Team Sorting

November 8, 2009 at 7:27 pm 4 comments

| Gabriel |

Tyler Cowen links to an NBER paper by Hoxby that shows that in recent decades, status sorting has gotten more intense for college. Cowen asks “is this a more general prediction in a superstars model?” The archetypal superstar system is Hollywood, and here’s my quick and dirty stab at answering Tyler’s question for that field. Faulkner and Anderson’s 1987 AJS showed that there is a lot of quality sorting in Hollywood, but they didn’t give a time trend. As shown in my forthcoming ASR with Esparza and Bonacich, there are big team spillovers so this is something we ought to care about.

I’m reusing the dataset from our paper, which is a subset of IMDB for Oscar eligible films (basically, theatrically-released non-porn) from 1936-2005. If I were doing it for publication I’d do it better (i.e., I’d allow the data to have more structure and I’d build confidence intervals from randomness), but for exploratory purposes the simplest way to measure sorting is to see if a given film had at least one prior Oscar nominee writer, director, and actor. From that I can calculate the odds-ratio of having an elite peer in the other occupation.

Overall, a movie that has at least one prior nominee writer is 7.3 times more likely than other films to have a prior nominee director and 4.4 times more likely to have a prior nominee cast. A cast with a prior nominee is 6.5 times more likely to have a prior nominee director. Of course we already knew there was a lot of sorting from Faulker and Anderson, the question suggested by Hoxby/Cowen is what are the effects over time?

This little table shows odds-ratios for cast-director, writer-director, and writer-cast. Big numbers mean more intense sorting.

...| decade    cd       wd       wc       |
1. | 1936-1945 6.545898 6.452388 4.306554 |
2. | 1946-1955 9.407476 6.425553 5.368151 |
3. | 1956-1965 12.09229 8.741302 6.720059 |
4. | 1966-1975 4.697238 5.399081 4.781106 |
5. | 1976-1985 4.113508 6.984528 4.450109 |
6. | 1986-1995 4.923809 7.599852 3.301461 |
7. | 1996-2005 4.826018 12.35915 3.641975 |

The trend is a little complicated. For collaborations between Oscar-nominated casts on the one-hand and either writers or directors, the sorting is most intense in the 1946-1955 decade and especially the 1956-1965 decade. My guess is that this is tied to the decline of the studio system and/or the peak power of MCA. The odds-ratio of good director for nom vs non-nom writers also has a jump around the end of the studio system, but it seems there’s a second jump starting in the 80s. My guess is that this is an artifact of the increasing number of writer-directors (see Baker and Faulkner AJS 1991), but it’s an empirical question.

Putting aside the writer-director thing, it seems that sorting is not growing stronger in Hollywood. My guess is that ever more intense sorting is not a logical necessity of superstar markets, but has to do with contingencies, such as the rise of a national market for elite education in Hoxby’s case or the machinations of Lew Wasserman and Olivia deHavilland in my case.

The Stata code is below. (sorry that wordpress won’t preserve the whitespace). The data consists of film-level data with dummies for having at least one prior nominee for the three occupations.

global parentpath "/Users/rossman/Documents/oscars"

capture program drop makedecade
program define makedecade
gen decade=year
recode decade 1900/1935=. 1936/1945=1 1946/1955=2 1956/1965=3 1966/1975=4 1976/1985=5 1986/1995=6 1996/2005=7
capture lab drop decade
lab def decade 1 "1936-1945" 2 "1946-1955" 3 "1956-1965" 4 "1966-1975" 5 "1976-1985" 6 "1986-1995" 7 "1996-2005"
lab val decade decade

cd $parentpath

capture log close
log using $parentpath/sorting_analysis.log, replace

use sorting, clear

*do odds-ratio of working w oscar nom, by own status

capture program drop allstar
program define allstar
if "`1'"!="" {
keep if decade==`1'
tabulate cast director, matcell(CD)
local pooled_cd=(CD[2,2]*CD[1,1])/(CD[1,2]*CD[2,1])
tabulate writers director, matcell(WD)
local pooled_wd=(WD[2,2]*WD[1,1])/(WD[1,2]*WD[2,1])
tabulate writers cast, matcell(WC)
local pooled_wc=(WC[2,2]*WC[1,1])/(WC[1,2]*WC[2,1])
shell echo "`pooled_cd' `pooled_wd' `pooled_wc' `1'" >> sortingresults.txt

shell echo "cd wd wc decade" > sortingresults.txt
quietly allstar
forvalues t=1/7 {
quietly allstar `t'

insheet using sortingresults.txt, delimiter(" ") names clear
lab val decade decade


*have a nice day

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A Note on the Uses of Official Statistics Science (esp. econ) made fun


  • 1. Steve Sailer  |  November 8, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    Thanks. Very interesting.

    It would seem like superstar sorting is more of an issue in colleges where pricing is rather strange — Harvard is not noticeably more expensive than SMU, so why not go to Harvard rather than SMU?

    With making movies, pricing of talent works in a pretty standard market, so there are normal tradeoffs. If you want to get a whole bunch of Oscar winners together, it will cost you more, so there are incentives to economize. (Also, there can be more ego clashes with big names.)

    • 2. gabrielrossman  |  November 9, 2009 at 1:12 pm

      i basically agree. your interpretation is consistent with what we see in the data that sorting peaked in the late 50s/early 60s since the early days of free agency is when such sorting would be possible but not prohibitively expensive.

      as to the case of colleges, i think your half-right. it’s true that tuition is only loosely coupled to prestige/quality, but the greater cost of college is the credential bidding war for admission, which is how you get the perfect fictional portrait of a cutthroat teenage resume-builder, Paris Geller. Having spent a total of eight years around ivy league undergrads, the character is reasonably accurate but fails to capture the extent to which they internalize the resume-building habitus.

  • 3. jimiadams  |  November 9, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    mostly unrelated to the post – i really like that paper, and congrats on it being forthcoming (at ASR!). i actually have my undergrad (topical) networks class read it.

    • 4. gabrielrossman  |  November 9, 2009 at 5:04 pm

      cool, glad you like the paper. if you click the “IMDB” tag in my tag cloud you’ll find some notes on the data cleaning. likewise i’ll probably have a few posts about it (including the “available on request” type stuff) when it’s in print

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