality data about the people and the economy in the United States. His advisor, Professor Lowell J Taylor at Carnegie Mellon University and David Card were planning a new study using the same data source, and Ciprian Domnisoru joined their project.

Research on the equality of opportunities
In 2018, Card, Domnisoru and Taylor published a working paper about the effect of school resources on equality of opportunity across generations.

‘In our paper we analyzed data from the 1940 U.S. Census, from a time when the United States was still operating a segregated black-white school system, with very unequal resources for black and white students and teachers. For example, a black teacher in Mississippi could earn as little as 100 dollars per year (in 1940 dollars), while white teachers in the same state regularly earned 1000 dollars per year. Our finding was that these striking differences in school funding had an impact on how likely children were to remain enrolled in school, and therefore on their chances to be upwardly mobile and to achieve a higher level of education,’ Domnisoru explains.

The research co-operation continues, and Card, Domnisoru and co-authors are currently working on two projects that are based on an exciting new link between the 1940 and 2000 Census in the United States.

‘We now have the chance to understand how features of the primary and secondary school system can impact long-run outcomes such as completed education, lifetime earnings, and even mortality’, Domnisoru explains.

Bedrock of graduate training in labor economics
According to Ciprian Domnisoru, David Card’s research is so widespread in labor economics that it is the bedrock of most graduate training for labor economists.

‘I think I am always keeping my eye out for questions he has worked on, or found interesting, such as firm-specific productivity or wage premiums. The Finnish data environment is incredibly rich and of high quality, so my hope is that “evidence from Finland” can inform some of the interesting questions in labor economics today.’

Domnisoru describes David Card as a meticulous and very hard-working researcher and co-author.

‘Professors at his level of experience are known to delegate a lot of work, but David Card always rolls up his sleeves and puts in effort even on some of the more tedious parts of the project. That’s hard to imagine, given how many high-level obligations he has, as he was recently the president of the American Economic Association as well as the Chair of the Department. But as he likes to joke, “he has more time than others”’.

Not even winning the Nobel Prize changed David Card’s attitude and commitment to work.

‘It is always fun to work with Dave Card, but just recently, as he was giving his Nobel prize press conference, he was asked what he will do now, that he had won the Nobel prize. His answer was that he would do the usual press tour but then return to work to finish a table he had been working on for the previous few days. That table was the “Table 2” in our paper. I felt very moved by what I think is his true sense of modesty and commitment to work’, Ciprian Domnisoru says.

‘And when we have our next call with Dave Card, I will check if he has the Zoom background he often uses, the painting “Defense of Sampo” by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. I haven’t asked him exactly why he uses this painting, but I suspect it’s a good representation of high-level academia.’