Professor of Economics
Published and Forthcoming Papers
"Manipulation of Social Program Eligibility" (with A. Camacho) American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 2011, 3(2): 41–65.
We document manipulation of a targeting system which used a poverty index score to determine eligibility for social welfare programs in Colombia, including health insurance. We show strategic behavior in the timing of the household interviews around local elections, and direct manipulation when some households had their eligibility scores lowered. Initially the number of interviews increased around local elections. After the algorithm was made public to local officials, the score density exhibited a sharp discontinuity exactly at the eligibility threshold. The discontinuity at the threshold is larger where mayoral elections are more competitive; and smaller in municipalities with less competitive elections, more community organizations and higher newspaper circulation.
"The Influence of Social Networks on Pro-Environment Behaviors" (with J. Videras, A. Owen, S. Wu) Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 2012, 63(1),35-50.
We examine how social relationships are related to pro-environment behaviors. We use new data from a nationally representative US sample to estimate latent cluster models in which we describe individuals' profiles of social ties with family, neighbor, and coworkers along two dimensions: intensity of connections and pro-environment norms. While our results confirm the link between social ties and economic behaviors, we show that ties among relatives, neighbors, and coworkers are not perfect substitutes. In particular, we observe consistent relationships between green family profiles and altruistic and community-based behaviors. We also find that the effect of coworker ties is visible for cost-saving activities and altruistic behaviors, and that neighbors matter for working with others in the community to solve a local problem, volunteering, and recycling.
"Heat Waves Droughts and Preferences for Environmental Policy" (with A. Owen, J. Videras, S. Wu) Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 2012, 31(3):556-577.
Using data from a new household survey on environmental attitudes, behaviors, and policy preferences, we find that current weather conditions affect preferences for environmental regulation. Individuals who have recently experienced extreme weather (heat waves or droughts) are more likely to support laws to protect the environment. We find evidence that the channel through which weather conditions affect policy preference is via perceptions of the importance of the issue of global warming. Furthermore, environmentalists and individuals who consult more sources of news are less likely to have their attitudes toward global warming changed by current weather conditions. These findings suggest that communication and education emphasizing consequences of climate change salient to the individual's circumstances may be the most effective in changing attitudes of those least likely to support pro-environment policy. In addition, the timing of policy introduction could influence its success.
"Effects of Subsidized Health Insurance on Newborn Health in a Developing Country" (with A. Camacho) Economic Development and Cultural Change, 2013, 61(3), 633-658.
Colombia's rapid and considerable expansion of health insurance coverage in the 1990s provides an opportunity to evaluate in a developing country whether health insurance improves health outcomes. Using administrative data and a regression discontinuity design we find that babies born from mothers with health insurance have a lower incidence of low birth weight. We also find some indication that mothers with health insurance had better access to health facilities. These results are robust to different specifications and sample restrictions.
"Consequences of Easier Access to Alcohol: New Zealand Evidence" (with D. Scrimgeour) Journal of Health Economics, 2013, 32(2), 570-585.
We evaluate the health effects of a reduction in New Zealand’s minimum legal purchase age for alcohol. Difference-in-differences (DD) estimates show a substantial increase in alcohol-related hospitalizations among those newly eligible to purchase liquor, around 24.6% (s.e. = 5.5%) for males and 22% (s.e. = 8.1%) for females. There is less evidence of an effect among ineligible younger cohorts. There is little evidence of alcohol either complementing or substituting for drugs. We do not find evidence that earlier access to alcohol is associated with learning from experience. We also present regression discontinuity estimates, but emphasize DD estimates since in a simulation of a rational addiction model DD estimates are closer than regression discontinuity estimates to the policy’s true effect.
“Effects of Colombia's Social Protection System on Workers' Choice between Formal and Informal Employment” (with A. Camacho and A. Hoyos), The World Bank Economic Review, 2014, 28(3), 446-466.
We examine whether the Colombian government's expansion of social programs in the early nineties, in particular publicly provided health insurance, discouraged formal employment. Using household survey data and variation across municipalities in the onset of interviews for the SISBEN, the instrument used to identify beneficiaries for public health insurance, we find robust and consistent estimates of an increase in informal employment of approximately 4 percentage points. We obtain similar results with an alternative dataset, a panel of individuals interviewed for the first and second SISBEN. Our findings suggest that marginal individuals optimized when deciding whether or not to participate in the formal sector.
“The Impact of Receiving SMS Price and Weather Information on Small Scale Farmers in Colombia” (with A. Camacho). World Development, 2019, 123, article 104596.
Small-scale farmers in developing countries often make production and sale decisions based on imprecise, informal, and out-of-date sources of information, such as family, neighbors, or tradition. Lack of timely and accurate information on climate and prices can lead to inefficiencies in the production, harvesting, and commercialization of agricultural products, which in turn can affect farmers’ revenues and well-being. We did a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) experiment with 500 small-scale farmers in a rural area of Colombia where there is nearly full mobile phone usage and coverage. Treated farmers received around 8 text messages per week with prices in the main markets for crops grown in the region, and customized weather forecasts. Compared to a control group, we find that treated farmers were more likely to report that text messages provide useful information for planting and selling, and more likely to always read their messages, indicating an increase in appreciation and use of this type of technology. We also found heterogeneous effects by farmer size. Smaller farmers try to make use of the intervention by planting more crops for which they have price information. Larger farmers seek new markets and increase conversations with other producers. Despite these positive effects, we do not find a significant difference in farmers reporting a price, price differential with the market price, or sale prices received. Our results indicate that farmers are amenable to learning and using new technologies, but that the introduction of these technologies do not always translate into short-run welfare improvements for them. Given the increased interest in incorporating information and communication technologies into agriculture, our findings indicate that prior to a large-scale implementation it is necessary to better understand what prevents farmers from more directly profiting from this new information.
“Cash and Ballots: Conditional Transfers, Political Participation and Voting Behavior” (with R. Zarate, A. Camacho, J. Baez) Economic Development and Cultural Change, 2020, 68(2): 541-566.
We estimate the effect of participation in a large anti-poverty program in Colombia on turnout and electoral choice. Using variation in the proportion of beneficiaries across voting booths within a polling station, and eligibility as an instrument for take-up, we find that in the 2010 presidential elections, enrolled women were more likely to vote and support the incumbent party candidate. Results for men are smaller and not always significant. Voters respond to targeted transfers, and women, as the direct recipients of the transfers, respond more strongly. Potential mechanisms explaining the results are civic engagement and gratitude towards the incumbent party.
“Gender Imbalances and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from large-scale Mexican Migration” (with M. Khamis and S. Pearlman) IZA Journal of Development and Migration, 2021, 12(1).
We study the consequences of international migration on labor market outcomes in a developing country. Specifically, we look at the case of Mexico, where large-scale international migration has led to significant declines in the male/female ratio. We explore whether this results in Mexican women entering higher skilled and better paying jobs over time. This question is relevant since there has been an increase in women's education and labor force participation across the developing world, but less evidence of improvements in the gender wage gap. Using an instrumental variables strategy that relies on historical migration patterns, we find that when there are relatively fewer men, women are more likely to work, have high skilled jobs, and some earn higher wages. These results are robust to the inclusion of state, age-group, and year fixed effects, and to different measures of migration and data sources. We explore investments in human capital as a key mechanism. We find that the gains in schooling are concentrated among women with the same average level of education of the men who migrate. From an aggregate perspective, these improvements in job type and wages are important given that higher female income may benefit the status, education, and health of both women and children, which in turn increases a country's development and growth. Our findings are among the few that show some movement towards improvements in the gender wage gap in a developing country setting.
“Job Quality and Labour Market Transitions: Evidence from Mexican Informal and Formal Workers” (with M. Khamis and S. Pearlman), Journal of Development Studies, 2022.
We document job characteristics for young, male, urban workers in Mexico, a country with high informal employment and increasing education levels. The informal sector is composed of two distinct parts: salaried informal employment and self-employment. On almost every measure, including wages, informal salaried jobs are of lower quality than formal salaried or self-employed ones. We characterize short-term job type transitions among these workers and show that education plays a key role when transitioning into the formal sector, whereas age is more strongly associated with transitions into self-employment. Persistence in and transitions into formal jobs are more likely for more
educated workers. These workers also benefit from higher wage gains when this transition is from informal salaried jobs. On average, wages are higher for workers transitioning into self-employment, but less educated workers benefit more. For these workers, self-employment can represent an outlet for entrepreneurial talent for some, but like informal salaried work, for others it can be the sector of last resort.
“The Effect of Traffic Cameras on Police Effort: Evidence from India” (with D. Kraynak and P. Singh), Journal of Development Economics, 2023, 160, 102953.
Using a novel data set on CCTV cameras in Chandigarh, India, we test whether police officers’ effort changes in response to the presence of traffic cameras. Although the cameras are useful in sanctioning drivers, they can also capture the passive (shirking) or active (rent-seeking) corruption of officers. Accounting for the spatial and temporal variations in the operation of the cameras, we find that the presence of a functioning camera results in an increase in on-the-ground tickets. Although we do not rule out possible decreases in rent-seeking behavior, a decline in passive corruption appears to be driving the increase in officer ticketing behavior, particularly for the most common vehicles and violations that can be observed from the CCTV cameras. Our findings indicate that remote monitoring technology can serve, if not a substitute for, then as a complement to on-the-ground enforcement.
“Declining Outmigration and Local Labor Markets” (with M. Khamis and S. Pearlman), Journal of Human Resources, forthcoming.
We estimate the effects of the unprecedented decline in Mexican net migration from 2006 to 2012 on labor markets in Mexico. We employ an instrumental variable strategy that isolates demand for Mexican labor in the U.S. and relies on historical migration patterns. We find that lower educated groups are more affected by the labor supply shock and remittance decline. The labor supply shock also generated declines in self-employment and increases in salaried work for lower and highly educated groups, indicating impacts beyond the would-be migrant group. Our findings are relevant in a global context where migration restrictions are more prevalent.