Department of Economics

Jesse Bruhn, Assistant Professor of Economics

Title of Research Project: Crime, trust, and informal institutions in the inner city

Abstract: The goal of this project is to better understand how trust in the police affects the way urban African American communities interact with law enforcement in the United States. We plan to examine this question by exploring how 911 calls and gunshots co-evolve in the wake of news events about officer-involved shootings. We also plan to explore this question using within-city data on community trust in the police gathered by fielding micro surveys on social media.

Carolina Lopez, Economics Graduate Student

Santiago Hermo, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: Incentivizing high-school graduation: evidence from teenagers in Salta, Argentina

Abstract: Our research speaks to the problem of low high-school graduation rates in developing countries. To study this question, we analyze the impact of two interventions in the province of Salta, Argentina. The first one took place in one school and did not allow students who don’t pass all subjects by the end of the academic year to participate in the graduation ceremony (traditionally, students are allowed to participate even if they don't have a passing grade in all subjects). Since the program started in 2015 the graduation rate increased by 14 p.p. and the school authorities attribute this result to the success of the program. For the second project, we study the effects of randomization of school shifts (morning or afternoon) at the beginning of secondary school on academic achievement or behavior. Evidence on this question is mixed, with some papers suggesting that later shifts benefit from improved sleeping, whereas others emphasizing that later shifts induce risky behavior in the students earlier in life, harming academic achievement. We will like to analyze the complete entire trajectory of these students while in high school to (i) determine the impact of school shift at each age, and (ii) assess the role of peers and parents. Besides analyzing academic records, we will implement surveys.

Masahiro Kubo, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: Jihad over Centuries

Abstract: This project uncovers the historical roots and persistence of violent Islamic extremism in Africa. We investigate how the power structure of Islamic states and European military during the colonial era in 19th century shapes contemporary Islamic conflicts and Muslim population.

Shunsuke Tsuda, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: De-Radicalization and Reintegration from Violent Islamic Extremism

Abstract: This research attempts to uncover obstacles behind de-radicalization and reintegration from violent Islamic extremism. We collect novel data from imprisoned ex-combatants of a jihadist group. We implement an RCT intervention to evaluate the effectiveness of frequent rehabilitation counseling and intergroup contact in the form of reconciliation dialogue. A natural language processing approach and a series of lab-in-the-field experiments is designed to capture extremist ideologies, other-regarding preferences, cooperative behaviors, and subjective beliefs.

Henrique Pita Barros, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: The Economics of Portuguese Colonization in Africa: lessons from the independence wars in Angola and Mozambique

Abstract: This project studies persistent effects of European colonization in the long-run development of African countries. Specifically, the project combines new data from archival sources and it explores the mechanisms taking place during the wars for Independence of Angola and Mozambique, as well as the consequences of several colonial policies in the long-run development of these countries.

Ruchi Mahadeshwar, Economics Graduate Student

Bryce Steinberg, Assistant Professor of Economics

Neil Thakral, Assistant Professor of Economics

Title of Research Project: Actions and Information Acquisition

Abstract: This project aims to understand how individuals’ past actions impact their beliefs and plans to take similar actions in the future. The literature on motivated beliefs suggests that agents seek and believe information consistent with their pre-existing beliefs, but is missing empirical evidence of a causal relationship between actions in one period and beliefs about the value of taking those actions in the future. We are currently exploring this idea as it relates to media consumption between election cycles. 

Alexander Yarkin, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: Ancestral Shocks and Political Attitudes of Immigrants: Evidence from the European Refugee Crisis

Abstract: This project explores cultural transmission along ethnic/ancestral networks. Focusing on the European Refugee Crisis in 2014-2016, the project demonstrates how social attitudes and political behaviors of (the descendants of) immigrants react to the inflow of refugees and corresponding attitudinal change in their ancestral homelands. As a first step, the project documents that such 'real time' ancestral cultural spillovers are significant and large: a 1-unit increase in the anti-immigrant sentiment in a country receiving refugees translates into 0.33-0.5 units of increase in the anti-immigrant sentiment among people tracing ancestry to that country. These spillover effects are stronger (i) for people with a stronger sense of ethnic identity and (ii) for more similar groups of people (i.e., homophily effect). To better understand the mechanisms behind these cultural spillovers, a novel type of online survey is conducted, measuring respondents' networks and attention to their ancestral homelands, and administering an 'information treatment' about the refugee crisis and the attitudes of people in the ancestral country.

Yann Koby, Assistant Professor of Economics

Title of Research Project: Global Firms in Large Devaluations

Abstract: I investigate the consequences of firms' joint import and export decisions in the context of large devaluations. I provide empirical evidence that large devaluations are characterized by an increase in the aggregate share of imported inputs in total input spending, and by reallocation of resources towards import intensive firms, contrary to what standard quantitative trade models predict. These facts are explained by the expansion of exporters, which are intense importers. I develop a model where firms globally decide their import and export strategies and discipline it to match salient features of the Mexican micro data. After a counterfactual devaluation, the model predicts that the aggregate import share increases as exporters gain market share. It also predicts higher increases in production costs and prices, and smaller reductions in productivity, as compared with the benchmark model of the literature.

Matthew Pecenco, Assistant Professor of Economics

Title of Research Project: Selection into entrepreneurship

Abstract: This is two early-stage projects studying heterogeneous returns to entrepreneurship and the decision to become an entrepreneur. Little is known about these relationships. The goal of the projects is to provide clear evidence on ex-ante heterogeneous returns and understand how to target policy interventions to potential entrepreneurs.

Joaquin Blaum, Assistant Professor of Economics

Title of Research Project: Firms Imports and Exports and Devaluations

Abstract: (TBA)

Carolina Lopez, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: Understanding Low High School Completion Rates in a Developing Country: Experimental Evidence from Argentina

Abstract: Secondary school graduation rates remain low in many developing countries, and this may be a barrier to sustained economic growth. I have designed and implemented in 63 secondary schools in Salta, Argentina, a randomized controlled trial testing the impacts of providing information about labor market returns to schooling, as well as about the probability of graduation by academic standing, on graduation rates. In Argentina, attendance rate to secondary school is relatively high: 91.2% (SEDLAC, 2018). However, less than half of teenagers who are enrolled graduate from high school (UNICEF, 2017). In particular, a high proportion of the students that attend until the last day of senior year do not obtain the high-school diploma because they fail to pass all required subjects (35% at the national level, and 42% in Salta). Based on discussions with educational authorities and teachers, as well as on interviews with students, the randomized controlled trial was designed based on the following hypotheses: first, students do not have enough information on the benefits of obtaining the high-school diploma, in terms of earnings and probabilities of employment; second, students overestimate their chances of graduation and consequently, they do not take the steps needed to increase those chances. Providing information about wages and probability of employment, as well as information on the probability of graduation by current academic standing could help to address these two issues, respectively.

Guillaume Blanc, Economics Graduate Student

Masahiro Kubo, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: The Origins of Common Language in Nations: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in France​

Abstract: This paper studies the evolution of language in the process of nation-building. We identify the institutional origins of the advent of common language in the course of the emergence of nation-states in the nineteenth century. In particular, we provide the first empirical evaluation of the process of homogenization that took place with nation-building. In France, at the time of the French Revolution, less than fifteen percent of the population spoke standard French—a dialect of langue d’oil and only one of forty-six dialects and nine different languages spoken historically. Today, only French is spoken. In order to study this, we digitize a novel, detailed town-level dataset on spoken languages in France in 1900. We explore the role of state-sponsored education in a regression discontinuity framework exploiting quasi-experimental variation in school building and show that schools played a substantial role in the widespread adoption of standard French language.

Samsun Knight, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: Local retail linkages and demand spillovers: Evidence from chain store closures

Abstract: Retail is the centerpiece of local economic activity, but policymakers have limited information on what types of stores and policies will most improve their local retail environment. Using cell phone location data on retail foot traffic, I exploit sudden retail chain bankruptcies to measure the existence and extent of demand spillovers between adjacent retail stores. For the well-identified case studies of the Payless ShoeSource and Toys R Us bankruptcies, I establish the strength of this demand interdependence and demonstrate how it varies by area type. Then, using an RKD-style design on a broader category of chain store closures, I build out the full matrix of crossdemand interdependence by store type.

Bobby Pakzad-Hurson, Assistant Professor of Economics

Title of Research Project: Equal Pay Laws: A Matching Theory Approach

Abstract: Equal pay laws (EPL) typically require workers who are ``substantially similar" be paid the same wage within a firm. We study such policies theoretically and empirically. In our model, we show that when EPL restricts firms by protected class (e.g. no man can be paid less than a woman, and no woman can be paid less than a man) firms segregate their workforce by gender in equilibrium. This endogenously lowers competition for workers, as it becomes costly for firms to poach from one another—doing so exposes them to the bite of the policy. As a result, wages are lower in equilibrium. When there are more men than women, EPL leads to an increase in the equilibrium wage gap. For a sufficiently high ratio of men to women, there exist equilibria with arbitrarily low wages for women, leading to a particularly large wage gap. We test our model predictions using a difference-in-difference approach to analyze an EPL passed in Chile in 2009. The policy affects firms above a threshold of 10 workers. By comparing firms just above the threshold (treatment) to those just below (control) we find that the EPL increases the share of employees working at segregated firms by 3% and increases the wage gap by 3%.

Ruchi Mahadeshwar, Economics Graduate Student

Alex Zhou, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: Promoting Ethical Productivity Improvements: The Impacts of Competitive Tournaments in
Cambodian Textile Factories

Abstract: Around the world, piece-rate has become the gold standard of productivity pay. Contests are rarely used as work-place incentive schemes, despite the fact that theoretical studies show that contests can outperform piece-rate pay in improving labor productivity, especially since monitoring workers’ output can be expensive or unreliable (Lazear and Rosen, 1981). There have been some hypotheses about why piece-rate pay is more highly adopted – one strand of literature finds that contests are associated with higher variance in effort (see Dechenaux et al. 2012 for review) and another strand finds that the workers internalize the negative externalities of contests and are therefore less productive (Bandiera et al. 2005, 2006, 2012). However, recent theoretical literature offers a simpler explanation: in contests with sufficiently homogenous worker populations, demotivation may outweigh motivation, and therefore, result in perverse effects to aggregate productivity (Fang et al., 2020 and Olszewski and Siegal, 2020). This paper will empirically test for productivity differences by worker heterogeneity in various contest-based incentive schemes through an RCT with two textile factories in Cambodia.

Aarushi Kalra, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: Hate Speech on social media in India

Abstract: How do economic changes within and across social groups change user engagement with hateful content that is directed towards vulnerable groups on social media? We seek to understand the economic reasons behind propagation of hate speech on social media, using data from a hugely popular content generation app in India. We employ this unique dataset along with novel methods to draw causal inference about the relationship between socio-economic indicators of users and their engagement (likes/ comments/ shares) with hateful content.

Joaquin Blaum, Assistant Professor of Economics

Title of Research Project: Firms Imports and Exports and Devaluations

Abstract: (TBA)

Ruchi Mahadeshwar, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: The Long-term Consequences of India’s Emergency-Era Coercive Sterilizations

Abstract: India’s 1970’s “Emergency” (rule by decree period under the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi) involved around 8.3M coercive sterilizations, representing 7% of all fertile-age households in India — we are interested in studying the consequences of this program over subsequent decades. In contrast to previous work in the literature, this setting allows us to study the consequences of a short-run shock to fertility that is coercive in nature and for which there is qualitative consensus of a broad, long-lasting set of impacts on affected regions. In addition to quantifying these impacts, we intend to explore potential mechanisms through standard economic models of demographic transition.

Daniel Crisóstomo Wainstock, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: Roots of Obedience

Abstract: This research project explores the roots of obedient behavior. Inspired by the work of Fenske (2014) and Galor, Ozak and Sarid (2018), I propose that ecological diversity was conducive to the emergence of obedience. I compile data from sources such as the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample, the World Values Survey and the European Social Survey to show evidence supporting my hypothesis. 

Bryce Steinberg, IJC Assistant Professor of Economics and International and Public Affairs

Title of Research Project: TBA

Abstract: TBA

Sara Spaziani, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: TBA

Abstract: TBA

Maor Milgrom, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: The effects of ethnic conflict on discrimination in the labor market: Evidence from the Second Intifada

Abstract: In this project we examine whether Israeli firms whose employees were exposed to Palestinian terror attacks are less likely to hire or promote workers from Palestinian origin. The quasi-randomness in the identity of terror victims can plausibly be used to estimate a causal measure of discrimination in the labor market. We plan to use this measure to examine additional related questions, including the long-term effects of discrimination, and the effect of discrimination on cross-ethnic labor market networks. 

Francesco Ferlanga, Economics Graduate Student

Title of Research Project: Propaganda Through Visual Arts: Evidence From Medieval Denmark

Abstract: In this project, I study how visual arts shape individual beliefs and preferences. In economics, the impact of images on
individuals has mainly been studied from an advertisement or marketing perspective. However, images may be used to
promote and teach specific ideological or theological messages that may severely influence people’s behavior. To study
this phenomenon, I test how the religious messages contained in frescoes in medieval Danish churches affected
individuals’ religiosity, trust and education.


A wide historical literature has highlighted the importance of wall paintings in medieval churches as a tool for the Church
to indoctrinate believers, teach them the Bible and to convey ideological or theological messages. This is often included in
the so-called “Biblia Pauperum”, namely the use of visual images to teach the Bible to the illiterate majority of the
population. Given the cost of producing a fresco, they were usually paid by a donor (a local leader of a high-ranked
Church member) who commissioned the wall painting and had clear requests on the type of message to convey, often
demanding to be represented in the paintings. Given the absence of any alternative form of visual propaganda and the
low literacy rate in the population at the time, not to mention the weekly exposition during religious ceremonies, these
frescos had the potential to strongly influence people’s beliefs. Indeed, decisions about where to paint a new fresco and
what it should contain might be endogenous to local beliefs and preferences. Denmark is a particularly interesting
context to study this phenomenon since this country has one of the best-documented collections of ancient frescos
(available on www.kalkmalerier.dk), which provides information on more than 600 churches and 2000 frescos. This
allows me to exactly define the location, period and message of the visual art to which individuals were exposed.
Furthermore, there are several sources of heterogeneity that I could exploit to overcome the endogeneity of my
relationship of interest. First, Danish frescos were called kalkmalerier and were only painted on limewash, a relatively
expensive material at the time that was mainly used in church construction as an alternative to wood. Crucially, the
largest limestone quarry in the world (in use between 11th and 19th century) is located in Denmark, the distance from
which might have generated an exogenous increase in paintings price, affecting the amount of frescos located in a
certain areas. Second, while these painting were drawn in different periods, they were typically covered with limewash
(not destroyed) right after the Reformation and only brought to light during the 19th century after very extensive process of
uncovering: this generated an exogenous shock that influenced how long people were exposed to the paintings. Finally, it
is possible to exploit the influence of prominent ancient frescoes on more recent frescos in the surrounding area as a
potential additional source of variation. These sources of variation can be exploited to detect differences in people beliefs
through a persistence mechanism.