Economics Professor Matthew Gentzkow Wins Prestigious John Bates Clark Medal

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on April 24, 2014


Matthew Gentzkow, an economics professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, has been awarded the 2014 John Bates Clark Medal by the American Economic Association (AEA). The award is presented to an American economist under the age of forty who is judged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge.

Professor Gentzkow was recognized for his work in the field of media economics, including studies of the effect of increased digitization on the press, the market forces that shape the creation of new forms of media, and links between media and levels of political polarization.

In a New York Times article highlighting the work that earned him this prestigious award, Professor Gentzkow shared the following:

“Media has been a fun area to study because it combines rich economics with political and social aspects,” Mr. Gentzkow said in a telephone interview on Thursday. With the advent of the Internet and the ability to quickly analyze huge amounts of data, “the set of questions that can be answered using economic methods has exploded,” he said.

As automated text analysis became widely available, for example, it became possible to examine how news is presented by rapidly scanning newspaper articles for ideologically laden terms like estate tax versus death tax, or war on terror versus war in Iraq.

“Economists had thought about this, but media had been a pretty small part of economics because the data weren’t as good,” Mr. Gentzkow said. “This work would have been impossible 20 years ago.”

The AEA awards committee said of Professor Gentzkow:

Matthew Gentzkow has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the economic forces driving the creation of media products, the changing nature and role of media in the digital environment, and the effect of media on education and civic engagement. He has thus emerged as a leader in a new generation of microeconomists applying economic methods to analyze questions that were historically analyzed by non-economists.

Gentzkow, both on his own and in collaboration with his frequent co-author, Jesse Shapiro, has played a primary role in establishing a new and extremely promising empirical literature on the economics of the news media.

The AEA cited Professor Gentzkow’s work in three areas:

Political Bias in the News Media

In “What Drives Media Slant? Evidence from U.S. Daily Newspapers” (Econometrica, 2010), Professor Gentzkow and co-author Jesse Shapiro, also with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, found that ideological slants in newspaper coverage were the result of their consumer’s preferences about what they wanted to read, significantly more so than from the newspaper owners’ biases. In “Ideological Segregation Online and Offline” (Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2011), Professors Gentzkow and Shapiro find no evidence that the Internet is becoming more segregated over time.

Impact of Television on Society

Television and Voter Turnout” (Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2006) measures the effect of television on voter turnout and shows that a significant fraction of the reduction in voter turnout over the last century can be explained by the introduction and the increased penetration of television.
In “Preschool Television Viewing and Adolescent Test Scores: Historical Evidence From The Coleman Study” (Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2008) Professors Gentzkow and Shapiro examine the impact of television on test scores using data from the “Coleman study.” The analysis shows that television viewing did not have a negative impact on children.

Questions of Persuasion

In “Media Bias and Reputation,” Professors Gentzkow and Shapiro examine bias that arises as a natural consequence of firms’ desire to build a reputation for accuracy. They find that introducing more news outlets could have the effect of disciplining existing stations and reducing the overall amount of bias in the region. Additionally, working with Emir Kamenica, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Professor Gentzkow authored a series of applied theory papers that tackles the question of how, in a game where a sender communicates private information to a receiver, a sender might choose to package information to influence how a receiver behaves. Finally, “The Evolution of Brand Preference: Evidence from Migration,” (American Economic Review, 2012), jointly authored with Bart Bronnenberg and Jean-Pierre Dube, looks at advertising, and explores the origins of brand preference.

The John Bates Clark Medal is considered one of the two most prestigious awards in the field of economics, along with the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, and is named after the American economist John Bates Clark (1847–1938). According to data compiled by Bloomberg, recipients of the AEA medal have about a one-in-three chance of eventually winning the Nobel Prize in economics.