Christopher Cotton

Jarislowsky-Deutsch Chair in Economic and Financial Policy
and Associate Professor 
Department of Economics 
Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

 Working papers


Two of my new publications:

Grading Standards and education quality, AEJ: Micro, forthcoming May 2015 (with Raphael Boleslavsky)

A game theoretic model in which schools compete to place graduates both through investments in education quality and through the strategic design of grading policies. By allowing grade inflation, a school can improve the competitiveness of its average student on the labor market. We show how policies that fight grade inflation may have unexpected consequences. Specifically, preventing schools from engaging in grade inflation decreases the incentives that schools have to improve their reputations for quality. This can hurt employers. 

Link to article. Link to column at

Information and extremism in elections, AEJ: Micro, Feb 2015 (with Raphael Boleslavsky)

A game theoretic model in which first, political parties engage in platform competition (choose how moderate or extreme their candidates are), second, a political campaign produces information about candidate quality, and third, voters elect a candidate. We show that as campaigns become more informative, political parties have incentives to nominate more extreme candidates. This means that as voter information increases, they will be able to better identify and elect high ability politicians, but at the same time politicians running for election will support less moderate policy positions. We show how increased campaign informativeness can decrease voter welfare. 

Link to article.

Link to all of my publications


One of my new working papers:

Affirmative action and human capital investment: Evidence from a randomized field experiment, NBER working paper w20397 (with Brent Hickman and Joe Price)

Students effort studying and preparing for college may depend on the affirmative action policies (AA) they face in college admissions. We explore the incentive effects of AA using a theoretically driven field experiment that creates a microcosm of the college admissions market. We find that the AA policy significantly increases both average time investment and subsequent math achievement scores for disadvantaged students. At the same time, we find no evidence that it weakens average human capital investment incentives for advantaged students. We also find strong evidence that AA can narrow achievement gaps while promoting greater equality of market outcomes. 

Link to working paper.   See some recent press coverage at Quartz, FiveThirtyEight and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Link to more working papers