Journal of Political Economy, June 2012, 120(3): 359-397.
Intermediation Reduces Punishment (And Reward)
This paper experimentally analyzes the schooling decisions of poor households in urban Brazil. We elicit parents’ choices between monthly government transfers conditional on their adolescent child attending school and guaranteed, unconditional transfers of varying sizes. In the baseline treatment, an overwhelming majority of parents prefer conditional transfers to larger unconditional transfers. However, few parents prefer conditional payments if they are offered text-message notifications whenever their child misses school. These findings suggest important intergenerational conflicts in these schooling decisions, a lack of parental control and observability of school attendance, and an additional rationale for conditional cash transfer programs: the monitoring they provide.
It has been well documented that information about the actions of others can affect small-stakes decisions. We show that a subtle provision of such social information can also influence a very high-stakes decision: whether to take (and keep) a job as a public school teacher. In an experiment involving thousands of admits to Teach For America (TFA), those provided with data about the high matriculation rate in the previous year are more likely to accept the job. Moreover, this effect persists into the second semester of teaching, even though one-sixth of those in the control group who initially accepted the job have left TFA by then. As expected, the effects are stronger for those more marginal in their decision to join TFA. Our results suggest that social information can have a powerful effect on high-stakes behavior and should be considered as a potential tool for policy.
with Paul Niehaus, UCSD
Preparing to submit
While economic theories of persuasion emphasize self-interest, others posit an important role for other-regard. For example, a salesperson might describe product features but also try to build rapport. We study these two mechanisms within a simple but rich experimental framework in which sellers, in a free-form conversation, try to convince buyers to raise their valuations for objects. We find that sellers benefit from communication despite their material conflict of interest. Communication affects both buyers’ self-interest and their other-regard. Changes in other-regard are mean zero, but interestingly a minority of sellers target other-regard and substantially outperform their peers. More generally, however, who is buying is actually a better predictor of persuasion than who is selling. Buyer-seller homophily also strongly predicts persuasion: gender-match, for example, more than doubles the sellers’ expected gain.
"The Size of the LGBT Population and the Magnitude of Anti-Gay Sentiment are Substantially Underestimated"
Revise and Resubmit, Management Science
Measuring sexual orientation, behavior, and related opinions is difficult because responses are biased towards socially acceptable answers. We test whether measurements are biased even when responses are private and anonymous and use our results to identify sexuality-related norms and how they vary. We run an experiment on 2,516 U.S. participants. Participants were randomly assigned to either a “best practices method” that was computer-based and provides privacy and anonymity, or to a “veiled elicitation method” that further conceals individual responses. Answers in the veiled method preclude inference about any particular individual, but can be used to accurately estimate statistics about the population. Comparing the two methods shows sexuality-related questions receive biased responses even under current best practices, and, for many questions, the bias is substantial. The veiled method increased self-reports of non-heterosexual identity by 65% (p<0.05) and same-sex sexual experiences by 59% (p<0.01). The veiled method also increased the rates of anti-gay sentiment. Respondents were 67% more likely to express disapproval of an openly gay manager at work (p<0.01) and 71% more likely to say it is okay to discriminate against lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals (p<0.01).The results show non-heterosexuality and anti-gay sentiment are substantially underestimated in existing surveys, and the privacy afforded by current best practices is not always sufficient to eliminate bias. Finally, our results identify two social norms: it is perceived as socially undesirable both to be open about being gay, and to be unaccepting of gay individuals.
"Pre-Analysis Plans Help (only) when Replications are Infeasible"
with Muriel Niederle
Solicited by, and submitted to, the Journal of Economic Perspectives
How and when do pre-analysis plans, hypothesis registries, and replications help us know what we know and what we don’t know? A few simple models suggest the following take-aways: (i) Pre-analysis plans are most valuable for hypotheses that will not be tested multiple times and when the pre-analysis plans effectively eliminate researcher bias (not just reduce it), (ii) Pre-analysis plans can be valuable for replication efforts, and (iii) very few replications, typically three to five, are required to achieve precise, correct beliefs about the hypothesis, even with modestly biased replication attempts.
"A Proposal for Promoting Replication: The Case of Experimental Economics"
with Muriel Niederle
in preparation for the Journal of the Economic Science Association
"Intermediaries in Fundraising Inhibit Quality-Driven Charitable Donations"
“Expectations Do Not Determine Punishment”
Works in Progress
"Formation of Beliefs of Returns to Schooling: Experimental Evidence from the Dominican Republic and India"
In the developing world, people often undervalue schooling or have no precise idea of a numerical value of schooling. This project begins in the lab where we understand how beliefs are formed and how best to inform people of the expected wage increases following schooling. This is followed by a large scale field study on half of the adolescent students in the Dominican Republic, showing videos with the information product designed by the lab results.
"Aggregating the Sands of Time: Small Consequence Decision-Making and Intertemporal Choice"
“Moral Perceptions of Advised Actions”