JANET CURRIE, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, pointed to a continuing decline in infant mortality rate as one of the most important developments of the last year. Other scholars observed the Federal Reserve's weighing of its bond-buying program, research focused on economic inequality and the Affordable Care Act as highlights of 2013.
In 2013, a graduate student discovered a flaw in a spreadsheet, renewing the debate about austerity and debt. Emerging economies tanked, and Bitcoin boomed. In the U.S., unemployment fell and the Federal Reserve started to scale back its bond-buying program. Research focused on inequality and jobs gap between the highly skilled and everyone else. The Affordable Care Act began.
We asked scholars to identify the most important development or new research of the last year. This is what they came up with:
• Janet Currie, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University:
Infant mortality in the U.S. fell 12 percent from 2005 to 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This good news is startling given that inequality grew and unemployment skyrocketed over the same period. How did conditions improve for babies, when they were deteriorating for their parents?
One answer is the safety net. Medicaid pays for about 40 percent of births. Because almost all births are paid for by either public or private insurance, all infants have access to life-saving technologies.
A second strand of the safety net is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC. The initial rollout of the program reduced low birth weight and prematurity among children born to less educated women and in counties with high poverty levels. Many studies have shown continuing benefits.
A third strand involves home-visit programs by nurses. Nurses drop in on high-risk, pregnant women before birth and for up to two years afterward. While there is no national initiative, 20 states have created their own programs.
• Susan Athey, professor of economics at Stanford University:
Led by Bitcoin, virtual currency had a breakout year. Exchanges such as Bitstamp and U.S. on-ramps such as Coinbase Inc. gained traction; others, plagued by regulatory challenges, stopped working with U.S. banks (Mt. Gox) or closed (Bitfloor), leaving users unable to retrieve their funds.