Lukas Hensel

Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Development Economics at the University of Oxford.

Email: lukas.hensel (at)

I am a postdoctoral research fellow in Development Economics at the Mind and Behavior Research Group at the Centre for the Study of African Economies and the Blavatnik School of Government. I am also a non-stipendiary Junior Research Fellow at Mansfield College.

I work on Development Economics, Labor Economics and Political Economy.

You can find my CV here: CV


Income Shocks and Suicides: Causal Evidence From Indonesia (joint with Cornelius Christian, and Christopher Roth) (gated, ungated)

Christian, C., Hensel, L., & Roth, C. (2019). Income Shocks and Suicides: Causal Evidence From Indonesia. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 101(5), 905–920.

We examine how income shocks affect the suicide rate in Indonesia. We use a difference-in-differences approach, exploiting the cash transfer's nationwide roll-out, and corroborate the findings using a randomized experiment embedded in the program roll-out. Our estimates from the nationwide roll-out show that the cash transfers reduce the yearly suicide rate by 0.36 per 100,000 people, corresponding to an 18 percent decrease. Moreover, a different type of income shock, variability in agricultural productivity, also affects the suicide rate. The cash transfer program reduces the causal impact of the agricultural productivity shocks, suggesting an important role for policy interventions. Finally, we provide evidence for a psychological mechanism by showing that agricultural productivity shocks affect depression.

Coronavirus Perceptions Economic Anxiety (with Thiemo Fetzer, Johannes Hermle, and Christopher Roth) (gated, ungated)

[Forthcoming - The Review of Economics and Statistics]

We provide one of the first systematic assessments of the development and determinants of economic anxiety at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Using a global dataset on internet searches and two representative surveys from the US, we document a substantial increase in economic anxiety during and after the arrival of the coronavirus. We also document a large dispersion in beliefs about the pandemic risk factors of the coronavirus, and demonstrate that these beliefs causally affect individuals’ economic anxieties. Finally, we show that individuals’ mental models of infectious disease spread understate non-linear growth and shape the extent of economic anxiety.

Does Party Competition Affect Political Engagement? (with Anselm Hager, Johannes Hermle, and Christopher Roth)

[Forthcoming: Journal of Politics]

This paper studies the decision of party supporters to join political campaigns. We present a framework that incorporates supporters' instrumental and expressive motives and illustrates that party competition can either increase or decrease party activism. To distinguish between these competing predictions, we implemented a field experiment with a European party during a national election. In a seemingly unrelated party survey, we randomly assigned 1,417 party supporters to true information that the canvassing activity of the main competitor party was exceptionally high. Using unobtrusive, real-time data on party supporters' canvassing behavior, we find that treated respondents are 30 percent less likely to go canvassing. To investigate the causal mechanism, we leverage additional survey evidence collected two months after the campaign. Consistent with affective accounts of political activism, we show that increased competition lowered party supporters' political self-efficacy, which plausibly led them to remain inactive.

Working papers:

We conducted a large-scale survey covering 58 countries and over 100,000 respondents between late March and early April 2020 to study beliefs and attitudes towards citizens’ and governments’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most respondents reacted strongly to the crisis: they report engaging in social distancing and hygiene behaviors, and believe that strong policy measures, such as shop closures and curfews, are necessary. They also believe that their government and their country’s citizens are not doing enough and under-estimate the degree to which others in their country support strong behavioral and policy responses to the pandemic. The perception of a weak government and public response is associated with higher levels of worries and depression. Using both cross-country panel data and an event-study, we additionally show that strong government reactions correct misperceptions, and reduce worries and depression. Our findings highlight that policy-makers not only need to consider how their decisions affect the spread of COVID-19, but also how such choices influence the mental health of their population.

IZA Discussion Paper No. 12759

European Economic Association Conference 2018, Young Economist Award

How does a citizen’s decision to participate in political activism depend on the participation of others? We examine this core question of collective action in a natural field experiment in collaboration with a major European party during a recent national election. In a seemingly unrelated party survey, we randomly assign canvassers to true information about the canvassing intentions of their peers. Using survey evidence and behavioral data from the party’s smartphone canvassing application, we find that treated canvassers significantly reduce both their canvassing intentions and behavior when learning that their peers participate more in canvassing than previously believed. These treatment effects are particularly large for supporters who have weaker social ties to the party, and for supporters with higher career concerns within the party. The evidence implies that effort choices of political activists are, on average, strategic substitutes. However, social ties to other activists can act as a force for strategic complementarity.

CESifo Working Paper No. 7790

We study participation in right-wing rallies and counterrallies in Germany to examine strategic interactions in political movements. In the leadup to two right-wing rallies, we exogenously shift potential participants’ beliefs about the turnout at the right-wing rally and left-wing counterrally, and then measure activists’ intentions to protest. For right-wing activists, own participation and participation of peers exhibit strategic substitutability. For left-wing activists, own participation and participation of peers are strategic complements. Both groups do not, however, react to changes in competitor effort. Our evidence highlights substantial heterogeneity in the nature of strategic interactions in political movements.

Evaluating COVID-19 Public Health Messaging in Italy: Self-Reported Compliance and Growing Mental Health Concerns (with Soubhik Barari, Stefano Caria, Antonio Davola, Paolo Falco, Stefano Fiorin, Andriy Ivchenko, Jon Jachimowicz, Gary King, Gordon Kraft-Todd, Alice Ledda, Mary MacLennan, Lucian Mutoi, Claudio Pagani, Elena Reutskaja, Christopher Roth, and Federico Raimondi Slepoi)

Purpose: The COVID-19 death-rate in Italy continues to climb, surpassing that in every other country. We implement one of the first nationally representative surveys about this unprecedented public health crisis and use it to evaluate the Italian government’ public health efforts and citizen responses.

Findings: (1) Public health messaging is being heard. At this point, the Italian people understand how to keep themselves and others safe from the SARS-Cov-2 virus. This is true for all population groups we studied, with the partial exception of slightly lower compliance among young adults. Remarkably, even those who do not trust the government, and those who think the government has been untruthful about the crisis mostly believe the public health message and claim to be acting in accordance. (2) The quarantine is beginning to have serious negative effects on the population’s mental health.

Policy Recommendations: Public health messaging is being heard and understood. The focus now should move from explaining that citizens should stay at home to what they can do at home. We need interventions that make staying at home and following public health protocols more desirable, or possibly even fun. These interventions could include virtual social interactions, such as online social reading activities, classes, exercise routines, among others — all designed to reduce the boredom of being socially isolated for long periods of time and to increase the attractiveness of following public health recommendations. Interventions like these will grow in importance as the crisis wears on around the world, and staying inside wears on people.

Selected work in progress:

Formal Hiring Practices, Firm Growth, and Inclusive Labour Markets (with Tegsay Gebrekidan Tekleselassie and Marc Witte)

[Fieldwork completed]

Increasing Women’s Political Participation in Kyrgysztan (with Damir Esenaliev​, Anselm Hager, Elnura Kazakbaeva)

[Grant awarded - Part of EGAP Metaketa V: Women's Action Committees and Local Services]

Boosting Worker Productivity in a New Industrial Park in Ethiopia (with Girum Abebe, Stefano Caria, and Stefan Dercon)

[Fieldwork ongoing]