Research (since 2015)

Defaults and Donations: Evidence from a Field Experiment, 2019, (with Steffen Altmann, Armin Falk, Paul Heidhues, and Marrit Teirlinck), Review of Economics and Statistics, Volume 101(5), p.808-826. https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/full/10.1162/rest_a_00774 Online Appendix.

Summary: We study how defaults affect charitable donations. In a field experiment that was conducted on a large online platform for charitable giving, we exogenously vary the default options in the donation form in two distinct choice dimensions. The first pertains to the primary donation decision, namely, how much to contribute to the charitable cause. The second relates to a “codonation” decision of how much to contribute to supporting the online platform itself. We find a strong impact of defaults on individual behavior: in each of our treatments, the modal positive contributions in both choice dimensions invariably correspond to the specified default amounts. Defaults, nevertheless, have no significant effects on average donation levels. This is because defaults in the donation domain induce some people to donate more and others to donate less. In contrast, higher defaults in the secondary choice dimension unambiguously induce higher average contributions to the online platform. We complement our experimental results by setting up and estimating a structural model that explores whether personalizing defaults based on individuals’ donation histories can help the online platform to increase donation revenues.

School Feeding and Learning Achievement: Evidence from India’s Midday Meal Program, 2019, (with Tanika Chakraborty) Journal of Development Economics, Volume 139, June, p.249-265 , .

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304387818305145 Online Appendix.

Summary: We study the effect of the world’s largest school feeding program on children’s learning outcomes. Staggered implementation across different states of a 2001 Indian Supreme Court Directive mandating the introduction of free school lunches in public primary schools generates plausibly exogenous variation in program exposure across different birth cohorts. We exploit this to estimate the effect of program exposure on math and reading test scores of primary school-aged children. We find that prolonged exposure to midday meals has a robust positive effect on learning achievement. We further investigate various channels that may account for this improvement including complementary schooling inputs, heterogeneous responses by socio-economic status, and intra-household redistribution.

Anatomy of a Contract Change, 2016, (with Debraj Ray and Francis de Vericourt), American Economic Review, 106(2), 316-358. Online Appendix and Data Files.

Summary: We study a contract change for tea pluckers. Base wages increased while incentive piece rates were lowered or kept unchanged. Yet, in the following month, output increased by 20–80%. This response contradicts the standard model, is only partly explicable by greater supervision, and appears to be “behavioral.” But in subsequent months, the increase is comprehensively reversed. Our findings suggest that behavioral responses may be ephemeral, and should ideally be tracked over an extended period.

Linear Social Interactions Models, 2015, (with Lawrence Blume, William Brock, and Steven Durlauf), Journal of Political Economy, 123(2), pp. 444-496.

Summary: We provide a systematic analysis of identification in linear social interactions models. This is a theoretical and econometric exercise as the analysis is linked to a rigorously delineated model of interdependent decisions. We develop an incomplete information game that describes individual choices in the presence of social interactions. The equilibrium strategy profiles are linear. Standard models in the empirical social interactions literature are shown to be exact or approximate special cases of our general framework, which provides a basis for understanding the microeconomic foundations of those models. We consider identification of both endogenous (peer) and contextual social effects under alternative assumptions regarding the analyst's a priori knowledge of social structure or access to individual-level or aggregate data. Finally, we discuss potential ramifications for identification of endogenous group selection.

Work in Progress

Organizing Entrepreneurial Teams: A Natural Field Experiment on Autonomy in Choosing Teams and Ideas (with Viktoria Boss, Linus Dahlander, and Christoph Ihl) Conditionally Accepted, Organization Science.

Summary: We run a natural field experiment to disentangle the separate and joint effects of granting autonomy over choosing teams and choosing ideas compared to a baseline treatment with pre-assigned ideas and team members. We find that teams with autonomy over choosing either ideas or team members outperform teams in the baseline treatment as measured by pitch deck performance. The effect of choosing ideas is significantly stronger than the effect of choosing teams. However, the performance gains vanish for teams that are granted full autonomy over choosing both ideas and teams. This suggests the two forms of autonomy are substitutes. Causal mediation analysis reveals that the main effects of choosing ideas or teams can be partly explained by a better match of ideas with team members’ interests and prior network contacts among team members, respectively. While homophily and lack of team diversity cannot explain the performance drop among teams with full autonomy, our results suggest that self-selected teams fall prey to overconfidence and complacency too early to fully exploit the potential of their chosen idea.

Charitable Donations to Natural Disasters: Evidence From an Online Platform (with Michael Kaiser and Marrit Teirlinck) Preliminary Draft, version: December, 2020.

Summary: We investigate charitable donations to natural disasters on a large online platform. We document that the bulk of charitable donations go to a tiny fraction of natural disasters, which tend to be severe disasters that receive media coverage. For the remaining 96% of disasters, which account for 80% of casualties, charities don’t even solicit donations. Using an event study design, we find evidence consistent with two manifestations of donor fatigue, but not a third. Donation activity exhibits temporal fatigue: it is concentrated in the two-week after- math of a natural disasters, but dissipates by week three. There is also evidence of disaster fatigue: donation activity absent for disasters that occur within a two-month window of large disasters which have attracted massive funding, while a matched sample of disaster events that transpire outside this two month window do receive donations. However, we find no evidence that donations to disasters crowd out those to other charitable causes. Finally, instrumental variable estimates suggest that charities could raise additional donations on the platform for disaster relief, had they fundraised for them.

Financial Knowledge of Immigrants (with Benoit Dostie)

Immigrants to Canada (with Benoit Dostie)



Older Papers

The Effect of School Lunches on Primary School Enrollment: Evidence from India’s Midday Meal Scheme, 2015, (with Dora Simroth), Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 177(4), pp. 1176-1208.

Summary: At the end of 2001, the Indian Supreme Court issued a directive ordering states to institute school lunches – known locally as “midday meals” – in government primary schools. In this paper we provide a large-scale assessment of the enrollment effects of India’s midday meal scheme, which offers warm lunches, free of cost, to 120 million primary school children across India, and is the largest school feeding program in the world. To isolate the causal effect of the policy, we make use of its staggered implementation across Indian states in government but not private schools. Using a panel dataset of more than 420,000 schools observed annually from 2002 to 2004, we find that midday meals result in substantial increases in primary school enrollment, driven by early primary school responses to the program. Our results are robust to a wide range of specification tests.

Engendered access or engendered care? Evidence from a major Indian hospital, 2014, (with Debraj Ray and Shing-Yi Wang), Economic and Political Weekly 49 (25): 47–53.

Summary: A central feature of many developing countries is the presence of significant gender differentials in health outcomes. Two potential factors that can account for this are that females access treatment later than males and that they receive differential care at the medical facility. This paper explores both of these in the context of eye care. The paper studies diagnostic and surgical outcomes of 60,000 patients who sought treatment over a three-month period in 2012 at the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. The results show that at presentation, women have worse diagnoses than men for indicators of symptomatic illness. To resolve gender-based health inequalities in developing countries, we need to know where these inequalities lie. This paper finds them in access but not care. The findings suggest that women seek treatment later than men for symptomatic illness. That no such gender differential exists for asymptomatic diseases suggests that women do not necessarily go for regular preventive check-ups at a lower frequency than men. The paper finds no systematic evidence that women and men receive differential medical treatment.

The evolution of poverty and inequality in Indian villages, 1999, (joint with Peter Lanjouw), World Bank Research Observer 14 (1): 1–30.

Summary: This paper examines the evolution of poverty and inequality in rural India by reviewing longitudinal village studies. It explores the main forces of economic change—agricultural intensification, changing land relations, and occupational diversification—from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives, and it considers the roles of various institutions as conduits of change. Although most village studies support the survey-based judgment that rural poverty declined in India during the 1970s and 1980s, they find that progress has been slow and irregular and that inequalities within villages have persisted. These continued inequalities may constrain both the scope for further poverty reduction from economic growth and the impact of policy interventions.

Determinants of school enrolment in Indian villages, 2006, (joint with Benoit Dostie), Economic Development and Cultural Change 54 (2): 405–421.

Summary: Attaining universal basic education remains an elusive goal in many developing countries. This article examines the determinants of school enrollment among children in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two large north Indian states. In addition to individual‐ and household‐level influences, we consider the role of village‐level contextual effects on the school enrollment decision. Our results suggest that enrollment is increasing in parental education as well as wealth and that village caste composition and aggregate deprivation also influence individual enrollment decisions.

Do higher costs spur process innovations and managerial incentives? Evidence from a natural experiment , 2013, (joint with Benoit Dostie) Journal of Economics and Management Strategy 22 (3): 529–550.

Summary: This paper asks whether firms respond to cost shocks by introducing process innovations and increasing the use of managerial incentives. Using a large panel data set of workplaces in Canada, our identification strategy relies on exogenous variation in costs arising from increased border security along the 49th parallel following 9/11. Our longitudinal difference‐in‐differences estimates indicate that firms responded to the cost shock by introducing new or improved processes, but did not change their use of managerial incentives. These results suggest that the threat of bankruptcy may provide impetus for improving efficiency.

Organizational redesign, information technologies and workplace productivity, 2012, (joint with Benoit Dostie) B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy 12 (1): 1–39.

Summary: Using a large, longitudinal, nationally representative workplace-level data-set, we explore the productivity gains associated with computer use and organizational redesign. The empirical strategy involves the estimation of a production function, augmented to account for technology use and organizational design, correcting for unobserved heterogeneity. Our first-difference and GMM estimates suggest that the productivity premium associated with computer use is not statistically different from zero. Neither is there any evidence to support the idea that complementarities between computer use and organizational redesign have any substantial bearing on productivity.

What (if any) are the returns to computer use?, 2009, (joint with Benoit Dostie and Mathieu Trépanier), Applied Economics 41 (27): 1–10.

Summary: Using North American data, we revisit the question first broached by Krueger (1993) and re-examined by DiNardo and Pischke (1997) of whether there exists a real wage differential associated with computer use. Employing a mixed effects model with matched employer–employee data to correct for the fact that workers and workplaces that use computers are self-selected, we find that computer users enjoy an almost 4% wage premium over nonusers. Failure to correct for worker and workplace selection effect leads to a more than twofold overestimate of this premium.

The signalling role of municipal currencies in local development, 2005, (joint with Mandar Oak), Economica 72 (288): 597–613.

Summary: The last decade has seen the burgeoning of several hundred local community currency institutions in cities across the world. Although residents of these communities claim that local currency promotes local development, how it does so has hitherto been unexplored. We argue that the introduction of a municipal currency may serve as a signal of demand for local goods. Where demand uncertainty deters firms from investing in more productive technologies, such a signal improves the chances that technology choice will be optimal. The introduction of a local currency therefore always improves ex ante efficiency and may lead to ex post efficiency, with strictly higher levels of productivity and welfare.

Small-scale industry, environmental regulation, and poverty: The case of Brazil, 2004, (joint with Peter Lanjouw), World Bank Economic Review 18 (3): 443–464.

Summary: Governments and international development agencies have intensified efforts to promote small-scale enterprises as an engine of pro-poor growth. In Brazil, however, small-scale industries may also be responsible for the bulk of air pollution emissions. Although employees of polluting small-scale industries in Brazil are not disproportionately poor, simulations suggest that stringent environmental regulation resulting in widespread closures of pollution-intensive small-scale industries would result in a non-negligible increase in poverty among employees of these firms. The results suggest that the enthusiasm for small-scale enterprises needs to be tempered by awareness of the potential environmental costs imposed by this sector.