Research In Progress

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.
Revise and Resubmit at American Journal of Health Economics

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, K. Ruffini, & L. Schulkind)

Postpartum Job Loss: Transitory Effect on Mothers, Long-run Damage to Children

The first year after childbirth involves dramatic changes to parents’ lives and is crucial for children’s development. Using plausibly exogenous job loss from mass layoffs, we study the effect of labor shocks on mothers and children. Mothers displaced in the postpartum year experience significantly larger effects than mothers displaced in non-birth years. No such effects are present among fathers. Additionally, we find long-lasting harm to children’s educational outcomes. These effects do not extend to children who experience maternal job loss later in life nor to children who experience paternal job loss. Examining potential mechanisms suggest effects are driven by maternal stress.
(with A. Willén)
NHH Working Paper

Published Research

Can Female Doctors Cure the Gender STEMM Gap? Evidence from Exogenously-assigned General Practitioners

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)
Accepted at Review of Economics and Statistics

Does Information Disclosure Improve Consumer Knowledge? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment of Restaurant Menu Calorie Labels

The United States, in 2018, implemented a nationwide requirement that chain restaurants disclose calorie information on their menus and menu boards. This law was motivated by concern that consumers underestimate the number of calories in restaurant food, but it remains unclear the extent to which this information disclosure affects consumer knowledge. This paper fills that gap by estimating the impact of information disclosure on consumer knowledge through a randomized controlled field experiment of calorie labels on the menus of a full-service restaurant. The results indicate that information disclosure significantly reduces the extent to which consumers underestimate the number of calories in restaurant food; the labels improve the accuracy of consumers’ post-meal estimates of the number of calories they ordered by 4.0 percent and reduces by 28.9% the probability of underestimating the calories in one’s meal by 50% or more, both of which are statistically significant. However, even after information disclosure, there remains considerable error in consumer beliefs about the calorie content of the restaurant food they ordered. Even among the treatment group who received calorie labels, the average absolute value of percent error in their report is 34.2%.
NBER Working Paper No. 27126
(with J. Cawley and A. Susskind)
Accepted at American Journal of Health Economics

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.
(with J. Cawley and A. Susskind)
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (2020)

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)
Journal of Health Economics (2020)

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.
Health Economics (2020)

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)
JAMA (2018)

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.
Journal of Health Economics (2018)