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Top 15. HSE's Most Interesting Research in 2015

Public misperceptions of inequality; Sanctions hit the best companies; How high is mortality in Russia?; How the type of university affects graduates' salaries; What national pride means; Muslims sharing a Protestant ethic; Economic inactivity among Russians; Russian travellers reluctant to book hotels online; The right to be forgotten; and Analysts can be wrong – these were the HSE's most interesting research papers in 2015, according to Opec.ru.

'Interesting' is obviously a subjective notion; no two lists of the most interesting academic papers are exactly alike. We have selected those which may be relevant, engaging, and helpful for researchers of related fields, policymakers in the socio-economic sphere, and a broad audience of people interested in economic and social issues.

As far as possible, research included in the list is available online. Some papers were first published in 2013 but widely discussed at seminars and conferences in 2014. The list does not include papers that made it into the Top 16 most interesting reports of HSE’s XVI April Conference.

1. Vladimir Gimpelson, Daniel Treisman (UCLA). Misperceiving Inequality

Economic inequality has important political consequences, particularly in democracies. However, ordinary people almost always hold inaccurate perceptions of the distribution of economic wealth in their own country. Likewise, they misperceive their own position in the 'economic pyramid' (they tend to perceive it as worse than it actually is). Thus, it is the perceived rather than actual level of inequality that has political implications.

In a survey of 40 countries, Ukraine showed the highest level of misperception, with the vast majority of respondents overestimating the inequality in their country; in reality it was among the lowest in the world. People in many other post-socialist societies – except Russia – also tend to overestimate inequality, while Norwegians make the most accurate estimates of the actual inequality in their country.

Sometimes, perceptions are vastly different from reality; e.g. the average Filipino respondent's estimate of a local general practice doctor's annual salary stood at $144,000, while in reality it was about $5,500. In contrast, respondents in South Africa estimated the salary of a major company's CEO at $77,000, while it fact it stood at $1.7 million.

In most countries, respondents also overestimate the level of poverty. In Moscow, as shown in a study by Alina Pishnyak and Daria Popova, people with monthly household incomes below 21,300 rubles per capita see themselves as poor, although this amount is 2 to 4 times higher than the official poverty line and would place up to 36% of Muscovites in this category if used as a poverty threshold. Overall, the researchers did not find any meaningful correlation between actual economic inequality and the demand for wealth redistribution and related social tension in the country. Instead, misperceived inequality can have an impact on both.

2. Anatoly Vishnevsky. Mortality in Russia: the second epidemiologic revolution that never was.

Revolutionary changes in non-communicable disease control have occurred in most developed countries over the past decade, resulting in a shift of mortality from such causes to older age.

Russia, however, has been mostly unaffected by these changes, and the age distribution of deaths from major causes has hardly changed here over the past half-century, leading to stagnation in life expectancy due to 'excess mortality'. According to the author, 46% of men and 21% of women die before the age of 70 in Russia, while in the E.U. countries most of these deaths would have occurred after 70. As shown in a study by Sergey VasinEkaterina KvashaTatiana Kharkova and Alexander Ramonov (see this article about their research at Opec.ru), the certain increase in life expectancy observed in recent years is due to a longer period of ill health.

3. Marharyta FabrykantVladimir Magun. Grounded and Normative Dimensions of National Pride in Comparative Perspective.

The article uses data from a survey of 46,000 respondents in 36 countries to compare countries in terms of citizens' national pride – which can be adopted rationally, based on the country's achievements, or accepted uncritically as a normative message from their environment. The former is typical of countries such as western Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, and the latter of countries such as the Philippines, Portugal, Slovenia and Uruguay. Rational national pride correlates with the country's economic development, while normative national pride is associated with the prevalence of religion and tends to decrease with education.

See an article about this research at Opec.ru.

4. Anna AlmakaevaEduard PonarinChristian Welzel. Human Development and Generalized Trust: Multilevel Evidence.

Generalised trust is an important indicator used in social sciences; however, until now, few studies have examined how macroeconomic conditions shape the individual determinants of generalised trust. This paper demonstrates that different determinants influence generalised trust in different countries depending on people's level of involvement in social life. In developing countries where such involvement is low, financial satisfaction was found to foster trust in strangers, while education decreased it. In contrast, in highly developed countries where social involvement is high, open-access activities, emancipative values and education all contribute to the strengthening of trust.

5. Sergey  Smirnov. Growth and Crises in the Planned and Market Russian Economies (the End of the 1920s–2014).

The paper makes an attempt to construct an extended time-series for describing the major indicators of the Russian economy since the late 1920s (index of industrial production, railroad transportation, agriculture, and residential construction). Thus, the study is based on Russian statistics for the period starting soon after the Communist revolution and continuing throughout the Soviet era. Since these Soviet statistics published little information on prices, most of the time series are construced using natural ('physical') units rather than prices.

The authors used previously unpublished 1930-1940 data from Soviet archives. In addition, the paper traces the history of cyclical crises – which the authors believe to occur in planned as well as free market economies. Between 1928 and 2014, Russia's economy experienced eight recessions.

6. Sergey Roshchin, Victor Rudakov. The Effect of the University's 'Quality' on Graduates' Salaries.

Graduates of 'high-quality' universities (here, quality is measured based on average admission score) tend to benefit from payroll premiums in the labor market – in fact, an additional score point equals a premium of 1.9% to 2% for those who graduated between 2009 and 2013. On average, graduates of Russia's best universities tend to earn 31% more than graduates of schools with lower admission scores.

Graduates who have completed a full-time course at one of the best Russian universities enjoy an even higher premium of 41%, yet for recent graduates it tends to be lower and grow over time.

Interestingly, school leavers' academic performance is not the only factor determining their choice of university. According to a paper by Ilya Prakhov, parental education, the family's financial situation and cultural capital, and additional investment in a high-schooler's education to increase their chances of passing the entrance tests can all influence the choice of university for further studies.

See an article about this research at Opec.ru.

7. Ivan GrigorievAnna Dekalchuk. School Of Autocracy: Pensions And Labour Reforms Of The First Putin Administration.

The establishment of an autocracy is usually a trial and error process whereby the future autocrat and their team develop the mechanisms and rules of political engagement. The authors illustrate Russia's case using the example of the Government and Parliament's discussion and approval of the pension and employment reforms introduced by Putin during his first presidential term. At first, the interactions within the political elites were chaotic, but eventually the players had learned the rules of the game by 2002.

8. Anna Shirokanova. Protestant Work Ethic Among The Muslims: Changeable Empirical Evidence.

According to the author, Muslims today tend to demonstrate a stronger commitment to the Protestant work ethic than even Protestants. A survey of 26,000 respondents in 56 countries shows no significant differences in work ethic between Protestants and Muslims; in fact, the work ethic in Protestant countries is mainly characteristic of religious believers. Generally, the work ethic tends to get weaker in developed societies, and Protestant countries are no exception. In contrast, most people in Islamic countries have not fully accepted post-industrial values such as self-fulfillment and tend to perceive work as a duty or service.

9. Alexis BelianinLeonid Kosals. Collusion and corruption: an experimental study of Russian police.

In an experimental study involving Russian police oficers and students, Belianin and Kosals demonstrate that corruption will increase rather than decrease in a situation where anti-corruption measures are pursued amidst social norms favouring corruption; under such circumstances, corrupt behavior becomes riskier, and officials tend to take more bribes to maintain the former 'rate of return'.  

10. Sergey Plaksin, Sergey Semyonov. Quantitative Analysis of the Activity of Supervisory Authorities in the Russian Federation in 2011 to 2014.

Over the past three years, the number of employees of Russia's federal supervisory bodies has increased by a third. Rather than detecting hazards or harms caused by non-compliance, supervisory authorities in Russia tend to play a quasi-fiscal role by imposing penalties and thus contributing to the public budget. In fact, impending hazards due to non-compliance are usually found only in 9% to 11% of all entities inspected, while 90% of inspections result in administrative fines for non-compliance, rather than as a result of  finding any associated hazards or harms.

According to the authors, supervisory authorities should adopt a risk-based approach to serve society better, instead of carrying out blanket inspections

11. Rostislav Kapeliushnikov. CEO turnover and separation of ownership from control in the Russian manufacturing

A survey of more than 20,000 firms conducted between May and October 2014 by GFK-Rus Company gives an indication of CEO turnover rates, how often owners run their own companies, and whether CEOs get replaced for poor performance. According to the survey, 52% of CEOs in the sample were the company owners.

Older companies established before 1991 tend to replace CEOs more often than newer firms, many of which continue to be run by their owners/founders. Contrary to what may be expected, effective companies tend to replace CEOs more often than less effective ones – perhaps because the former can be attractive takeover targets, and takeovers usually lead to changes in top management.

According to a paper on a similar topic by Alena Pentyuk and Sergey Solntsev, ROE is the main consideration for CEO replacement in listed Russian companies.

See the articles about Kapelyushnikov's and Solntsev and Pentyuk's studies at Opec.ru.

12. Svetlana AvdashevaDina TsytsulinaSvetlana GolovanovaElena Sidorova. Discovering the Miracle of Large Numbers of Antitrust Investigations in Russia: The Role of Competition Authority Incentives.

The paper explains the disproportionately high number of antitrust investigations in Russia. Most of them would never have been initiated in a system where antitrust authorities operate within a framework of appropriate incentives – in the absence of such incentives, Russian antitrust officials prefer to investigate cases which require the least effort and are the least likely to be challenged.

The paper examines numerous antitrust investigations to show that according to Russia’s anti-trust authorities, any harm caused by a dominant company can be attributed to its dominant position in the market – which clearly is not always the case.

13. Sergey KazakovMarina Predvoditeleva. How Travelers Use Online and Social Media Channels to Make Hotel Choice Decisions. A Comparative Study of Russian Federation and American Tourists’ Online Consumer Behavior.

Russian tourists use online resources to help them choose hotel accommodation in a different way from American tourists; namely, Russians rarely use online hotel booking services and prefer to book their hotel accommodation by phone.

Many Russians distrust the information on hotel websites and spend time to find and read visitor comments; if a hotel offers a discount, many Russian travelers suspect there is something wrong with the accommodation.

Also, Russians rarely book one or two star hotels, even those with good reviews.

See an article about this research at Opec.ru.

14. Victoria GolikovaBoris Kuznetsov. Perception of Risks Associated with Economic Sanctions: The Case of Russian Manufacturing.

Based on data from a survey of Russian manufacturing companies, the authors conclude that the sanctions against Russia introduced in 2014 have had the strongest effect on better-performing Russian companies integrated in the global economy through direct investment and exports and dependent on imported technology and intermediate materials.

As of 2012, 40% of Russia's manufacturing firms were investing heavily in machinery and equipment, and 91% of these firms were purchasing imported equipment; in 2008 and 2009, 50% of the country's large firms were importing equipment and 30% were importing intermediate materials.

15. Olga Gulevich, Andrey Nevryuev. Social Beliefs and the Assessment of Military Intervention in Other Countries: The Role of Authoritarianism and National Identity .

Authoritarian personalities tend to approve of interference in other countries's affairs, believing that the outside world is dangerous. In contrast, people who believe that the world is friendly, usually disapprove of such interventions, as confirmed by a survey of 844 Russians.

See an article about this research at Opec.ru.


Limiting the list of most interesting studies published in 2015 to just 15 papers is extremely difficult; therefore, a few more papers worth reading are added below.

A) Denis StrebkovAndrey ShevchukMarina Spirina. The Russian-speaking Freelance Marketplace in 2009 to 2014 (based on a survey of freelancers).

The book summarises several years of research into the freelance marketplace and its players. Self-employment rates in Russia are among the lowest in the world, but growing. Each wave of the survey involved more than 10,000 respondents.

Russia is becoming the centre of a freelance marketplace based on a historical, cultural and linguistic community of self-employed individuals in Russia and increasingly, in other former USSR republics. About 1 million people have had the experience of freelance work on the internet, and many of them are planning to start their own businesses around it.

B) Anna Pestova. Leading Indicators of the Business Cycle: Dynamic Logit Models for OECD Countries and Russia.

The author has constructed a system of leading indicators for the OECD countries and Russia, based on quarterly macroeconomic data for the 33-year period starting in 1980. Her findings indicate a trade-off between the system's forecasting accuracy and its ability to detect trends early enough.

The author includes credit market variables to improve the model's predictive power. According to Pestova, foreign banks' lower performance may be related to their risk-avoidance strategy; bank performance tends to be cyclical, and banks using expansionary strategies fare better in times of economic growth, while their cautious peers can do well during an economic recession.

C) Evgeniya PolyakovaLarisa Smirrnykh. The Impact of Sectoral Segregation on the Earning Differential between Natives and Immigrants in Russia.

This is the first Russian study to examine at a micro level the earnings gap between migrant and native Russian workers, using 2004 to 2012 RLMS data. The wage gap stood at about 15%, accompanied by sectoral segregation, whereby migrants are offered jobs only in certain sectors.

D) Elena KopnovaLilia Rodionova. Age Features of a Happy Life in Russia and Europe: An Econometric Analysis of Socio-Economic Determinants.

This study examines the effect of age on life satisfaction in different countries. In Germany and France, happiness follows a U-shaped curve, reaching its lowest in middle age and getting better later in life, while in countries such as Iceland and Norway, age has little effect on happiness, which increases only slightly towards the end of life.

In contrast, in post-Soviet countries, such as Russia, Ukraine, Estonia and Lithuania, life satisfaction drops significantly after 60, mainly due to lower income and poor health. Thus, in Russia, just 3% of people over 60 are satisfied with their income, compared to 67% in Norway.

In certain countries, including Belgium, Switzerland, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, and Israel, people seem to be happy regardless of age.

Anna Mironova, in her paper Trust as a Factor of Subjective Life Satisfaction, discusses the effect of trust in other people on one's life satisfaction. Interviews conducted in central Russia and the North Caucasus reveal a fairly low level of general trust (43% believe that 'people cannot be trusted', while 29% agree that 'most people can be trusted'). Even more respondents (49% vs. 22%) doubt that other people are usually honest. People tend to trust those they know, such as family, friends and colleagues, as opposed to strangers. Those who are more trusting – particularly in terms of institutions, colleagues and acquaintances – tend to report higher life satisfaction. See an article about this research at Opec.ru.

E) Vladimir GimpelsonAnna LukiyanovaAnna Sharunina. Estimating the Public-Private Wage Gap in Russia: What Does Quantile Regression Tell Us?

In recent years in Russia, the wage gap between workers of similar qualifications in the public and private sectors has decreased yet a difference still persists. Between 2000 and 2014, public sectors wages stood at 70% - 75% to 80% - 85% of private sector wages in similar jobs. The wage gap is particularly high at 20% to 40% in education and medicine and 20% to 30% in public administration, and this difference seems unrelated to potential corruption or to any perks, such as long vacations, in the public sector.

F) Lidia ProkofievaIrina KorchaginaAnna MironovaEkaterina Tarnovskaya. The Social contract as a mechanism enabling households to overcome poverty in Russia.

Social transfers to the poor, accompanied by a formal contract whereby the recipients undertake to improve their income-generating potential, are believed to be a promising form of poverty alleviation. Between 2013 and 2014, this policy was piloted in 45 Russian regions. Currently, however, it is not widespread and mainly practiced in the Tyumen and Nizhny Novgorod regions and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District, where 'social contracts' have been used since 2004 to 2007. While this type of assistance rarely enables families to become fully self-sufficient, it can help certain individuals, e.g. enable a mother to complete vocational training by arranging daycare for her child, etc.

While the overall impact of social contracts in Russia has been low so far, it is still believed to be a preferable type of assistance compared to conventional handouts, as it encourages households to tap into their own resources.

See an article about this research at Opec.ru.

G) Mikhail Mamonov (CMASF), Andrei Vernikov. Bank Ownership and Cost Efficiency in Russia, Revisited.

The paper compares the efficiency of private, foreign and state-owned banks in Russia between 2005 and 2013. The efficiency scores of Russian banks are higher and less volatile; state-owned banks are at least as efficient as private, while foreign banks practice better cost control.

See an article about this research at Opec.ru.

H) Andrei Bronevich, Ekaterina Kosyuk, Alexander Lepskiy, Henry PenikasAnalysis of Conflicts and Determinants of Accuracy of Forecasts in Russian Financial Analysts’ Recommendations.

In 2012, the accuracy of financial analysts' 39-day forecasts for Russian securities, in terms of the direction of price change, stood at 56%; in 2013-2014, their forecast accuracy was lower at about 50% for a 15 to 90 day forcasting horizon.

This paper analyses some 4,000 recommendations concerning Russian securities made between 2012 and 2014, including 55% of 'Buy' recommendations and 10% of the 'Sell' recommendations. The accuracy of investment bank analysts' forecasts varied between 28% and 89%.

The paper ranks investment banks in terms of the forecasting accuracy of their analysts and estimates the yield that could be obtained by following their recommendations. During the three years under review, the recommendations made by Renaissance Capital, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley led to consistently positive yields, while the UBS recommendations produced consistently negative returns.

I) Ruslan Nurullaev. The Right to Be Forgotten in the European Union and Russia: Comparison and Criticism.

The author compares European and Russian laws on the 'right to be forgotten' allowing individuals to request that their personal data may not be retreivable from the internet. The main problem with the Russian law, however, is that it fails to account for the right of the general public to find and access information online.

J) Alexander Chepurenko, Olga Obraztsova (RSSU), Vladimir Yelachovskiy. Cross-Regional Variations in the Level of Entrepreneurial Activity in Russia by Type of Motivation: Determining Factors.

The authors examined different Russian regions in terms of their inhabitant’s likelihood of engaging in entrepreneurial activity and found that a variety of factors such as the availability of private investments, adequacy of local wages, access to computers and the internet at home, population trends, consumer demand, the local crime situation etc. can all have an impact on entrepreneurial activity.

K) Elena KonchevaNikolay ZalesskiyPavel Zyuzin. Optimization of Regional Public Transport System: The Case of Perm Krai.

The paper examines the public transportation system in Perm Krai and demonstrates its inefficiency. While some urban areas lack public transportation altogether, some other local and inter-city routes are affected by excessive competition, e.g. between bus and rail transport, where the latter is subsidised by government.

According to the authors, adopting a different approach to essential and secondary transportation routes and creating multiple transportation hubs, as opposed to the single hub in the regional capital, alongside a few other measures could improve the situation.

paper by Sergey Plaksin, Ekaterina Reshetova, Alexander Kondrashov, Elizaveta Yastrebova and Nikita Krupensky examines some of the pros and cons of introducing a 'smart' toll-collection system, and identifies the system's main advantage as 100% toll collection rate and its key disadvantage as the implementation cost.

L) Gordey Yastrebov. The Dynamics of Social Mobility in Russia from a Long-Term Perspective.

Social mobility in contemporary Russia, observed at its lowest in the generations born before 1950, began to rise during the late Soviet period and peaked in the first half of the 1990s, when many people experienced drastic, often involuntary and random changes in their occupation, social and economic status, and then decreased again at the turn of the 21st century.

M) Elena VarshavskayaMikhail Denisenko. Numbers, Trends and Characteristics of Russia’s Economically Inactive People.

In 2013, 17.8 million of Russia’s 86.8 million people of working age were unemployed and did not seek employment. This group has rarely been previously studied; while some of them engage in productive unpaid work within their household or take up temporary, part-time or informal employment, economic inactivity in Russia is still high. Historically, it was on an upward trend in the 1990s and then began to decline in the 2000s, reaching its minimum in 2012, with 31% of the inactive population aged 15 to 72.

Economic inactivity in Russia is higher than in Northern Europe, the U.S. and Japan, but lower than in Southern Europe and in some post-socialist countries. In another paper, Ekaterina Klepikova examines some of the factors which determine whether a person is likely to continue working upon reaching retirement age. In most cases, people choose to continue working past retirement because they need the money, and the main reason for stopping work is poor health; according to the author, the former consideration tends to be stronger than the latter. Other things being equal, well-educated people tend to work longer. Now that Russia's population is aging and pension security is decining, more people can be expected to work longer past retirement age.

See the authors' summary of the findings here and an OPEC.ru article about Varshavskaya and Denisenko's paper here.

N) Andrei Yakovlev, Irina Levina, Anastasiya Kazun. What Firms Observed Improvement of the Business Climate in Russia between 2012 and 2014?

According to the authors, in recent years, the business climate in Russia has improved for companies with a long planning horizon and for those receiving government support. State-owned companies, however, have been worse off. Interestingly, the mention of Putin's name in the survey question about business climate brought more positive assessments from medium-sized enterprises and more non-answers from large firms (see the paper in English here).

According to a paper by Timothy Frye (Columbia University) and Andrei Yakovlev, after the 2011 Duma elections in which the ruling party showed unexpectedly poor results, managers of state-owned enterprises felt less confident than before the elections.

See an article about Yakovlev, Levina and Kazun's paper at Opec.ru.

O) Evgeniya Frolova. Rap as a Form of Social and Political Reflection in Contemporary Russian Culture (2009 to 2013).

Starting in the 2010s in Russia, art has increasingly addressed various sociol and political issues. This is particularly true of Russian rap and one of its sub-genres which continues the tradition of social criticism and has thus become a means of political reflection and engagement.

P) Yuliy Nisnevich. Regeneration of the Nomenklatura as the Ruling Class .

While different from the Soviet Nomenklatura – the ruling class of bureacracy – contemporary bureacratic elites in Russia are its direct successors. With few exceptions, vertical career mobility in Soviet times was only possible by moving up the hierarchy step by step.

The driving forces behind the revolution in the early 1990s – which can be described as a meritocratic and democratic revolution of elites – included both democratically-minded urbanites and certain members of the Nomenklatura frustrated in their career ambitions in the USSR’s gerontocratic system.

Similarly, top managers of state-owned enterprises, i.e. the Soviet Nomenklatura, ended up being the main beneficiaries of the privatisation. The Russian Nomenclatura today is similar to its Soviet predessessors in seeking to exploit their office for personal gain. Since the 2000s, part of the state bureaucracy has merged with business elites in Russia.

Q) Natalia Kochkina, Marina Krasilnikova (both from Levada Center), Sergey Shishkin. Health Care Service Availability and Quality as Assessed by the Russian Public.

Overall, Russians tend to assess positively the recent changes in the country’s healthcare system; however, those who need healthcare more than others often give negative feedback about the system's performance.

Compared to 2008, public satisfaction with health services has decreased somewhat. Almost everybody is aware of their vulnerability in the event of a serious illness – at least 80% of respondents are convinced that they would not be able to access free medical care to the extent needed.

In contrast to the residents of more than 20 other countries surveyed, Russians tend to believe that local doctors do not have sufficient professional skills.

Most Russian respondents are prepared to sacrifice geographical access and travel to another neighbourhood or city for better quality of care.

The only exception is pensioners who value access to care higher than its quality.

See an article about this research at Opec.ru.


December 30, 2015