My research interests fall within the fields of development economics, labor economics and behavioral economics.
My current research focuses on two areas: how individuals' beliefs shape their decisions as they relate to economic development, and the study of frictions that make poverty and inequalities persistent
Directly eliciting subjective beliefs is increasingly popular in social science research, but doing so via face-to-face surveys has an important downside: the interviewer’s knowledge of the topic may spill over into the respondent’s recorded beliefs. Using a randomized experiment that used interviewers to implement an information treatment, we show that reported beliefs are significantly shifted by interviewer knowledge. Trained interviewers primed respondents to use the exact numbers used in the training, nudging them away from higher answers; recorded responses decrease by about 0.3 standard deviations of the initial belief distribution. Furthermore, respondents with stronger priors are less affected by interviewer knowledge. We suggest corrections from the perspectives of interviewer recruitment, survey design, and experiment setup.
Health Knowledge and Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa (with Anne E. Fitzpatrick, Sabrin A. Beg, Laura C. Derksen, Anne Karing, Jason T. Kerwin, Adrienne Lucas, and Munir Squires) [JEBO 2021]
Providing health information is a non-pharmaceutical intervention designed to reduce disease transmission and infection risk by encouraging behavior change. But does knowledge change behavior? We test whether coronavirus health knowledge promotes protective risk mitigation behaviors early in the COVID-19 pandemic across four African countries (Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania). Despite reputations for weak health sectors and low average levels of education, health knowledge of the symptoms and transmission mechanisms was high in all countries in the two months after the virus entered the country. Higher knowledge is associated with increased protective measures that would likely lower disease risk with one exception–knowledge is inversely correlated with social distancing. Respondents largely adhered to mask mandates and lockdowns, but continued coming into contact with others at small, informal gatherings, gatherings not affected by mandates. Knowledge alone appears unlikely to reduce all risky activities, especially gatherings within other people's homes. Even early in the pandemic income loss or stress were commonly reported. Our results suggest that early and consistent government provision of health information, likely reduced the severity of the pandemic in Africa but was not a panacea.
Appointments for preventive healthcare are ubiquitous in developed countries, possibly because they address self-control problems, but they are rare in poor countries. We randomly offer HIV testing appointments and financial commitment devices to high-risk men in Malawi. Both interventions increase HIV testing. Appointments are much more effective, more than doubling testing rates. Despite high demand for the commitment device, most do not follow through and thus lose their investment. For these men, who are partially-sophisticated about their self-control problems, appointments appear particularly effective. We explore salience, forgetfulness, and social pressure as potential mechanisms. Appointments are a very cost-effective tool for increasing preventive healthcare.
Paid Maternity Leave and Women's Human Capital: Evidence From California
I test whether the implementation of the California Paid Family Leave Act increased young women's human capital investment, specifically college enrollment. Using a synthetic control approach, I estimate that the policy increased the probability that women enroll in college by about 2 percentage points. This effect is statistically significant at the 5% level and persists for at least several years. I present a simple human capital model of women's schooling choices that characterizes these results as the effect of an expected decrease in the effects of motherhood on labor supply. Finally, I present evidence from survey data and Internet searches that provides support to the hypothesized mechanism: women are more likely to enroll in college because they expect that the policy will increase their future labor supply.
Soup Kitchens and Food Security: The Case of Mexico's Crusade Against Hunger
Governments across the world subsidize soup kitchen programs, but there is little evidence on their effectiveness. I study a soup kitchen program funded by the Mexican government to examine whether it has caused an improvement in food security. I find no mean municipal effects for six different measures of food security. Testing for potential weaknesses of the program, I find no evidence of political sabotage by local authorities, nor evidence of poor targeting at the municipality level. I analyze a sub sample of the most food insecure and identify some positive effects within that group. My results suggest that the effect of the program on food security is concentrated in the lower end of the food security distribution, but challenge the assumption that subsidizing prepared food will mechanically improve mean food security significantly, and stresses the importance of having micro data to evaluate the effects of programs like this one.
Work in Progress
How Housing and Education Interventions Shape Justice System Involvement: Evidence from Minnesota (with Christopher Uggen and Caitlyn Curry)
What Difference do Schools Make? A Mixed-methods Study in Peru, (with Santiago Cueto, Gabriela Guerrero, Juan Leon & Paul Glewwe)
The Evolution of the Share of Female Headed Households Across the World and its Determinants (with Khoa Vu and Anna Bolgrien)
Indigenous Language Textbooks and Learning in Mexico