Jobs for Sale: Corruption and Misallocation in Hiring, American Economic Review (October 2021), 110(10):3093-3122 [Ungated draft]

Abstract: Corrupt government hiring is common in developing countries. This paper uses original data to document the operation and consequences of corrupt hiring in a health bureaucracy. Hires pay bribes averaging 17 months of salary, but contrary to conventional wisdom, their observable quality is comparable to counterfactual merit-based hires. Exploiting variation across jobs, I show that the consequences of corrupt allocations depend on the correlation between wealth and quality among applicants: service delivery outcomes are good for jobs where this was positive and poor when negative. In this setting, the parameter was typically positive, leading to relatively good performance of hires.

Coverage: VoxDev

Abstract: Every year, millions of Americans experience the incarceration of a family member. Using 30 years of administrative data from Ohio and exploiting differing incarceration propensities of randomly assigned judges, this paper provides the first quasi-experimental estimates of the effects of parental and sibling incarceration in the US. Parental incarceration has a net positive effect on some important outcomes for children, reducing their likelihood of incarceration by 4.9 percentage points and increasing their adult neighborhood socioeconomic status. While estimates on academic performance and teen parenthood are imprecise, we reject large positive or negative effects. Sibling incarceration leads to similar reductions in criminal activity. [Non-technical 2-page summary]

Abstract: Improving "last mile" public-service delivery is a recurring challenge in developing countries. Could the rapid adoption of mobile phones provide a simple, cost-effective means to do so? We evaluate the impact of a phone-based monitoring system on improving the delivery of a program that transferred nearly a billion dollars to farmers in the Indian state of Telangana, using an at-scale experiment randomized across 5.7 million farmers. A randomly selected sample of officials were told that a representative sample of beneficiaries in their jurisdiction would be called to measure the quality of program implementation. This simple announcement led to a 1.5% increase in the number of farmers receiving their benefits, with a 3.3% increase among farmers in the bottom quartile of landholdings. The program was highly cost-effective, with a cost of 3.6 cents for each additional dollar delivered.

Coverage: Hindustan Times Op-ed, Financial Express

The Effect of Incarceration on Mortality (with Sam Norris and Matt Pecenco), January 2022, forthcoming at the Review of Economics and Statistics

Abstract: This paper analyzes the effect of incarceration on mortality using administrative data from Ohio between 1992 and 2017. Using event study and difference-in-differences approaches, we compare mortality risk across incarcerated and non-incarcerated individuals before and after pre-scheduled releases from prison. Mortality risk halves during the period of incarceration, with large declines in murders, overdoses, and natural causes of death. However, there is no detectable effect on post-release mortality risk, meaning that incarceration increases longevity. These estimates reflect the high-risk environment faced by criminal justice-involved individuals when not incarcerated and suggest other potential policies that could reduce these risks.

Working Papers

Abstract: Developing countries have increasingly moved towards political decentralization and devolution of power to elected local governments. An important aspect of this process is the division of the population into distinct local government units. This paper examines the consequences of these divisions using data from over 100,000 villages in the largest state of India and population-based discontinuities that determine local government boundaries. Over both the short and long-run, individuals allocated into local governments with smaller populations have better access to a broad range of public programs and amenities. However, the relationship is non-linear, where these positive effects are only present when allocated to jurisdictions below a certain size. We provide evidence that these results can be explained by greater civic engagement and improved selection of candidates in smaller jurisdictions, but find no evidence of other theorized mechanisms such as elite capture. These results are informative as to the optimal degree of decentralization and indicate scope for more significant decentralization in many contexts.

Marriage Markets and The Rise of Dowry in India (with Gaurav Chiplunkar) Online Appendices, March 2022, revise and resubmit at the Journal of Development Economics

Abstract: Dowry payments are common in many marriage markets. This paper uses data on over 74,000 marriages in India over the last century to explain why the institution of dowry emerges and how it evolves over time. We find that the proportion of Indian marriages including dowry payments doubled between 1930 and 1975, and the average real value of payments tripled. We empirically test whether four prominent theories of dowry can explain this rise, and find support for only one: dowry emerges due to increased differentiation in groom quality as a result of modernization. We also show that the average real value of dowry payments declines after 1975 and demonstrate this can be rationalized within a search model of marriage markets.

Coverage: Live Mint , Ideas For India