Working Papers
Corruption in hiring for public sector jobs is common in developing countries and has been
thought to have a detrimental effect on government service delivery. This paper documents the
workings and consequences of corrupt hiring systems with original data from a developing country
health bureaucracy. Hiring decisions are shown to be based on a first-price, winner-pay auction,
and those hired paid large bribes to get their jobs, averaging 17 months of salary. To establish
the consequences of corruption, I collect data on the universe of potential applicants for these
jobs and determine the sets of applicants and hires under merit-based hiring procedures, such as
standardized testing. Contrary to conventional wisdom, actual hires are of a high quality and
are even superior to hires under on a knowledge-based test. This result has a simple economic
explanation: the key determinants of bribe offers (i.e. applicant wealth and willingness to pay) are
strongly positively correlated with performance in the job. I discuss how the effects of corruption
in hiring are heterogeneous and depend on factors such as the extent of rent-seeking opportunities
afforded by the job. Misallocation can be minimal in hiring for jobs with limited opportunities for
corruption, such as teachers and health workers, but is greater for jobs such as tax collectors or
police officers.

Dowry payments are an important part of household finances in India, typically exceeding one to two years of household earnings. Yet there is little empirical evidence on determinants of dowry payments, with existing work relying on small and non-representative samples. In the first part of the paper, we leverage data on over 76,000 marriages to document stylised facts about changes in Indian marriage markets between 1930-2000. We show that although many marriage practices remain static over this time period, there were large changes in dowry payment. Between 1930-1975, the proportion of marriages with any dowry paid increased from 35-40% to nearly 90%. Over the same period, median real dowry more than doubled, but decreased after 1975 in real terms as well as a fraction of household income. In the second half of the paper, we use this data to test major theories of dowry: (i) whether dowry serves as a bequest to female children or is a groom price; (ii) if the increase in dowry prevalence resulted from lower castes adopting high caste practices (Sanskritization); (iii) how changes in sex ratios on the marriage market affect dowry (Marriage squeeze hypothesis); and (iv) if changes in dowry can be explained by hypergamy and cross-caste competition for grooms. We find that the patterns in the data do not support these theories, but instead that the changes are explained by shifts in the quality (earnings/education) distribution of brides and grooms. This has important implications for designing anti-dowry policies.

The Effect of Parental and Sibling Incarceration: Evidence from Ohio and Pennsylvania (with Sam Norris and Matt Pecenco) [draft available on request]

While the vast majority of minimum wage research has focused on possible disemployment and labor market effects, this paper examines its effect on prices. Utilizing detailed transaction-level datasets, we find minimal pass-through of minimum wage changes onto retail and grocery prices. This finding is robust to a number of identification strategies, such as matching counties across state boundaries, and is precisely identified. Additionally, we do not find evidence for anticipation/retrospective adjustment in prices, heterogeneous responses based on the size of the minimum wage change, or heterogeneous effects on consumers of different income groups. Data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages rationalize these findings. Since labor is a relatively small portion of total costs in this sector and the effect of the minimum wage on labor costs is modest, this leads to minimal response in prices. Estimates from other industries suggest that, aside from the restaurant and fast-food sectors, this low pass-through holds more generally. 

Works in Progress

High-Frequency Program Monitoring and Bureaucratic Performance: Experimental Evidence from India (with Karthik Muralidharan, Paul Niehaus and Sandip Sukhtankar)  [AEA registry]

Incarceration, Health, and Death (with Sam Norris and Matt Pecenco)

Timing of Cash Transfers and Child Health (with Karthik Muralidharan, Paul Niehaus and Sandip Sukhtankar)  [AEA registry]

Designing Hiring Systems: Theory and Empirical Evidence