Senior Research Associate at IZA - Institute of Labor Economics

My research interests are focused on labor and education economics. My recent work primarily deals with the impact of social interactions in classroom situations. Other strands of my work deal with issues of political economy and labor policy evaluations.

Full CV



Tel: +49-228-3894-204

Schaumburg-Lippe-Straße 5-9, 53113 Bonn, Germany

Publications in refereed journals

1. Rank, Sex, Drugs, and Crime, Journal of Human Resources, Volume 53, Number 2, Spring 2018, pp. 356-381, joint work with Ben Elsner, earlier version as IZA DP # 9478 here

We show that a student’s ordinal ability rank in a high-school cohort is an important determinant of engaging in risky behaviors. Using longitudinal data from representative US high schools, we find a strong negative effect of rank on the likelihood of smoking, drinking, having unprotected sex and engaging in physical fights. We further provide evidence that these results can be explained by sorting into peer groups and differences in career expectations. Students with a higher rank are less likely to be friends with other students who smoke and drink, while they have higher expectations towards their future educational attainment.

2. A Big Fish in a Small Pond: Ability Rank and Human Capital Investment, Journal of Labor Economics, Volume 35, Number 3, July 2017, pp. 787–828, joint work with Ben Elsner

We study the impact of a student’s ordinal rank in a high school cohort on educational attainment several years later. To identify a causal effect, we compare multiple cohorts within the same school, exploiting idiosyncratic variation in cohort composition. We find that a student’s ordinal rank significantly affects educational outcomes later in life. Students with a higher rank are significantly more likely to finish high school and to attend college. Exploring potential channels, we find that students with a higher rank have higher expectations about their future career, as well as a higher perceived intelligence.

3. Language Barriers and Immigrant Health, Health Economics, Volume 26, Issue 6, June 2017, Pages 765–778, joint work with Andrew Clarke

We study the impact of language deficiency on the health status of childhood migrants to Australia. Our identification strategy relies on a quasi‐experiment comparing immigrants arriving at different ages and from different linguistic origins. In the presence of considerable non‐classical measurement error in self‐reported language proficiency, our results provide lower and upper bounds for a strong negative effect of English deficiency on health of between one half and a full standard deviation in the health score.

4. Speaking in Numbers: The Effect of Reading Performance on Math Performance among Immigrants, Economics Letters, Volume 139, February 2016, pp. 52-56, joint work with Marc Piopiunik and Núria Rodríguez-Planas

This paper is the first to estimate a causal effect of immigrant students’ reading performance on their math performance. To overcome endogeneity issues due to unobserved ability, we apply an IV approach exploiting variation in age-at-arrival and the linguistic distance between origin and destination country languages. Using four PISA waves, we find a strong influence of reading performance on math performance, highlighting the importance of early language support for immigrants for their educational career.

5. Linguistic barriers in the destination language acquisition of immigrants. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Volume 105, September 2014, Pages 30–50, joint work with Sebastian Otten

There are various degrees of similarity between the languages of different immigrants and the language of their destination country. This linguistic distance is an obstacle to the acquisition of a language, which leads to large differences in the attainments of the language skills necessary for economic and social integration in the destination country. This study aims at quantifying the influence of linguistic distance on the language acquisition of immigrants in the US and in Germany. Drawing from comparative linguistics, we derive a measure of linguistic distance based on the automatic comparison of pronunciations. We compare this measure with three other linguistic and non-linguistic approaches in explaining self-reported measures of language skills. We show that there is a strong initial disadvantage from the linguistic origin for language acquisition, while the effect on the steepness of assimilation patterns is ambiguous in Germany and the US.

6. Disadvantages of Linguistic Origin - Evidence from Immigrant Literacy Scores, Economics Letters, Vol. 123, pp. 236-239, 2014

This study quantifies the disadvantage in literacy skills that arises from the linguistic distance between their mother tongue and host country language, combining individual cross-country data on literacy scores with unique information on the linguistic distance between languages.

7. The Costs of Babylon – Linguistic Distance in Applied Economics, Review of International Economics, Vol. 21, Issue 2, pp. 354-369, 2013, joint work with Sebastian Otten

Linguistic distance, i.e. the dissimilarity between languages, is an important factor influencing international economic transactions such as migration or international trade flows by imposing hurdles for second language acquisition and increasing transaction costs. To measure these costs, we suggest using a new measure of linguistic distance. The Levenshtein distance is an easily computed and transparent approach of including linguistic distance into econometric applications. We show its merits in two different applications. First, the effect of linguistic distance in the language acquisition of immigrants is analyzed using data from the 2000 US Census, the German Socio‐Economic Panel, and the National Immigrant Survey of Spain. Across countries, linguistic distance is negatively correlated with reported language skills of immigrants. Second, applying a gravity model to data on international trade flows covering 178 countries and 52 years, it is shown that linguistic distance has a strong negative influence on bilateral trade volumes.

8. Returns to Foreign Language Skills of Immigrants in Spain, LABOUR, Vol. 27, Issue 4, pp. 443-461, 2013

This study examines the returns to foreign language skills of immigrants in the Spanish labor market. Measurement error and endogeneity issues are addressed by deriving a set of novel instruments for foreign language proficiency through a measure of linguistic dissimilarity. Using cross‐sectional data from the 2007 National Immigrant Survey of Spain (NISS), returns to language skills are estimated separately for English, German, and French proficiency. Foreign language proficiency produces high returns, which appear to be mediated through the channel of occupational choice. The results are discussed against the background of a severe foreign language skills shortage in the Spanish economy. Immigrants may deal as a supplier of foreign language proficiency in the short run.

Working papers

1. Achievement Rank Affects Performance and Major Choices in College, joint with Benjamin Elsner and Ulf Zoelitz, University of Zuerich Department of Economics Discussion Paper #300

This paper studies how a student’s ordinal achievement rank affects performance and specialization choices in university. We exploit data from a setting where students are randomly assigned to teaching sections and find that students with a higher rank in their section achieve higher grades, become more likely to graduate, and are more likely to choose related follow-up courses and majors. These effects are stronger for men who, in contrast to women, respond to a higher rank with an increase in their study effort. Our results highlight that social comparisons with peers can have lasting effects on students’ careers.

2. Minority Salience and Political Extremism, joint with Tommaso Colussi and Nico Pestel, IZA Discussion Paper #10417

This paper studies electoral effects of exposure to religious minorities in the context of Muslim communities in Germany. Using unique data on mosques' construction and election results across municipalities over the period 1980-2013, we find that the presence of a mosque increases political extremism. To establish causality, we exploit arguably exogenous variation in the distance of the election date to the month of Ramadan, when Muslim communities become more visible to the general public. Our findings show that vote shares for both right- and left-wing extremist parties become larger when the election date is closer to Ramadan. We additionally show that the change in minority salience also increases the likelihood of politically motivated crimes against Muslims.

Ongoing projects


  • The Limits of Natural Variation: The Simultaneous Treatment Problem and the Estimation of Peer Effects (with Ben Elsner)
  • The Value of a Peer (with Ulf Zoelitz)
  • Diversity, Performance and Choices (with Arnaud Chevalier and Elena Lisauskaite)

Public economics

  • Business taxes and innovative firm behavior (with Andi Lichter, Max Löffler, Thu-Van Nguyen, Felix Poege and Sebastian Siegloch)
  • Effects of the German Minimum Wage on Worker Stocks and Flows (with Marco Caliendo, Nico Pestel and Maximilian Mähr)

Permanent working papers (RIP)

1. The Returns to Language Skills in the US Labor Market, 2012, IZA Discussion Paper #7080, joint work with Mathias Sinning

2. Risky Business. The Role of Risk Attitudes in Occupational Decisions, 2010, Ruhr Economic Papers #187

Publications in handbooks/encyclopedias/communication journals

1. What drives the language proficiency of immigrants?, IZA World of Labor

2. Language and Labor Market success, International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd Edition, 2015, pp. 260-265, pre-publication version as IZA DP #8572

Policy projects

1. BMBF Project College Dropout and College Success (PIRanHa: Projekt zur Identifikation und Reduktion angehender Hochschulabbrecher), Principal Investigator, ongoing

2. Evaluation of employment effects of the Federal minimum wage (MLK005), Deputy Head of Project

3. Evaluation of effects of the Federal minimum wage on employment, hours worked and wages in the medium term (MLK009 & MLK010), ongoing