Research sometimes mean more than adding to our knowledge – it also can mean correcting incorrect impressions. A recent article authored by Anthony Murray ’20, "Millennials and the alcohol industry: expenditure variations among generations," was recently published by the prestigious journal Applied Economics Letters. Adapted from Murray’s Honor’s thesis, the article investigates commonly held ideas about generational behavior and holds them up to data-backed scrutiny.
His findings don’t just provide important new information, they demonstrate what Bryant students can do, even before they enter the workforce. “I think that age is very much just a number in terms of capability, and projects like this show that,” states Murray.
Testing the evidence
The idea for the thesis, and eventual article, came from reading negative stories in popular publications about how Millennials were “killing” a wide range of industries, including the alcohol industry, with their buying habits. Murray, an Applied Economics major, resolved to test those claims using the education he’d acquired during his time at Bryant.
“Bryant’s Honors Program is excellent at fostering that thought process. If you have a question you want to pursue, it’s fantastic for helping you get from Point A to Point B.”
He thought it was important to challenge conventional wisdom supported more by anecdotes than evidence, especially when it could affect industry and policy. “The people writing these articles might be good journalists, but a lot of them aren’t trained in understanding statistics,” he points out. “Sometimes the numbers mean different things than they seem to.”
He also was excited to stretch his capabilities and explore a new area of study – and was grateful the Honors thesis gave him the opportunity and path to do both. “Bryant’s Honors Program is excellent at fostering that thought process,” he says. “If you have a question you want to pursue, it’s fantastic for helping you get from Point A to Point B.”
Investigating the data
Murray worked for more than a year on the project, from inception to final analysis, with Lecturer of Economics Allison Shwachman Kaminaga as his mentor. “Professor Kaminaga played a significant role in helping me flesh out my ideas,” notes Murray. “I would spend an hour or two a week in her office, just bouncing ideas back and forth for the thesis, and what to do next.”
Eventually, he settled on a model and went to work. Using consumer survey data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Murray ran a statistical model to determine how Millennial buying habits compared to other generations. Using datasets that spanned from 1986 to 2016, he found that, when controlled for factors such as holding income, demographics, and other expenditures, Millennials didn’t fundamentally differ in their spending compared to previous generations.
"I think that when you decide from the beginning that this is something that you want to see in a professional journal, with your name on it, you hold yourself to a higher standard."
Millennials were off the hook for “killing” the industry, he found, and he had the data to support it.
Sharing the results
Murray’s thesis project culminated with a presentation of his findings to the Bryant community, but he always knew he wanted an even wider audience for his findings. That ambition galvanized him throughout the research process. “I think that when you decide from the beginning that this is something that you want to see in a professional journal, with your name on it, you hold yourself to a higher standard,” he says.
When he was preparing the paper for submission and publication, Professor Kaminaga’s assistance was again invaluable. “She’s been published so many times,” says Murray. “It was really helpful when I had questions like ‘How do I write a professional academic cover letter?’ or ‘How do I do a professional academic literature review?’”
“I can say, this is what I was able to do at 22 and that gives you an idea of what I could do next.”
With Kaminaga’s guidance, Murray identified journals to submit to, condensed and honed his analysis, and worked through the peer review process, where his paper was scrutinized by journal editors. “Getting feedback from people who are experts in your field, even on your proposal, is something that you can really learn from,” he says. “I was proud of all the feedback I received.”
Building the future
Learning his article would be published in Applied Economics Letters was an even bigger moment of pride. “I actually learned it was going to be published on my first day of work, funny enough” says Murray, now a Senior Analyst, Administrative Solutions, at human resources services and technology company Morneau Shepell. “We were doing introductions because I was the new guy on the team,” he remembers, “and I was able to say ‘Hi, I'm Anthony and I just got my thesis published.”
Murray impressed his interviewers with his thesis while applying for jobs but starting his career with a published paper on his resume gives him an additional advantage going forward. “Having a published work is already going to put you ahead for any real research jobs or further schooling you might apply for,” he notes. “It makes one candidate stand out over another instantly.”
Also, he says, it’s not just an endorsement of what he’s done thus far, it’s a promise of what’s to come. “I can say, this is what I was able to do at 22,” Murray says, “and that gives you an idea of what I could do next.”