Sören Harrs

Welcome! I am a PhD student in economics at the University of Cologne.
My main field of research is behavioral and experimental economics.

I study the effects of fairness and identity on economic decision-making.  
In my research, I combine experimental methods, panel data, and large-scale surveys in representative samples.

I am affiliated with ECONtribute, the cluster of excellence of the Universities of Bonn and Cologne, the Reinhard Selten Institute, and the Center for Social and Economic Behavior (C-SEB).

I will join the University of Vienna as an Assistant Professor in Experimental Economics in Fall 2024.

Email: harrs[at]wiso.uni-koeln.de
Twitter: @soerenharrs
Google Scholar: here 

[CV ]

Job Market Paper 2023/24

Fairness and Support for Welfare Policies

joint with Maj-Britt Sterba,              [Latest version]

How do fairness views shape people's support for welfare policies? Using large surveys in representative samples of US Americans, we study the roles of two determinants of fairness views: fairness preferences - revealed through transfer choices in a spectator game - and beliefs about the causes of inequality. We establish three novel findings: First, people with egalitarian, libertarian, and meritocratic fairness preferences differ strongly in their support for welfare policies. Second, beliefs about the causes of inequality have a strong effect on the policy support of meritocrats, but a much weaker effect on non-meritocrats. Third, leveraging individual-level panel data collected during the coronavirus pandemic, we show that shifts in support for welfare policies over time are rather caused by shocks to beliefs, than by shocks to fairness preferences. Our findings demonstrate that heterogeneous fairness preferences and beliefs interact in important ways in shaping people's support for welfare policies, which has theoretical implications for models in political economy. This paper also has practical implications because it documents a declining belief in a meritocratic US society, related to personal experiences during the pandemic, which may have long-term consequences for the US welfare state.


Revealing Good Deeds: Disclosure of Social Responsibility in Competitive Markets

 joint with Bettina Rockenbach and Lukas Wenner, (Link)

Experimental Economics (2022)

We experimentally study competitive markets with socially responsible production. Our main focus is on the producers' decision whether or not to reveal the degree of social responsibility of their product. Compared to two benchmark cases where either full transparency is enforced or no disclosure is possible, we show that voluntary and costless disclosure comes close to the full transparency benchmark. However, when the informational content of disclosure is imperfect, social responsibility in the market is significantly lower than under full transparency. Our results highlight an important role for transparent and standardized information about social externalities.

Working Papers

Identity and Voluntary Efforts for Climate Protection

joint with Marvin Gleue, Christoph Feldhaus and Andreas Löschel, SSRN

Accepted at the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 

Can voluntary contributions to public goods be motivated by identity concerns? In a theory-driven field experiment we test how positive and negative shocks to subjects’ environmental identity beliefs affect voluntary efforts for climate protection. In a real-effort task, subjects can generate donations that off-set carbon emissions. Prior to the task, we manipulate subjects’ beliefs about their environmental identity either positively or negatively compared to a control group. A negative shock to identity (“identity threat”) increases effort by about 17% compared to our control group. This effect is largest for subjects that had a strong prior environmental identity belief. We find no evidence that a positive shock to identity does affect behavior. Our results are in line with some of the main predictions from the belief-based model of identity by Bénabou and Tirole (2011). They also have implications for policy makers and NGOs that want to encourage voluntary contributions to climate protection by leveraging people’s identity concerns.

How Narratives Impact Financial Behavior 

joint with Lara Marie Müller and Bettina Rockenbach, (New Version)  

Narratives are omnipresent in today's media to complement or even substitute ``hard facts''. Opinion leaders use narratives to persuade the audience of their interpretation of reality, especially, when major exogenous shocks hit the economy. Despite the importance of narratives in public discourse, surprisingly little is known about their economic impacts. In this paper we provide experimental evidence that communication through narratives can have severe - potentially unintended - effects on fundamental determinants of financial behavior. In a controlled experiment (N=423) subjects are exposed to news articles that either provide a pessimistic, balanced or optimistic narrative about the exogenous shock of the coronavirus pandemic. We find that the more pessimistic a narrative is about the pandemic, the more pessimistic are subjects' expectations about the stock market, and the more risk averse and impatient subjects behave in incentivized financial decisions. Hence, our results show how narratives can impact financial behavior through forward-looking expectations, but also through behavioral effects on decision making. Our results improve our understanding of how communication about exogenous shocks influences economic behavior.

Work in Progress

Social Status Perceptions and Political Behavior

joint with Jeffrey Yusof                             Pilot Data Collected

Fairness and Ideological Polarization in the US

joint with Maj-Britt Sterba                     Draft in Preparation

Older Field Work

Who Keeps India Clean? Promoting Behavior Change with Identity Norm Messages

single authored,  (Master Thesis)

In 2014 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Clean India Campaign, one of the largest social norm campaigns in the country's history. In order to change prevailing habits of littering and open defecation, the campaign frequently refers to Indian national identity and emphasizes patriotism. This paper first presents a theoretical framework discussing the role of identity in social norm interventions. Second, it provides empirical evidence from a field experiment at cigarette shops in Bangalore, India. Treated subjects see anti-littering signs that prescribe behavior for one specific identity. Identity norm messages that prescribe behavior for the Indian national identity or the local Bangalorean identity reduce littering by 15.5pp and 21.9pp respectively compared to conventional anti-littering messages. The experiment provides evidence that appealing to people's identity can be an effective intervention for promoting behavior change.