"Which is more effective, public policy aimed at moving people from locations with high crime rates or poor schools, for example, or improving the location by spending more on lowering crime and improving schools? This research sheds light on these questions."

Professor of Economics Nancy White explores questions about the economic determinants and consequences of migration in the United States by first creating huge data sets that include where people move to and from, the natural and built characteristics of each community, and how much people are paid. The results tell her whether people live in what she calls "locational equilibrium."

"Are there gains to be made in the wages people are paid or in the payment they make for housing, for example?" she asks. "Are people in the location that is best for them?" The answer usually is, she says, that "some are and some aren't."

Using carefully created data sets and statistical methods from economics, White attempts to tease apart the nuances of skill level, compensation, locational preferences and location. A current research project seeks to determine whether low-skilled workers or high-skilled workers are more likely to live in the places that best suit their preferences and income.

Understanding both the determinants and consequences of migration can help guide public policy. "We can analyze the effect on people's location decisions of features of location, which has implication for communities," White says. For example, she asks, "Which is more effective, public policy aimed at moving people from locations with high crime rates or poor schools, for example, or improving the location by spending more on lowering crime and improving schools? This research sheds light on these questions."

This spring semester, White combined her expertise in microeconomics with that of fellow economics Professor Janet Knoedler to develop a new course on the mindful consumption of electronics, energy, food and education. Mindful eating seemed to resonate most deeply with the students, White says, as questions about how we make decisions became as provocative for the students as they have long been for her. She notes, "Many students wrote that it was the first time they were really aware of how food is produced and the consequences of their food choices."

Posted Sept. 13, 2010

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