Research In Progress

Can Female Doctors Cure the Gender STEMM Gap? A Role Model Story

We use random assignment of general practitioners (GPs) to provide the first evidence on the effects of female role models in childhood on the long-run educational outcomes of girls. We find that girls who are exposed to female GPs in childhood are significantly more likely to sort into traditionally male-dominated education programs in high school, most notably STEMM. These effects persist as females enter college and select majors. We also find strong positive effects on educational performance throughout their academic careers, suggesting that female role models in childhood improve education matches of girls. The effects we identify are significantly larger for high-ability girls with low educated parents, suggesting that female role models may improve intergenerational mobility and narrow the gifted gap for disadvantaged girls.
NHH Discussion Paper 2019/18
(with J. Riise and A. Willén)

The Impact of Information Disclosure on Consumer Behavior: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment of Calorie Labels on Restaurant Menus

The impact of information on consumer behavior is a classic topic in economics, and there has recently been particular interest in whether providing nutritional information leads consumers to choose healthier diets. For example, a nationwide requirement of calorie counts on the menus of chain restaurants took effect in the U.S. in May, 2018, and the results of such information disclosure are not well known. To estimate the impact of menu labeling, we conducted a randomized controlled field experiment in two full-service restaurants, in which the control group received the usual menus and the treatment group received the same menus but with calorie counts. We estimate that the labels resulted in a 3.0% reduction in calories ordered, with the reduction occurring in appetizers and entrees but not drinks or desserts. Exposure to the information also increases consumers’ support for requiring calorie labels by 9.6%. These results are informative about the impact of the new nationwide menu label requirement, and more generally contribute to the literature on the impact of information disclosure on consumer behavior.
NBER Working Paper No. 24889
(with J. Cawley and A. Susskind)

The Long-Run Effects of Student Aid on Weight: Leveraging Changes in Social Security Benefits

I investigate the effect of financial aid on health, specifically BMI and general self-report health. Aid lowers the cost of college, which increases college-going. However, there is little evidence on the long-run impact of aid on health. I exploit a 1981 shock in Social Security benefits to test the effect of aid on health. Minor children of retired or disabled Social Security beneficiaries and children with deceased parents are eligible for their own benefits, and before 1981 these children could receiving benefits conditional on college enrollment. Using difference-in-differences, I show benefits for college students reduced women’s BMI and improved general health, but had no effect on men. I also find that aid improved educational attainment for beneficiaries, which is a plausible mechanism between aid and health.

Estimating the Health Impacts of WIC: A Regression Discontinuity Approach

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is one of the most widely used food assistance programs in the U.S. We estimate regression discontinuity models that leverage sharp changes in program benefits and eligibility in order to examine effects of the program on a wide range of health and nutrition outcomes. We focus on the effects of WIC on infants and children; on spillover effects from targeted children to other family members; and on the effects of changes in the composition and delivery of program benefits.
(with M. Bitler, J. Currie, H. Hoynes, & L. Schulkind)

Published Research

The Effect of Weight on Mental Health: New Evidence Using Genetic IVs

The causal effect of obesity on mental health has been largely ignored by economists. Using genetic variation in obesity predisposition, I instrument for BMI to determine the impact on measures of suicidality and depression. I find an effect of BMI on suicidal ideation but not other measures of mental health. This effect on suicidal ideation is concentrated in white women. Social stigma is the mechanism through which weight affects mental health.
Full Article

Pass-Through of a Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages at the Philadelphia International Airport

Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages have been proposed as a possible approach to prevent obesity and improve diets. A goal of the taxes is to increase prices and dissuade consumption, but the taxes are levied on beverage distributors, and it is unclear how much of the tax is passed through to consumers as higher retail prices vs being paid by distributors or manufacturers. We estimate the extent to which the tax of 1.5 cents/oz. on SSBs in Philadelphia (implemented on Jan. 1, 2017) raised retail prices.
(with J. Cawley and D. Frisvold)
Full Article

Unintended Consequences of Health Insurance: ACA’s Free Contraception Mandate and Risky Sex

Given current levels of health spending, distortions from insurance are vitally important. I examine insurance’s effect on risky sex, a behavior with quick, meaningful negative results. Leveraging mandated zero cost-sharing for contraception and pre-policy insured rates as a measure of treatment intensity, I find this policy reduced fertility but caused unintended consequences: decreased prevention and increased STIs. I discuss the imperfections of controlling for pre-trends using state-trends in difference-in-differences and suggest approaches to control for pre-trends directly. I use the 2010 dependent coverage mandate to examine the overall effect of insurance and find protective net effects of insurance on STIs.
Full Article

Rebates as Incentives: The Effects of a Gym Membership Reimbursement Program

A rich experimental literature demonstrates positive effects of pay-per-visit fitness incentives. However, most insurance plans that provide fitness incentives follow a different structure, offering membership reimbursements conditional on meeting a specific attendance threshold. We provide the first evidence in the literature on gym incentives of this structure, exploiting the introduction and subsequent discontinuation of a large-scale wellness program at a major American university. Using bunching methods and difference-in-difference designs, we provide four empirical results. First, we document that the policy led to significant bunching at the attendance threshold. Second, we show that the program increased average gym visits by almost five visits per semester, a 20% increase from the mean. Third, we find that the policy not only motivated students who were previously near the threshold, but rather increased attendance across the entire visit distribution. Finally, we show that approximately 50% of the effect persists a year after program termination. Taken together, these results suggest that rebate-framed incentives with a high attendance threshold can induce healthy behaviors in the short-term, and that these positive behaviors persist even after the incentives have been removed.
(with T. Homonoff and A. Willén)
Accepted at Journal of Health Economics