Gautam Rao

I am an Assistant Professor at the Department of Economics at Harvard University. Prior to joining the faculty at Harvard, I was a post-doctoral researcher at Microsoft Research's New England Lab in Cambridge, MA from July 2014-June 2015. I graduated from UC Berkeley with a PhD in Economics in 2014.

My research seeks to bring insights from psychology to bear on topics in economics, particularly topics relevant to developing countries. Recent projects include studying how mixing rich and poor students in schools in India affects social preferences and behaviors, how citizens are motivated to vote by social image concerns, and how innovative financial contracts can help patients with hypertension overcome their self-control problems in rural India. 




Contact:

Email:
Tel.:
    
Department of Economics
Littauer Center M-30, Harvard University
Cambridge, MA 02138
U.S.A.

[Curriculum Vitae]
[Updated 15 Jan  2015]


 



                                                                                                        
                                                                                                



Publications:

The Importance of Being Marginal: Gender Differences in Generosity

(with Stefano DellaVigna, John List and Ulrike Malmendier)

American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings, May 2013.

Abstract: Do men and women have different social preferences? Previous findings are contradictory. We provide a potential explanation using evidence from a field experiment. In a door-to-door solicitation, men and women are equally generous, but women become less generous when it becomes easy to avoid the solicitor. Our structural estimates of the social preference parameters suggest an explanation: women are more likely to be on the margin of giving, partly because of a less dispersed distribution of altruism. We find similar results for the willingness to complete an unpaid survey: women are more likely to be on the margin of participation

[online appendix]



Working Papers:


Familiarity Does Not Breed Contempt: Diversity, Discrimination and Generosity in Delhi Schools
[Updated 30 Dec 2013]

Abstract: I exploit a natural experiment in India to identify how mixing rich and poor students in schools affects social preferences and behaviors. A policy change in 2007 forced many private schools in Delhi to meet a quota of poor children in admissions. This led to a sharp increase in the presence of poor children in new cohorts in those schools, but not in older cohorts or in other schools. Exploiting this variation, and using a combination of field and lab experiments, administrative data and test scores, I study impacts on three classes of outcomes: (i) prosocial behavior, (ii) social interactions and discrimination, and (iii) academic outcomes. First, I find that having poor classmates makes wealthy students more prosocial and generous. They become more likely to volunteer for a charity at school, more generous towards both rich and poor students in dictator games, and choose more equitable distributions of payoffs in the lab. Second, having poor classmates makes wealthy students discriminate less against poor children, measured by their teammate choice in an incentivized sports contest. Consistent with this, they become more willing to socialize with poor children outside school. Third, I find marginally significant negative effects on test scores in English, but no effect on Hindi or Math. Overall, I conclude that mixing in schools had substantial positive effects on the social behaviors of wealthy students, at the cost of negative but arguably modest impacts on academic achievement. To shed light on mechanisms, I exploit idiosyncratic assignment of students to study groups and find that the effects on social behaviors are largely driven by personal interactions between wealthy and poor students, rather than by changes in teacher behavior or curriculum.

Voting to Tell Others [New Version: Jan 2015]

(with Stefano DellaVigna, John List and Ulrike Malmendier)

Abstract: Why do people vote? We design a field experiment to estimate a model of voting `because others will ask'. The expectation of being asked motivates turnout if individuals derive pride from telling others that they voted, or feel shame from admitting that they did not vote, provided that lying is costly. In a door-to-door survey about election turnout, we experimentally vary (i) the informational content and use of a flyer pre-announcing the survey, (ii) the duration and payment for the survey, and (iii) the incentives to lie about past voting. The experimental results indicate significant social image concerns. For the 2010 Congressional election, we estimate a value of voting `because others will ask' of $5-$15, one of the first estimates of the value of voting in the literature.


[online appendix]



Work in Progress:

School Quality, Student Outcomes and Household Responses: Evidence from School Lotteries in India

(coming soon)

Abstract: I utilize data from school admission lotteries to study the effects of attending a higher quality school on the learning outcomes and non-cognitive skills of students from poor households in Delhi. I also examine how investments by parents respond to a child’s admission outcome, and whether spillovers between siblings are significant. Preliminary evidence suggests large improvements in learning, and shows that parents consider their investments in child education to be complementary to school quality. I identify positive spillovers in English language learning between siblings, but not in mathematics.

Self-Control and Chronic Illness: Evidence from Commitment Contracts for Doctor Visits in India

(coming soon)

(with Liang Bai, Benjamin Handel and Ted Miguel)

Abstract: We construct a simple model of preventive health behavior under present-biased time preferences, and show how beliefs about future time preferences (sophistication, partial naiveté, and full naiveté) affect how agents are predicted to use, under-use or misuse different types of commitment contracts. We propose a commitment contract that bundles strong commitment with price discounts, and has the potential to benefit not just sophisticated present biased agents, but also naifs and partial naifs. Working with a high quality health care provider, we diagnose and provide and intensive information treatment to patients with hypertension. We then randomize the types of commitment contracts and price discounts offered to the patients to incent future preventive visits to the doctor. Preliminary results indicate moderate takeup of commitment contracts with high rates of failure to follow through on the committed doctor visits. Failure rates are higher when the contracts are self-designed (i.e. where the commitment amounts are chosen by the individuals themselves), consistent with partial naiveté about present bias. Bundling discounts with commitments increases takeup, as expected, and results in modest reductions in failures of commitment. Overall, the commitment contracts fail to increase attendance, and offering commitment contracts has ambiguous and plausibly negative effects on welfare. 

[AEA Pre-Registration]


Gift Exchange at Work

(In the field at present)

(with Stefano DellaVigna, John List and Ulrike Malmendier)

Abstract: We construct a model of a worker's effort choice that includes altruism, warm glow and reciprocity towards employers, as well as the standard cost of effort and monetary incentive motives. We estimate the model using a natural field experiment with temporary workers hired for multiple employers, exploiting randomized within-subject and between-subject variation in (i) fixed pay and piece rates; (ii) the return to the employer; (iii) the type of employer - a firm versus a charity; and (iv) a positive, negative or neutral “gift” to the worker from the employer. The response to variation in piece rates helps us identify the cost of effort function. The response of workers' effort to variation in the return to the employer helps identify and distinguish warm glow and pure altruism. The response to the gift treatments identifies the reciprocity parameters. Putting all the estimates together, we intend to determine the importance of worker altruism towards employers, and help interpret the magnitude of employees' positive or negative reciprocity to gifts.

[AEA Pre-Registration] Note: This includes a full pre-registration of the structural model.




From Another Life:

Interactions between Organizations and Networks in Common-Pool Resource Governance, with Arun Agrawal, Dan Brown, Rick Riolo and Derek Robinson, Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 25, January 2013, Pages 138–146

Preservation or degradation? Communal management and ecological change in a southeast Michigan forest, with Fred Nelson, Elisa Collins, Alain Frechette, Cynthia Koenig, Mosé Jones-Yellin, Brihannala Morgan, Gita Ramsay, and Claudia Rodriguez, Biodiversity and Conservation, October 2008, Volume 17, Issue 11, pp 2757-2772

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