New Faculty
Itay Fainmesser Assistant Professor of Economics Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Itay Fainmesser
Assistant Professor of Economics

By Deborah Baum  |  September 1, 2010  |  Email to a friend

There has never been a better time to be studying social networks. Although it’s not a new topic — researchers have been interested in social networks for at least a half-century — the introduction of the Internet has provided scholars with huge amounts of new data, better records, and a surge of research on the topic in recent years.

“There are high hopes for the field,” said Itay Fainmesser, an economic theorist and experimental economist who works primarily on issues of social networks. “I hope they justify themselves. It’s definitely the most fun time to be doing this research.”

Some of Fainmesser’s recent work takes a social networks approach to explore the phenomenon of early hiring in different labor markets, such as medical interns and judicial clerks. He shows how network structures can explain different hiring patterns and why certain elements can induce such markets to adopt earlier and earlier hiring dates.

Another avenue of his social network research is investigating how trust and cooperation are sustained within a network. He examined how interactions among buyers and sellers are influenced by the network links of their respective trading partners. For example, a seller may be more likely to produce a higher quality product if they know that the buyer is linked to a large number of other buyers.

Fainmesser also collaborated on work regarding the often-controversial NCAA football rankings. There is difficulty in ranking college football teams because every team has a different schedule of games and a different set of opponents. The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) relies on a combination of polls and computer selection methods to determine relative team rankings — a system that is frequently criticized for its lack of transparency. Fainmesser doesn’t go so far as to say that he came up with a better system of ranking teams than those currently used, but he did create a methodology that more correctly predicted winners of the BCS games over the 2004-07 period. (And, yes, the BCS is aware of the research.)

Fainmesser received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 2010. Originally from Israel, he attended Tel Aviv University as an undergraduate, studying computer science and economics. He is the recipient of the Roger Martin Award for Excellence in Doctoral Research and several honor scholarships. He also has ongoing experimental work examining strategic decision making by Palestinian and Israeli youth.

Fainmesser will teach courses in market design and industrial organization this fall.