Research

My research interest are in development economics and rigorous evaluation based on econometric theory. In addition, I am interested in the dynamics of poverty and the interaction of psychology, decision-making, and poverty traps. My secondary research field is labor and I’m interested in how decisions about labor supply interact with poverty and psychological well-being.

I am interested in collaboration on all sorts of topics in development, behavioral economics, applied econometrics, and labor. Feel free to contact me!

Job Market Paper
Income, Psychological Well-being, and the Dynamics of Poverty
(Latest draft available here JMP Updated October, 2018)

Abstract: Evidence across disciplines suggests that economic well-being affects an individual’s psychological well-being, and also that psychological disorders can have substantial negative effects on individual income. Together, these studies suggest a feedback loop that may trap some in poverty. However, estimating these causal links is difficult due to this simultaneous causality. In this paper, I overcome this endogeneity concern with a panel GMM approach that estimates a dynamic system of equations where income and psychological well-being are simultaneously determined. Using a nationally representative panel dataset from South Africa, I find evidence of impacts in both directions with important heterogeneity. The average effect of changes in psychological well-being on income is mainly driven by a large effect among those near the clinical depression threshold where I estimate that a one standard deviation decrease in psychological well-being leads to 17\% loss in earnings. Meanwhile, the effect of changes in income on psychological well-being is especially pronounced among the poor, indicating the possibility of a strong feedback loop among an especially vulnerable subgroup — the poor with low levels of psychological well-being. An impulse response function analysis indicates that this bi-directionality can nearly double the long-term impact of shocks, while simulations show that this relationship can explain prolonged poverty spells and low resilience to shocks. A formal test for poverty traps shows that individuals with low levels of psychological well-being exhibit markedly different income dynamics that suggest the existence of a multi-equilibrium poverty trap.

Previous versions were circulated under the title “Unpacking the Causal Relationships between Income and Psychological Well-being”

Peer-reviewed articles:

Economic Life in Refugee Camps (2017). World Development (95) 334-347
(with J. Ed Taylor, Anubhab Gupta, Irvin Rojas, & Ernesto Gonzalez)
access here

Economics Impact of Refugees (2016). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(27) 7449–7453
(with J. Ed Taylor, Mateusz Filipski, Anubhab Gupta, Irvin Rojas, & Ernesto Gonzalez)
open access here

Informality and Exclusion: Evidence from Matched Employer-Employee data for Lebanon and Syria (2013). IZA Journal of Labor Policy 2(18)
(with Roberta Gatti, Joana Silva, & Carole Chartouni)
open access here

Working Papers:

Economic Well-being, Poverty Dynamics, and Happiness

Personality Traits and Economic Shocks among the Ultra-poor
(with Sikhar Mehra and Yaniv Stopnitzky)

Ongoing projects:

Impact Evaluation of the South Africa Land Restitution Program
(with Michael Carter and Malcolm Keswell)

Impact Evaluation of a poverty graduation program in Lebanon
(Principal Investigator and consultant for the World Bank, with Rene Solano & Jumana El-Aref)

Measuring Resilience: The Role of Psychological Well-being and Cognitive/Executive
Functions (with Michael Carter)

 

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