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March 7, 2014
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU researchers examine property rights, democracy


Bethany Ratkovich, a Slippery Rock University political science major from Aliquippa, knew she was going on to earn her doctorate in that field once she completed her undergraduate studies, so she set her sites on being involved in a major research project.

"I really crave a challenge," she said, "and since I hope to hope to specialize in political economy at the graduate level, I knew Dr. [David] Kershaw was a research methods expert in the political science department. He agreed to work with me on a project that is part of his 'Research Methods' class."

KERSHAWThe joint research project, "Property Rights: The Key to Political Stability and Economic Growth," is funded by a $4,800 grant from the University's joint Faculty/Student Research Grants Program.

"This research project seeks to expand scholarly knowledge on the link between political institutions, political instability and the wealth of nations by addressing the fact that prior research neglects the role of property rights in fostering economic growth," Kershaw said. He said the project started from his interest in teaching research methods, adding, "I take the philosophy that you can't learn without doing."

He said he encourages students to do work in international and domestic research related to democracy. "This particular piece of research deals with studying how nations' proprerty right protections interact with political stability and economic growth of democracy," Kershaw said.

"The economics literature establishes that property right protections lead to economic growth, but existing research does not adequately explore the degree to which property rights are affected by, or affect political instability," he said.

"Like other factors in this research, we expect property rights to influence, as well as be influenced by, political stability and economic growth. We hypothesize that the more a nation protects property rights, the greater economic growth the country will see. We also expect to find a reduction in 'irregular' political instability as property rights increase," Kershaw said.

"I really hope to garner the practical skills necessary to stand out during the application process for graduate school," Ratkovich said. "The programs which I'm applying to are definitely ambitious, in addition I'm vying for a fellowship or assistantship, but it's all the more motivation to capitalize on the rest of my time at SRU."

"What I'm doing for research is so far removed from my courses now that, for better or worse, there has been no overlap. In hindsight, this probably would not be the case had I begun this project a couple years ago," she said.

The project is not Ratkovich's first work in research. "I collaborated on other research with Dr. Kershaw during the 2012-2013 school year. Then, my main role was updating a well-cited data set by reading through various court decisions regarding preclearance violations under the Voting Rights Act. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to pursue my own interests."

"The most fun aspect is easily the statistical programming. It's a rewarding experience for so many different reasons. The main thing is the gratification from problem-solving which is made ever sweeter after an hour of cursing a monitor," she said.

"I have come to realize just how important it so to be a self-advocate for your own education. What's the point of incurring so much debt for something you're not passionate about?," she said.

"To test our expectations, we turn to political and economic data on 144 countries for the period 1960 to 2011. Following the literature, the study uses time series, dynamic panel analyses to test the relationship between economic growth, political stability and property rights," he said.

The pair hope to present the results at conferences including SRU's 2014 Symposium for Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Achievement April 10 in the Smith Student Center Ballroom and political science's preeminent conference, the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in August..

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