case western reserve university



Associate Professor of Economics

Weatherhead School of Management
11119 Bellflower Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44106


Office Phone: 216-368-4294


I work in applied microeconomics. My main areas of interest are 1) economic decision making in social contexts and 2) the economics of language and culture. I use a range of empirical methods from lab and field experiments to observational data. I completed my Ph.D. in economics at Harvard University in 2007. I also have an M.A. in anthropology from the University of Chicago.


Working Papers


Negative Emotion, Mood Disorders, and Income

Abstract The frequency with which individuals experience positive or negative emotional states provides a direct measure of the subjective experience of well-being. Further, highly frequent experience of negative emotions are characteristic of mood disorders such as depression. This paper uses individual panel data to assess the causal effect of income on the frequency of negative emotional experience, both on average and at levels characteristic of mood disorders. Income is commonly used as a measure of welfare, and yet it is by and large a means to achieving other ends, one of which is subjective well-being. The relationship between income and such ends informs use about the welfare effects of income. I estimate that the medium-term elasticity of negative emotion to family income is -0.13 using instrumental variables. A sensitivity analysis of the exclusion restriction bounds the elasticity between -0.1 and -0.2. The semi-elasticity of mood disorder is -0.01. The elasticities for both average negative emotion and mood disorder is twice as large for low incomes as high ones, meaning the marginal effect of income on emotional experience is strongly declining in the level of income.

Commentary:  David Clingingsmith, Corporate Knights


Are the World's Languages Consolidating? The Dynamics and Distribution of Language Populations

(The Economic Journal, Forthcoming)

Abstract Scholars have long conjectured that the return to knowing a language increases with the number of speakers. Recent work argues that long-run economic and political integration accentuates this advantage, leading to a consolidation in which the largest languages increase their population share at the expense of the rest. I show using a new dataset that, to the contrary, language size and growth are uncorrelated except for those very small languages with <35,000 speakers. I incorporate this finding into a model of language coordination in which agents interact locally over a network. The steady-state distribution of language sizes follows a power law and precisely fits the size distribution of the 1,900 languages with >35,000 speakers. Simulations suggest the extinction of 40% of languages with <35,000 speakers within 100 years.

Media coverage:  Tyler Cowan, Marginal Revolution

Mental Accounts and the Mutability of Altruism

Abstract This study investigates the fungibility of earned and windfall income in sharing decisions using a framed field experiment. Participants play a dictator game with income accrued as earnings from a real-effort task and/or as a windfall. I find support for the contention made in the mental accounting literature that earned and windfall income are not fungible at the margin (Thaler, 1999). Sharers who had access to a single income source, either earned or windfall, shared 19% of a marginal windfall token but only 11% of a marginal earned token. Most strikingly, sharers who had both income sources were sharply less generous, sharing only 9% and 4% respectively. Overall, earned and windfall income are partly fungible. Mental accounts have an effect on sharing both because 1) participants felt less inclined to give from earnings than windfall and 2) participants felt much less inclined to give from either source when both were present. The second result is consistent with existing evidence on more complex decision frames inducing selfish behavior by making it easier to deceive oneself (see Benabou and Tirole, 2011). This aspect of mental accounts has thus far received little attention. A follow-up experiment shows that sources must qualitatively different, not just multiple in number, to induce more selfishness.



Industrialization and Bilingualism in India

(Journal of Human Resources, Winter 2014)

Abstract: Many of the world's poorest people live in countries where hundreds of languages are spoken. Languages bind ethnic groups together and are central to cultural identity. However, language differences create barriers to economic exchange, such as employment, that can create economic incentives to learn a second language. Economic development can thus drive cultural change. I study how the growth of industrial employment increased bilingualism in India between 1931 and 1961. I exploit industrial clustering and sectoral demand growth for identification. The effect on bilingualism was strongest among local linguistic minorities and in linguistically fragmented areas. Language learning, rather than migration or assimilation, was the main mechanism. My results shed new light on human capital investment in developing economies and on the long-run evolution of languages.


Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering
With Asim Ijaz Khwaja and Michael Kremer

(Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 2009)

Abstract: We estimate the impact on pilgrims of performing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Our method compares successful and unsuccessful applicants in a lottery used by Pakistan to allocate Hajj visas. Pilgrim accounts stress that the Hajj leads to a feeling of unity with fellow Muslims, but outsiders have sometimes feared that this could be accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims. We find that participation in the Hajj increases observance of global Islamic practices such as prayer and fasting while decreasing participation in localized practices and beliefs such as the use of amulets and dowry. It increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment. Increased unity within the Islamic world is not accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims. Instead, Hajjis show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions. The evidence suggests that these changes are more a result of exposure to and interaction with Hajjis from around the world, rather than religious instruction or a changed social role of pilgrims upon return.

Media coverage:  The Economist, CNN, Slate, Harvard Kennedy School, HKS Impact, Islam Online, The National, Brookings
Op-Ed: David Clingingsmith, Asim Ijaz Khwaja, and Michael Kremer, "Mecca and Moderation," International Herald Tribune, 20 May 2008. 

Deindustrialization in 18th and 19th Century India: Mughal Decline, Climate Shocks and British Industrial Ascent
With Jeffrey Williamson

(Explorations in Economic History, Vol 45, Issue 3)

Abstract: India was a major player in the world export market for textiles in the early 18th century, but by the middle of the 19th century it had lost all of its export market and much of its domestic market, primarily to Britain. The ensuing deindustrialization was greatest c1750-c1860. We ask how much of India's deindustrialization was due to local supply-side forces -- such as political fragmentation and a rising incidence of drought, and how much to world price shocks. An open, three-sector neo-Ricardian model organizes our thinking and new relative price database implements the empirical analysis. We find local supply side forces were important from as early as 1700. The size of Indian deindustrialization is then assessed by comparison with other parts of the periphery.

Winner of the Explorations Prize for best paper in Explorations in Economic History in 2008

Media coverage:  New York Times

Work in Progress (predraft stage)


Debt Delinquency among First-Time Homebuyers with Daniel Hartley and Justin Sydnor

Empathy, Political Identity, and Altruism: An Experiment with Online Workers

Conspicuous Consumption, Status, and the Value of Looking Good

Self-Serving Bias, Luck, and Redistribution with Justin Sydnor and Mark Votruba