If dismissing research based on the research methodology, discuss what methods would have been better

An easy way to dismiss a study is to criticize the research methodology. The burden is often on the researcher(s) to explain how their methodology effectively addresses their research question or their hypotheses.

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Is there any burden on the person delivering the critique of methods to discuss what methodology might be better? Adopting this practice could serve multiple purposes. It could highlight what methods the critic prefers and for what reasons. It could help move research agendas forward as researchers consider different approaches. It also raises the bar for critique; it is easy to say a methodology does not work but it requires more effort to suggest what methodology is more effective.

Here are at least a few factors to consider when proposing other research methods in response to completed research:

-Researchers differ on what research methods they like to use and what research methods they feel should be used. Approaches can differ across individuals, subfields, and disciplines.

-Approaching a research question using multiple methods can be helpful for answering the question. Often, a single methodological approach cannot address all the complexity we wish to uncover.

-Researchers are constrained by time and money. There are ideal plans researchers want to pursue and then there is what is possible.

Pitching an alternative methodological approach in addition to questioning the methods employed could lead to more helpful outcomes.

Addressing sorting and inequalities with lotteries and luck

Sociologist Dalton Conley suggests using lotteries to counter the inequalities in the United States due to Americans sorting people into different locations:

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As our society has become less random, it has become more unequal. Many people know that inequality has been rising steadily over time, but a less-remarked-on development is that there’s been a parallel geographic shift, with high- and low-income people moving into separate, ever more distinct communities. In 2019, the median household income in Washington, D.C., was $92,266. The corresponding figure for Mississippi was $45,792. Even locally, spatial differences are stark. New York City’s Fifteenth Congressional District, which covers the South Bronx, is the poorest in the nation, with a median income of thirty-one thousand dollars. The nation’s richest district, New York’s Twelfth, is just a mile or so to the south; it includes the Upper East Side and has a median income just shy of a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. Sorting occurs even in areas where people of multiple social classes overlap: people of different incomes often frequent different establishments on the same city block…

ut there’s another route to consider. What if, instead of paying taxes where we reside, and then reaping their benefits locally, we sprinkled taxation and revenues randomly—and therefore evenly—across the United States? What if, instead of paying a third of my taxes to New York City and State, I instead paid them to Pod No. 2,264—a group to which I was randomly assigned by a lottery the year I turned eighteen? What if, instead of camping out on the sidewalk the night before the school-enrollment date in hopes of getting my kids into a well-funded public school, I received a monthly check from Pod 2,264 that was meant to pay for my children’s schooling wherever I wanted to send them? In such a system, the retreat of affluent people from the places where they live doesn’t matter. In fact, it doesn’t matter where anybody lives. Nobody can escape contributing to the public sphere, no matter how far they move…

Some of us would lose in a more lottery-based society. But many of us would win. And we might end up being more compassionate toward one another; we’d be forced to acknowledge that much of our lot is the luck of the draw. We argue endlessly about the meaning of luck, even if we don’t always realize it. How much are we responsible for what happens in our lives? What’s the difference between luck and choice? How much should society try to help the unfortunate? Much psychological research shows that Americans who believe that luck plays a large role in our lives tend to be more liberal, supporting redistributive policies. Yet almost all of us seem to wish for a society in which luck plays no role, and in which everyone gets what they deserve, whether through their own actions or through mutual aid…

Despite this common goal, we tend to reach for lotteries only as a last resort, as President Nixon did when waging an unpopular war. We tell ourselves that we are successfully squeezing randomness out of life, by means of ever more refined algorithms and targeted social policies. But one lesson of our pod-based thought experiment is that we already live under the reign of lotteries—lotteries of birth, of location, of economic and social fate. We’ll never truly randomize America, but even entertaining the possibility can help us see that it can be useful to acknowledge randomness, and even to incorporate rolls of the dice into our collective life. What if, instead of trying to erase luck, we embraced it?

Since we do not control into which families, locations, and conditions we are born, there is some dimension of randomness from early ages. Some people have certain conditions, others have different conditions.

This also reminds me of the documentary Waiting for Superman. There, a lottery provides spots in a charter school for students and families who want opportunities. If I remember correctly, the message there is less about using a lottery to allocate scarce resources and more about suggesting that all children should be able to go to good schools.

How much would it take to get Americans to support such systems? Persistent in American ideology is the idea that people contribute greatly to their own outcomes. If people do not like the idea of random selections, would considering the possibilities of lotteries help people think about other ways of allocating resources or distributing opportunities?

The different lists of the Best Places to Live vs. the Best Affordable Places to Live

U.S. News & World Report just named Green Bay as the best city in the United States to live. One of the factors they account for is housing affordability. But, compare these lists:

There is not a lot of overlap in these top ten lists. Indeed, Green Bay is the only one on both. These lists tend to factor in affordability, but it is not the only factor that matters. Americans do not just move to places that are the most affordable.

US News uses these four categories in their methodology to find the Best Places to Live. This includes value/affordability but also reflects that people desire a certain set of economic and community opportunities:

Quality of Life Index – 36%

The Quality of Life Index measures how satisfied residents are with their daily lives in each ranked metro area, along with how affected the specific metro area is to life-impacting factors. To calculate Quality of Life scores, we evaluated multiple aspects of life in each metro area using a weighted average. To determine the weightings, we surveyed people across the U.S. to see the importance they place on each aspect evaluated in the index. The Quality of Life Index takes into account:…

Value Index – 23%

The Value Index measures how comfortably the average resident of each metro area can afford to live within their means. To accomplish this, we compared the median annual household income with the housing cost in each metro area (the Housing Affordability Index), along with a regional Price Parity Index created through data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). The Value Index is determined by:…

Desirability Index – 22%

The Desirability Index measures whether people want to live in a given metro area. To determine this, we asked people from all over the U.S. where they’d prefer to live…

Job Market Index – 19%

The Job Market Index measures the strength of each metro area’s job market. To do this, we assessed the following two factors to determine how likely residents are to find employment in each metro area and their earning potential there:

Americans and/or those that regularly put together these lists like some level of affordability but their most desirable places have a particular status and quality of life.

Few Americans think “it is a good time to buy a house”

Since 1978, Gallup has asked Americans whether they think “it is a good time to buy a house.” The percentages of Americans agreeing with this in 2022 and 2023 are the lowest figures recorded:

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Twenty-one percent of U.S. adults believe it is a good time to buy a house, down nine percentage points from the prior low recorded last year. The 2022 and 2023 readings are the only times that less than half of Americans have perceived the housing market as being good for buyers in Gallup’s trend since 1978…

Gallup first asked Americans about their perceptions of the housing market in 1978, when 53% thought it was a good time to buy a house. Thirteen years later, when the question was asked again, 67% held that view. The record high of 81% was recorded in 2003, at a time of growing homeownership rates and housing prices…

Opinions of the housing market are bleak and generally similar among all major subgroups, including by region, urbanicity, homeownership status, income, education and party identification. Subgroups in these categories range from 18% to 24% thinking it is a good time to buy a house.

Americans tend to like homeownership. Thus, this data could be interest if it goes toward the direction toward less interest in buying homes and less support for policies that privilege homeownership. If enough Americans are this pessimistic, perhaps they do not think they can pursue owning a home. Perhaps they want policies that provide help for renting or other housing options. Perhaps their inability to purchase a home at younger ages means they will not be able to catch up later.

However, I suspect the pessimism of 2022 and 2023 is tied to current conditions more than it signals a large shift in how Americans think about homeownership. The Gallup data suggests support went down a bit in the mid-2010s and then dropped off in the last two years. It might take another year or two to see if (1) housing conditions improve and (2) support rises. Of course, housing conditions may not improve much and a longer-term run of pessimism could lead to bigger changes.

The bigger question might be this: how many years of negative perceptions about owning a home will it take for patterns to change long-term?

The cities college graduates are leaving, the cities college graduates are going to

A new analysis suggests college graduates are leaving some of the costliest metropolitan areas and instead moving to other metropolitan areas:

Looking at these two lists, several things stand out:

  1. Among the most expensive cities, not all have turned negative regarding college graduates moving in or out. What is different in Boston, Honolulu, Miami, San Diego and Seattle? (Some possible factors: different economic activities, the weather, relative prices, their locations within certain regions, they are not the biggest cities.)
  2. Some of the 41 other large metros are clearly more attractive than others for college graduates. This includes Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Nashville, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh, San Antonio, and Tampa. The Sunbelt continues to grow? Will these population changes in these cities change the conditions within these cities? Are these the current hot places to be (subject to change)?
  3. Other large metro areas might have cheaper housing and lower costs of living but they are not necessarily attracting college graduates. This includes Buffalo, Detroit, Hartford, Milwaukee, and Rochester. Is it a coincidence that these are Rust Belt metropolitan regions?

Generally, cities and regions want college graduates who can add to the population and the human capital available. But, the sorting of the college graduates across locations could have profound consequences.

Average sales price of houses up over 500% since 1983

An article on generational wealth transfers in the United States highlighted this significant rise in the average selling price of homes from 1983 to today:

From reading the chart, the rise in average prices is over 500% from roughly $90,000 in late 1983 to over $500,000 in early 2023. This, presumably, can be seen in communities across the country.

This is quite the rise. In this time, leaders promoted the ideology of homeownership. Americans came to see housing as more of a financial investment. It was the time of McMansions. Sprawl continued and zoning protected single-family homes.

Now there is a lot of money tied up in homes and real estate plus homes have become an even more important marker of wealth. As the article asked, will the transfer of wealth in these homes simply reproduce existing disparities in housing? Or, might there be ways that the increased value of housing help promote access and opportunities for others?

The suburbs are not having a “surprise revival” as they never went away

A summary of several recent patterns involving the American suburbs starts with this:

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American suburbia— once marked by dying malls and empty office parks — is thriving.

But, given the already-existing love in the United States for the suburbs, are the suburbs back?

Take one of the pieces of evidence cited. A recent survey suggests a good portion of millennials want to settle in the suburbs:

For eight years now, as millennials have entered their thirties and forties, also known as “homebuying age,” Bank of America has surveyed over 1,000 members of the generation once a year for its Home Work series. And for 2023’s edition, it finds a “suburban nation” alive and well. Older millennials (age 31–41) are almost three times as likely to move into a house than an apartment, the survey found, and they’ve got a hunger for the Costco dog, so to speak. 

Migration patterns during the pandemic have clearly established that most homebuyers have wanted to flee big cities, with some “zoomtowns” such as Boise benefiting in particular. But the survey reveals something even more drastic. In a section called “suburban nation,” BofA reveals that 43% to 45% of millennials—of every age—expect to buy a house in the suburbs…

The interest is pervasive across the generation, and maybe means that the suburb is in for a new and better revival. And a 2021 study from Pew Research Center found that one in five adults preferred city life, compared to one quarter of adults in 2018, those who favored the suburbs increased post COVID-19 as well. One of suburbia’s worst qualities or stereotypes was its pervasive whiteness, now with the surge in interest the suburbs are starting to grow to reflect the diversity of the country at large. Big suburbs are actually now more racially diverse than the nation, according to a Brookings analysis

I take this less of millennials now really want to go to the suburbs and more of millennials are following the patterns of previous generations of Americans. What exactly the suburbs are today is different – they are more complex – but they are still structured around single-family homes, family life, and attaining the American Dream.

All places go through some fluctuations in conditions and appeal. It will take longer than just a few years to doom the suburbs as Americans have now devoted decades to celebrating and pursuing them.

Who owns a neighborhood? Or, who can make decisions to alter it?

A discussion of recent housing changes in Arlington, Virginia, an increasingly whiter and wealthier community, included this summary:

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Perhaps the opponents are beginning to accept that their community is not, has never been, exclusively their own domain.

Who owns a neighborhood? In many American communities, the people who live there might feel this way. They expect to provide input and exercise some oversight of what happens in their neighborhood. They want to exercise control over their own properties and those around them.

But, they do not do this on their own. They interact with other property owners and also engage with local governments. These local governments typically represent a broader community and have regulations about what can and cannot be done in neighborhoods.

In this particular case, the residents are single-family home owners and they have money and status. Thus, they really expect to be able to control their surroundings and they have means to back up their interests. Zoning in the United States often privileges protecting single-family homes.

In the end, however, local government has the task of considering the broader interests of a community. These may or may not align with the interests of a neighborhood. The neighborhood residents can respond by not voting for these local government officials and it is relatively easy in a smaller community to express discontent with local officials. But, action may already be underway that cannot be changed.

Or, here is another way to address the same questions: if every neighborhood will change over time, who gets to street this change and/or benefit from this change? Those with means and vested interests will have their own perspective and goals while a broader community might have another point of view.

The ideal American lawn as “ecologically unproductive”

A description of a homesteader property in North Carolina explains why the lawn had to go:

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When they bought the house, it was surrounded by a picturesque, but ecologically unproductive, lawn of green grass. Building out a homestead that uses available space for growing food almost always means disrupting the lawn, and McClelland and O’Neill dispatched theirs quickly.

The American lawn is often a symbol of social class. But, what if it not just an ornament or a testament to money and effort but is instead a clear suggestion that the property owners do not need to use their land for other uses? What if a green and well-kept lawn is not about presenting a particular verdant image but rather shows that the owner is so wealthy that they acquire their food – and other things they might acquire from the land – elsewhere?

American lawns could be devoted to native plants or covered in stones. They could also be used to grow food. Imagine even half of the lawn space in the United States used to grow food. How much could be produced? Could this help people eat healthier? Could being involved in gardening have positive individual and social outcomes?

Yet, the green lawn says, “I am not needed for food. I am here to look pretty.” Perhaps it is even a form of conspicuous consumption; it broadcasts that the owner can waste the lawn on green grass.

COVID-19, rents, and increases in household formation

A new paper suggests an increase in household formation during COVID-19 has helped keep rent prices high:

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In this case, Ozimek and his coauthor, Eric Carlson, used heaps of 2021 census data to illustrate how housing markets in large cities were caught between two powerful, competing forces. The first was outbound migration, which led to weaker housing demand in city centers. Previous work by Stanford researchers Arjun Ramani and Nicholas Bloom found there was a “donut effect” earlier on in the pandemic, in which housing demand fell in dense urban areas as people moved to the surrounding residential areas and suburbs. Between July 2021 and June 2022, New York City lost a net 194,000 residents to migration, while Los Angeles lost 109,000, Chicago lost 88,000, and San Francisco shed about 20,000, an analysis of census data by John Burns Research and Consulting found. In the case of New York City, EIG’s latest analysis of data from the US Postal Service confirmed there hadn’t been a subsequent surge in people moving back to the city.

Instead, the sudden flight to the burbs was counteracted, Ozimek and Carlson said, by an equally startling surge in household formation. A household refers to any group of people living together in one unit — a family of five in a suburban home counts as one household, as does a group of three roommates living in an urban apartment. If those three roommates move out and each gets a one-bedroom unit, the net effect is two additional households. Before the pandemic, US household formation was on the decline. Between 2010 and 2020, the increase in the number of households was the lowest on record, an analysis by Pew Research Center found. Slow population growth and an increase in the number of adults living with their parents, perhaps as a result of the economy’s choppy recovery, meant there were fewer people striking out on their own. That changed shortly after the pandemic hit — household formation jumped by 2.5% nationally in 2021, more than double the fastest rate since the Great Recession.

This surge in household formation caused an increase in the “extensive margin of demand” — essentially, the total number of housing units that a given population desires. But EIG’s latest paper goes one step further, saying there was also an increase in the “intensive margin,” or the size and quality of units that people demand. Put another way, remote work led to an increase in the number of people wanting not only places of their own but also bigger homes. A couple might seek to upgrade from a one-bedroom to a two-bed, or they might look for a one-bedroom with more square footage. This desire to trade up is evident in the rent payments of people who shifted to remote work: Becoming a remote-work household in 2021 was associated with a 20% increase in rent payments, or about a $500 increase each month, the EIG researchers found.

Of course, those effects weren’t felt equally everywhere. To return to the “donut” analogy, the hole in the center — the most densely populated, expensive part of a metropolitan area — was likely to lose population as a result of more people working remotely. But it was also more likely to see a greater increase in household formation.

The headline for the story suggests this is about people wanting to live alone but the summary of the paper suggests people adjusted to changing work and economic conditions by seeking out more space for themselves. Did people seek their own household to get away from others or to have more space for themselves and work? If money was no object, would American residents prioritize more space or living with people?

I wonder how this connects to longer-term patterns of more American living alone.