Peter Spittal

Welcome to my website!

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Economics, University College London. My research interests are in applied microeconomics, specifically labour economics and public economics.

I am on the academic job market this year. I will be available for interviews at the 2019 EEA European Job Market in Rotterdam and the ASSA 2020 Annual Meeting in San Diego.

You can find my job market paper here, my CV here, and a short overview of my research here.

Research Interests

  • Applied microeconomics
  • Labour economics
  • Public economics


Contact Information


Postal: UCL Department of Economics, 30 Gordon Street, London, WC1H 0AX, UK

Job Market Paper

Benefit Salience and Labour Supply (click here to download)

Abstract: I study the salience of dynamic incentives provided by the welfare system. I estimate labour supply responses to a large, lump-sum and foreseeable reduction in benefit income arising from children ageing out of eligibility for Child Tax Credit, a major welfare programme in the UK. I show that the rules governing eligibility are non-salient, despite the high financial stakes, and that claimants learn through experience. The results also rule out a broad set of alternative mechanisms which are indistinguishable from salience effects in static settings. I then develop a structural life-cycle labour supply model in which individuals may be unaware of the benefit eligibility rules, using the empirical results to identify key parameters in the model. The model estimates suggest that nearly 82 percent of claimants are initially unaware of the benefit eligibility rules. The resulting optimisation errors have substantial welfare costs -- equivalent to a 14 percent reduction in income from the programme, with no offsetting benefits to the government. The findings identify a new source of inefficiency in the welfare system, and highlight the importance of recognising that dynamic features of policy may be non-salient.

Work in Progress

Constrained Career Choice: The Trade-off between Assets and Skills (click here to download)

Joint with Jan Eeckhout (UPF) and Alireza Sepahsalari (Bristol)

Abstract: We study how a worker's skill and asset holdings interact in determining their choice of occupation. We document two key empirical facts: (1) more productive occupations have higher wage dispersion; and (2) high asset workers with identical observational characteristics work in more productive occupations. If assets do not affect productivity, why do high asset holders choose more productive occupations? We show that due to skill complementarity in technology, there is sorting of skill and occupation productivity. Uninsurable risk leads low wealth workers to sort into less productive occupations with low wage dispersion in order to smooth consumption. This multi-dimensional sorting problem of skills and assets into occupations underlines a key mechanism by which inequality in wealth propagates, as high-skill but low-wealth workers do not pursue highly paid occupations. Using data on wealth, earnings and workers' skill from the UK, our model quantifies the technology and preferences, as well as the tradeoff between skills and assets. Finally, we consider the effects of redistributive policy, which we show generates both higher productivity and higher welfare. Our analysis demonstrates a new channel by which redistributive policy can improve people's economic prospects.

Non-salient Pension Rules and Retirement (click here for slides)

Abstract: Saving for retirement is arguably one of the most important decisions people make over their working life. Pension schemes are often complex and provide infrequent (and delayed) feedback, making it difficult to learn about their features. In this paper, I exploit the substantial heterogeneity in pension schemes in the UK to estimate the labour supply response to similarly sized incentives arising from different features of the pension system. If people are equally well informed of the different features, the labour supply responses should be similar. Using detailed data on pension rules, wealth and labour supply for a representative sample of older people in the UK, I estimate option-value style models of retirement which allow for different responses to different types of pension. I find that (i) there are systematic differences in responses, and (ii) responses are more muted in general among workers with multiple pensions (a measure of pension complexity). The findings point to differential salience of pension incentives.