Patnaik, Arpita, Joanna Venator, Matthew Wiswall, and Basit Zafar. “The Role of Heterogeneous Risk Preferences, Discount Rates, and Earnings Expectations in College Major Choice” Journal of Econometrics Vol. 231, no 1. (Nov. 2022): 98-122

Non-Gated Version

Previous version: NBER Working Paper w26785

In this paper, we estimate a rich model of college major choice using a panel of experimentally derived data. Our estimation strategy combines two types of data: data on self-reported beliefs about future earnings from potential human capital decisions, and survey-based measures of risk and time preferences. We show how to use this data to identify a general life-cycle model, allowing for rich patterns of heterogeneous beliefs and preferences. Our data allow us to separate perceptions about the degree of risk or perceptions about the current versus future payoffs for a choice from the individual’s preference for risk and patience. Comparing our estimates of the general model to estimates of models which ignore heterogeneity in risk and time preferences,
we find that these restricted models are likely to overstate the importance of earnings to major choice. Additionally, we show that while men are less risk averse and patient than women, gender differences in non-pecuniary tastes, rather than gender differences in risk aversion and patience over earnings, are the primary driver of gender gaps in major choice.

Persico, Claudia L., and Joanna Venator. “The Effects of Local Industrial Pollution on Students and Schools”  Journal of Human Resources 56, no. 2 (2021): 406-445.

Non-Gated Version

Using detailed education data between 1996-2012 from the state of Florida, we examine whether pollution from local Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) sites affects student achievement and high stakes accountability school rankings. Using event study and difference-in-differences designs, we compare students attending schools within one mile of a TRI site that opens or closes to students attending schools between one and two miles away. We find that being exposed to air pollution is associated with 0.024 of standard deviation lower test scores, increased likelihood of suspension from school, and increased likelihood that a school’s overall high stakes accountability ranking will drop.

Venator, Joanna, and Jason Fletcher. “Undue Burden Beyond Texas: An Analysis of Abortion Clinic Closures, Births, and Abortions in Wisconsin” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 40, no. 3 (Summer 2021). pg. 774-813

Non-Gated Version; Replication file available at: DataVerse Replication File

Previous version: NBER Working Paper w26362

In this paper, we estimate the impacts of abortion clinic closures on access to clinics in terms of distance and congestion, abortion rates, and birth rates. Legislation regulating abortion providers enacted in Wisconsin in 2011-2013 ultimately led to the closure of two of five abortion clinics in Wisconsin, increasing the average distance to the nearest clinic to 55 miles and distance to some counties to over 100 miles. We use a difference-in-differences design to estimate the effect of change in distance to the nearest clinic on birth and abortion rates, using within-county variation across time in distance to identify the effect. We find that a hundred-mile increase in distance to the nearest clinic is associated with 25 percent fewer abortions and 4 percent more births. We see no significant effect of increased congestion at remaining clinics on abortion rates. Our results suggest that even small numbers of clinic closures can result in significant restrictions to abortion access of similar magnitude to those seen in Texas when a greater number of clinics ceased operations.

Working Papers

“Dual Earner Migration, Earnings, and Unemployment Insurance”

This paper examines how married couples’ migration decisions differentially impact men’s and women’s earnings and the role that policy can play in improving post-move outcomes for trailing spouses. I use panel data from the NLSY97 and a generalized difference-in-differences design to show that access to unemployment insurance (UI) for trailing spouses increases long-distance migration rates by 2.7 percentage points (42%) for married couples. I find that women are the primary beneficiaries of this policy, with higher UI uptake following a move and higher annual earnings of $4,700-$15,000 three years post-move. I then build and estimate a structural model of dual-earner couples’ migration decisions to evaluate the effects of a series of counterfactual policies. I show that increasing the likelihood of joint distant offers substantively increases migration rates, increases women’s post-move employment rates, and improves both men and women’s earnings growth at the time of a move. However, unconditional subsidies for migration that are not linked to having an offer in hand at the time of the move reduce post-move earnings for both men and women, with stronger effects for women.

“To Grandmother’s House We Go: Childcare Time Transfers and Female Labor Mobility” with Garrett Anstreicher

Women in the United States frequently rely on childcare from extended family but can only do so if they live in the same location as them. This paper studies how child care costs, the location of extended family, and fertility events influence both the labor force attachment and labor mobility of women in the United States. We begin by empirically documenting strong patterns of women returning to their home locations in anticipation of fertility events, indicating that the desire for intergenerational time transfers is an important motivator of home migration. Moreover, women who reside in their parent’s location experience a substantial long-run reduction in their child earnings penalty. Next, we build a dynamic model of labor force participation and migration to assess the incidence of counterfactual scenarios and childcare policies. We find that childcare subsidies increase lifetime earnings and labor mobility for women, with particularly strong effects for women who are ever single mothers and Blacks. Ignoring migration can understate the welfare benefits of these policies by a meaningful extent.

“Concentrating on His Careers or Hers?: Descriptive Evidence on Occupational Agglomeration and Spousal Matching”

Using IPUMS Decennial Census Data, I explore the role that joint geographic constraints play in dual-earner household migration decisions. I use a simple theoretical model to demonstrate how anticipation of a joint-location decision predicts that the spouse with lower expected earnings should select out of locationally-concentrated occupations. I then develop a novel method of measuring spouses’ joint geographic constraints based on a pairwise occupational co-agglomeration index. I use this measure, as well as a measure of agglomeration and a measure of average returns by occupation and location, to show that joint geographic constraints associated with occupation have a stronger association with earnings for the secondary earner in the household, regardless of gender. These effects are stronger for occupations with high costs of re-skilling (e.g., occupations that require a college degree).

“Reproductive Policy Uncertainty and Defensive Investments in Contraception” with Kate Pennington 

Reproductive healthcare policy has become a knife-edge issue in the United States, with narrow legislative majorities passing laws that dramatically change access to affordable family planning services and abortion on a state-by-state basis. This paper investigates the role of the policy environment in women’s choice of a contraceptive method. We model contraceptive choice as a dynamic discrete choice under uncertainty about future pregnancy, abortion access, and contraceptive method costs. The model predicts that women are forward-looking and risk averse, switching to lower failure-rate methods when they expect abortion access may fall and to longer-lasting methods when they expect costs may rise. Using de-identified patient level data from Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, we evaluate the impacts of four shocks to the policy environment: Wisconsin’s introduction and then passage of its 2015 abortion ban, Vermont’s 2016 reproductive healthcare expansion, and the 2016 presidential election. We find strong evidence in support of the model predictions, with the probability of switching increasing by 2-22 percentage points after the policy shocks. Next, we build a structural model motivated by the reduced form to explore policy counterfactuals including fully unconstrained and fully constrained access to contraception and abortion. These counterfactuals show that policy constraints meaningfully shift women away from their preferred method in an unconstrained world. Women choose a contraceptive method in response not only to method attributes, but also to the policy environment, making defensive investments in methods that can shield them from adverse policy changes in the future.

The Impacts of Same and Opposite Gender Alumni Speakers on Interest in Economics with Arpita Patnaik, Gwyn Pauley, and Matthew Wiswall

NBER Working Paper w30983

What is the impact of male and female alumni speaker interventions in introductory microeconomics courses on student interest in economics? Using student-level transcript data, we estimate the effect of speakers on future course-taking in models which use untreated lectures as control groups, including professor and semester fixed effects and student-level covariates. Alumni speakers increase intermediate economics course take-up by 2.1 percentage points (11%). Students are more responsive to same-gender speakers, with male speakers increasing men’s course take-up by 36% and female speakers increasing women’s course take-up by 40%, implying that the effect of alumni speakers is strongly gendered.

In Progress Projects

“Gender Gaps in Economics Majors”, with Arpita Patnaik, Gwyn Pauley, and Matthew Wiswall

“Do Workforce Development Programs Bridge the Skills Gap?” with Lisa Kahn and Eleanor Wiske Dillon

Policy Pieces/ White Papers

Sex, Contraception or Abortion: Explaining Class Gaps in Unintended Childbearing, The Brookings Institution, February 2015

The Impact of Unintended Childbearing on Future Generations, The Brookings Institution, September  2014

Reducing Unintended Pregnancies for Low-Income Women, in Policies to Address Poverty in America, ed. Melissa Kearney and Benjamin Harris (2014): 37-44.