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 social economics and economic history. I use a range of empirical methods from lab and field experiments to observational data to historical analysis. 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

Status and Economic Rent: Experimental Evidence on the Matthew Effect
With Roman Sheremeta

Abstract Some researchers argue that social status extracts economic rents. Making a causal inference about this claim is difficult with naturally occurring data. For this reason, we conduct an experiment in which participants are divided into investors and workers. Workers are assigned status and then perform a real-effort task. Investors make investments after observing workers’ status and past task performance. We find that workers of higher status receive higher investments when status is earned but not when it is arbitrary. Surprisingly, the status effect persists even when, conditioning on past performance, status is not predictive of future performance.


Status and the Demand for Visible Goods: Experimental Evidence on Conspicuous Consumption
With Roman Sheremeta

Abstract Some economists argue that consumption of publicly visible goods is driven by social status. Making a causal inference about this claim is difficult with observational data. We conduct an experiment in which we vary both whether a purchase of a physical product is publicly visible or kept private and whether the income used for purchase is linked to social status or randomly assigned. Making consumption choices visible leads to a large increase in demand when income is linked to status, but not otherwise. We investigate the characteristics that mediate this effect and estimate its impact on welfare.

Mental Accounts and the Mutability of Altruism

Abstract This study uses a framed field experiment to investigate whether the neoclassical model or mental accounting better describes how income from different sources are treated in sharing decisions. Participants play a dictator game after earning income in real-effort task and/or receiving a windfall. I find that dictators treat marginal earned and windfall income as partially infungible, which supports mental accounting. Two-step estimates show that sharers shared 15% of a marginal windfall token and 7% of a marginal earned token. Strikingly, sharers who had income from both sources were sharply less generous with both earned and windfall income than those who had only a single source. This is consistent with other instances of complex decision frames inducing selfish behavior by providing a cover of ambiguity. This aspect of mental accounts has thus far received little attention. A follow-up experiment shows that two accounts must qualitatively different, not just multiple in number, to induce more selfishness.




Training Aspiring Entrepreneurs to Pitch Experienced Investors: Evidence from a Field Experiment
With Scott Shane

(Management Science, Forthcoming)

Abstract Accredited investors finance more than 75,000 U.S. start-ups annually. We explain how training aspiring entrepreneurs to pitch their new business ideas to these investors affects their odds of continued funding discussions. We model accredited investors’ decision to continue investigation as a real option whose value is a function of their experience and the information contained in the entrepreneurs’ pitches. We derive four hypotheses from the model, which we test through a field experiment that randomly assigns pitch training at four elevator pitch competitions. The data support all four hypotheses, and are inconsistent with alternative explanations.

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

(The Economic Journal, February 2017)

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


Negative Emotion, Income, and Welfare: Causal Estimates from the PSID

(Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, October 2016)

Abstract I use instrumental variables to estimate the causal effect of family income on the frequency with which individuals experience negative emotions. Doubling income reduces the experience of negative emotions by 0.26 SD on average. Percentage changes in income have a constant effect on negative emotion for family incomes below $80,000. Above $80,000, the effect of percentage changes declines, reaching zero at $200,000. A dollar change in family income has an eight times larger effect at the 20th percentile of income than the 80th percentile. Effects of income are similar on the high levels of negative emotion characteristic of mental illness, except there is no satiation.

Commentary:  David Clingingsmith, Corporate Knights


How Individual Income Tax Policy Affects Entrepreneurship
With Scott Shane

(Fordham Law Review, May 2016)

Abstract We review the empirical literature on the effects of individual income tax policy on entrepreneurship. We find no evidence of consensus, even on relatively narrow questions such as whether individual income tax rates deter or encourage entrepreneurial entry. We believe the absence of consensus reflects both the complexity of mechanisms connecting tax policy to entrepreneurial decision making and the infeasibility of employing the most reliable empirical methods, such as experiments, in this domain

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, 2008)

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