Research Interests

I am an applied economist working at various junctures of public health and public policy. My primary interests are in the ways that people cope with household uncertainties like domestic violence, housing insecurity, and poverty more broadly. My training is as an applied and development economist, with an emphasis on Latin America and the economic and social implications of the Chilean military dictatorship. As part of that research, I spent a summer as a visiting scholar at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. More recently, I have been working on understanding the relationship between institutional social support services like police and domestic violence programs on the incidence of violence within the household. I also have work on the environmental justice implications of deforestation policy in the Brazilian Amazon on health.

I draw actively on frameworks developed in psychology and sociology, especially as they relate to trauma (intergenerational and otherwise) and self-concept. My work on these policy-relevant questions involves co-authors from such departments as Sociology, Public Policy, and Geography. I am affiliated with the UW-Madison Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI), the Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies program (LACIS), the Gibbs Land Use and the Environment Lab (GLUE), and the UW Justice Lab Prison Proliferation Project.

For the most up-to-date copy of my CV, please click here.

Refereed publications (available upon request)

Skidmore, M.E., Sims, K.M., Rausch, L., and H.K. Gibbs. (2022) "Productive cattle ranches reduce carbon emissions in the Brazilian Amazon." Environmental Research Letters, 17(6): 064026.

Sims, K.M., Foltz, J., and M.E. Skidmore. (2021) "Prisons as drivers of COVID-19 spread in the United States." American Journal of Public Health, 111(8): 1534-1541.

In the popular press: "State Prisons Fueled Covid-19 Spread in Their Areas Last Spring, Study Suggests" Gizmodo, June 29, 2021.

Working papers

"Seeking safe harbors: Emergency domestic violence shelters and family violence." (Job market paper) Latest draft available here.

How do changes in the provision of services for domestic violence (DV) victims change the incidence of violence, both between intimate partners (IPV) and in the family more broadly? I examine how changes to locally available DV emergency shelter capacity affect rates of IPV and DV homicide, the most extreme form of family violence. I collect a novel data set of US emergency DV shelters from 1984-present, which allows me to look separately at the effects of the opening and closing of shelters (the extensive margin) and the magnitudes of changes in capacity (the intensive margin). In contrast to traditional intra-household bargaining models of domestic violence, I develop a theoretical model outlining how changes to local shelter availability may affect victims' willingness to seek shelter and their post-shelter outcomes. I test empirically how changes to shelter presence versus shelter capacity affect IPV/DV homicide. Although the presence of a shelter (the extensive margin) is associated with reduced incidence of such homicides, this finding does not support strong causal inferences. I find no strong evidence of a causal relationship between changes in shelter capacity (intensive margin) and IPV or DV homicide. I use a variety of econometric methods, including difference-in-differences and instrumental variables designs, to show that the relationship remains a precisely estimated zero effect across time horizons and specifications. I find suggestive evidence that supportive services offered at shelters, including assessment of the risk of death that the victim faces, may be more effective in preventing homicides. In sum, this study suggests that, given the presence of a shelter, increasing the quality and quantity of services instead of bed capacity may be a cost-effective approach to reduce lethal DP/IPV.

Sims, K.M. (2021) "Turning a house into a home: Delayed property rights and education investment decisions in urban Chile." (Under review.) Latest draft available here.

Abstract: Housing insecurity and homelessness is a multi-faceted policy issue encompassing concerns over emotional and physical security, financial liquidity, and formal state recognition. However, most research on housing titling programs focuses either on housing rights in general or on a single element of these rights. I distinguish between the effects of property use and transfer rights on children’s educational outcomes. I utilize a specific feature of government-subsidized housing programs in Chile that bars recipients from selling their home for five years. This allows me to separately identify the effects of use rights and transfer rights for the children of housing recipients. I develop a theoretical framework to understand the difference between the effects use and transfer rights for secondary versus university education. I then use nationally-representative household survey data from 1996-2009 to test the implications of the theoretical framework. I find that housing use rights lead to a 6 percentage point increase in the probability of finishing 12th grade, while use and transfer rights correspond with an up to 5 percentage point increase in the probability of finishing university. Housing security effects (via use rights) directly affect the probability of attending and finishing high school, while housing financial effects (via transfer rights) increase the probability of attending and finishing university. These results underscore the importance of housing security and financial security on children’s educational outcomes

Skidmore, M.E., Sims, K.M., and H.K. Gibbs. (2021) "Pesticides increase pediatric cancer deaths: Evidence from Brazilian soy production." (Under review.)

Abstract: Brazil has rapidly become the world's leading soy producer in recent decades. There has been much research on the effects of extensification of soy production (increased area under cultivation) but less on the effects of intensification (use of inputs like agrotoxins), despite the identified link between pesticide exposure and carcinogenesis. We estimate the effects of the expansion of soy production -- and related community exposure to pesticides -- on childhood cancer incidence using 15 years of publicly available data on deaths. We focus on acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a relatively rare blood-borne cancer that develops in young children. We find a statistically significant and positive effect of soy production, both in terms of the percentage of area in soy and tons of soy produced, on pediatric ALL. These effects are larger when we consider soy production in the entire Ottobasin, demonstrating the effects of agrotoxin exposure via water supply. Our results are robust to a series of different empirical specifications. This work speaks to the need for stronger regulation of agrotoxins as well as increased public health attention to cope with exposure in the broader community.

* indicates authorship order was assigned alphabetically by last name rather than by contribution.

Selected Works in Progress

"Prison proliferation and domestic violence" with John Major Eason and Isabel Anadon.

"Poverty and violence in the US EITC program" with Yang Wang, Barbara Wolfe, and Licheng Xu.