Current Series

Dondena Seminar Series
Spring 2019

All seminars are in room 3.e4.sr03 from 12:45 — 14:00, except for the seminar on February 4, which will be held in room 3.b3.sr01.

Titles and abstracts will be posted as they become available.

The poster is available and you can download it here.


Room 3.b3.sr01


George Mason University


Title: Bones, Bacteria, and Break Points: The Heterogeneous Spatial Effects of the Black Death and Long-Run Growth

Abstract: The Black Death killed about 40% of Europe’s population between 1347-1352. Historical studies suggest that this mortality shock played a major role in shifting Europe onto a path to sustained economic growth. Using a novel dataset that provides information on the spatial variation in plague mortality at the city level, as well as a range of controls and various identification strategies based on the spread of the epidemic, we explore the short-run and long-run impacts of the Black Death on city growth. We find evidence for aggregate convergence. On average, cities recovered their pre-plague population within two centuries. However, there was considerable heterogeneity in the response to the shock, hence local divergence. The Black Death led to an urban reset: cities with better geographical and non-geographical endowments did relatively well, while other cities collapsed. In particular, our results emphasize the importance of trade networks in explaining urban recovery. Furthermore, the Black Death led to the creation of new cities in areas that were relatively less urbanized before it hit. Our analysis thus suggests that the Black Death may have permanently affected the spatial distribution and aggregate level of economic activity, potentially contributing to long run growth in Europe.

Noel Johnson is an Associate Professor in the Economics Department at George Mason University. He is also a member of the Center for the Study of Public Choice and a Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center. He earned his Ph.D. at Washington University in St. Louis under the supervision of Douglass North and John V.C. Nye. His interests lie at the intersection of economic history, development, and applied econometrics.




University of Essex


Title: Skills Accumulation with Malleable Ability: Evidence from a Growth Mindset Intervention (Joint with Adeline Delavande, Angus Holford and Sonkurt Sen)

Abstract: Existing research shows that students endowed with “growth mindset”; a belief that one’s intelligence and cognitive abilities are malleable so can be increased through effort, rather than fixed traits; are more likely to be academically successful. Interventions attempting to inculcate beliefs, particularly in groups with low academic performance, have therefore been posited as a way to improve, or close ethnic or social gaps in, students’ performance. However, the mechanisms through which the claimed benefits are found are poorly understood. In this paper we evaluate the effects of a randomized light touch intervention given to first year university students in the UK on a validated growth mindset scale, their subjective beliefs about the production function for educational performance, and various measures of study habits measured two months later, compared with baseline pre-treatment measures and a control intervention. We document a positive treatment effect on student grades, and show this to be consistent with students acting on a change in their subjective production technology to make an hour of study effort more efficient through increasing the proportion spent in active learning methods, and spacing out study of the same material.

Bio: Emilia Del Bono is a Professor of Economics at ISER, University of Essex. Her research agenda is focused on the nature, causes, and consequences of disparities in children’s human capital that lead to inequalities later on in life. She is a co-Investigator of the ESRC-funded Centre for Micro Social Change (MiSoC) with responsibility for coordinating research and impact activities in the area of “Families, Schools and Children”. She is working on the ESRC-funded project Inequality in Higher Education Outcomes in the UK, which features a new longitudinal study of higher university students. Her research also involves applying advanced statistical techniques for the analysis of secondary data - administrative or survey - with a view to uncover causal relationships and provide sound policy recommendations. She has published in many peer-reviewed journals, including American Economic Journal: Applied EconomicsEconomic JournalJournal of Labor Economics, and Journal of the European Economic Association.



University of Southern Denmark


Title: Onset of the old-age gender gap in survival

Abstract: Women outlive men almost anywhere in the world. The main explanations for the women’s advantage, which relate to favorable differences in sex hormones and more reckless behaviors of men, display their strongest effect at young-adult ages. Therefore, one would expect these ages to be the main contributors to the current gender gap in life expectancy. However, an account of the present status in low mortality countries reveals that the largest sex difference in mortality occurs at very old ages. As survival patterns at old age are becoming more and more important in driving the overall mortality trends, old ages are likely to become crucial components of the gender difference in life expectancy. The aim of this paper is to analyze the role of old ages over time in determining the gender gap in life expectancy, to identify the onset of the old-age driven gender gap in survival and to investigate differences between countries.

Virginia Zarulli is Associate Professor of Demography at the Interdisciplinary Centre on Population Dynamics and at the Faculty of Business and Social Science, University of Southern Denmark. She earned her PhD in Demography at La Sapienza University of Rome, in joint supervision with the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. Her research lays at the intersection between Demography, Social Science and Biology, with special focus on aging and gender difference in survival.



University of the Basque Country

Title: Brave Boys and Play-it-Safe Girls: Gender Differences in Willingness to Guess in a Large Scale Natural Field Experiment

Abstract: We study gender differences in willingness to guess in a multiple-choice math test with about 10,000 participants, where in half of the questions both wrong answers and omitted questions score 0, and in the other half wrong answers score 0 but omitted questions score +1. Using a within-participant regression analysis, we find that female participants leave more omitted questions than males under both types of scoring rules, but when there is a reward for omitted questions, the gender difference gets even larger. This gender difference, which is stronger among high ability and older participants, has negative consequences for females in the final score and ranking. In a subsequent survey, female participants show lower levels of confidence and higher risk aversion, which could potentially explain this differential behavior. When both are considered, risk aversion shows to be the main factor in explaining the gender differential in the willingness to guess. A scoring rule that is gender neutral begs for non-differential scoring between wrong answers and omitted questions.

Nagore Iriberri is Ikerbasque Research Professor at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) since 2012. She got her Ph.D at the University of California, San Diego in 2006. She then moved to Spain, where she worked at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and got tenure in 2012. She works on Behavioral Game Theory, Experimental Economics and Gender Economics. Her research focuses on the study of initial responses to games, behavioral responses to relative performance feedback and gender differences in performance.



University of Southern Denmark

Title: Froebel’s gift: How the Kindergarten Movement changed the American family

Abstract: American cities experienced a dramatic increase in kindergarten attendance at the turn of the 20th century. Kindergartens offered early childhood education to promote skills and to facilitate entry into primary school. Using newly-collected data on the roll-out of kindergartens across American cities, we evaluate its impact on family outcomes. We find that exposure to kindergartens significantly reduced the fertility of mothers whose children likely attended kindergartens. Kindergartens also increased the returns to education of potential attendants by increasing schooling relative to persons that were just too old to attend when the first kindergarten in a city was established. The fertility decline due to increased returns of education is consistent with a quantity-quality trade-off model that incorporates complementarities between kindergarten education and schooling. We further show that mothers and older siblings of potential kindergarten attendants benefited from kindergartens through spillover effects.

I am an Assistant Professor of Economics at the
Danish Institute for Advanced Study (D-IAS) and at the Department of Business and Economics, University of Southern Denmark (SDU). My research interests are in the fields of Economic History, Growth and Development, and Political Economy. In particular, my research investigates the relationship between education and fertility, the role of human capital in innovation and economic growth, the political and socioeconomic factors that affect the provision of public education. I am a CESifo and CEPR Research Affiliate and a CAGE Research Fellow. In the past years I have held visiting positions at the University of Munich, Brown University, University of Mannheim, and University of Bayreuth.


Joint with SPS


University of Southern California

Title: Unrealized Educational Expectations and Mental Health: Evidence from Malawi

Abstract: The rapid expansion of schooling across low-income countries, combined with intensive governmental and nongovernmental efforts to promote education, has encouraged youth in these contexts to form exceptionally high educational expectations, despite immense structural barriers to achieving them. Consequently, many young people’s educational expectations go unmet, driving concerns over the possible unintended consequences, including their elevated risk of mental health problems. At the same time, role transitions (e.g., marriage, parenthood) remain important elements of the transition to adulthood in many low-income countries, and thus may be a source of resilience—allowing youth to shift their identity away from education towards a new role. In this talk, I present results from a longitudinal survey that offers insight into the mental health implications of young women’s unmet educational expectations, and the possibility for motherhood to act as a buffer, in a low-income community in Malawi. 

I grew up in a small town in Virginia. As an undergraduate, I lived briefly in South Africa, and became interested in social inequality in the region. As a graduate student at Penn State, I began doing research in Malawi, and continue to do so today. During my postdoc at the University of Michigan, I developed collaborative ties with the Chitwan Valley Family Study in Nepal. After several years in Pennsylvania and a quick stop in Michigan, my family is enjoying the steady stream of sunshine that Southern California offers.



Boston University

Title:  Police violence, structural racism, and the health of black Americans

Abstract: Police killings of unarmed black Americans have been widely interpreted as a reflection of structural racism. Exploiting the quasi-random timing of these events, we document adverse spillover effects of these traumatic events on the mental health of other black Americans residing in the U.S. state where the killing occurred. We also find evidence of intergenerational transmission in the form of lower birth weights, consistent with a maternal stress response to these events.

Jacob Bor, ScD, SM, is Assistant Professor and Peter T. Paul Career Development Professor in the Departments of Global Health (primary) and Epidemiology. His research applies the analytical tools of economics to the study of population health, with a focus on HIV treatment and prevention in southern Africa. Current research interests include economic spillover effects of HIV treatment on patients, households, and communities; decision-making in HIV-endemic risk environments; population health impacts of social policy; and causal inference in public health research. For additional and up-to-date information: http://sites.bu.edu/jbor.



Autonomous University of Barcelona

Title: Who Sent You? Extreme Voting, Transfers and Bailouts in a Federation

Abstract: Lower-level governments often receive federal support through transfers or bailouts. We study how the regional or local ties of federal politicians can steer this process. We build a two-tier model of government, where regionally elected federal legislators bargain over federal support aimed at their own constituency. This leads to strategic voting on the regional level. Federal legislators are strategically elected to watch over the interests of their own region, cushioning shocks to local consumption and driving down borrowing costs. Lower-level legislators anticipate this, which sets the stage for regional overspending both if they receive annual grants, or when a bailout scheme is introduced during periods of crisis. As long as these federal co-funding schemes imply some degree of interregional redistribution, voters strategically select federal representatives with more extreme positions than the median voter. This prediction is confirmed by our empirical analysis, where we compare the political extremism of representatives elected to the EU Parliament with that of representatives elected to national Parliaments.

Bio: I'm an applied-theory economist, interested mainly in the simultaneous interdependence amongst Firms, Policy Makers and Voters/Consumers. In my research, I mix instruments and cover topics typical of Public Economics, Political Economy, Political Science and Industrial Organisation. I'm a Ramon y Cajal Fellow at Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) since 2018. I'm also a Research Affiliate at the Barcelona Economics Institute (IEB), at the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics (BGSE) and at MOVE.


Joint with SPS


Princeton University


Title: Police Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age

Abstract:  The digital age has transformed the ways that researchers are able to study social behavior. These new opportunities mean that the future of social research will involve blending together insights from social science and data science.  In this talk, I will describe several themes of this hybrid approach.  Further, I will illustrate many of these themes by describing the Fragile Families Challenge, a scientific mass collaboration designed to assess the limits of predictability of life outcomes and improve our understanding of these limits.  Using data from the Fragile Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a high-quality, birth cohort study that has followed about 5,000 mainly disadvantaged families for the past 15 years, 459 researchers built predictive models of six life outcomes, such as a child’s grades in school or whether the family would be evicted from their home.  Research participants in the Challenge could use any theoretical, statistical, or machine learning approach they wished and could draw on the more than 12,000 variables that had been measured about the child, parents, and family since the birth of the child.  Our empirical results have implications for social science theory, data, and methods and for algorithmic decision-making in high-stakes settings. 

Bio: Matthew Salganik is Professor of Sociology at Princeton University, and he is affiliated with several of Princeton's interdisciplinary research centers including the Center for Information Technology Policy and the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning. His research interests include social networks and computational social science.








Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen

Title: More Opportunity, More Cooperation? The Behavioral Effects of Birthright Citizenship on Immigrant Youth

Inequality of opportunity, particularly when overlaid with racial, ethnic, or cultural differences, increases the social distance between individuals, which is widely believed to limit the scope of cooperation. A central question, then, is how to bridge such divides. We study the effects of a major citizenship reform in Germany—the introduction of birthright citizenship on January 1, 2000—in terms of inter-group cooperation and social segregation between immigrant and native youth. We hypothesize that endowing immigrant children with citizenship rights levels the playing field between them and their native peers, with possible spill-overs into the domain of social interactions. Our unique setup connects a large-scale lab-in-the-field experiment based on the investment game with the citizenship reform by exploiting the quasi-random assignment of citizenship rights around its cut-off date. Immigrant youth born prior to the reform display high levels of cooperation toward other immigrants, but low levels of cooperation toward natives. The introduction of birthright citizenship caused male, but not female, immigrants to significantly increase their cooperativeness toward natives. This effect is accompanied by a near-closure of the educational achievement gap between young immigrant men and their native peers.

I am Professor of Economics at the University of Munich. I am also Director of the Center for Labor and Demographic Economics at the Ifo Institute.



New York University

Title: TBD


Joshua A. Tucker is Professor of Politics, affiliated Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies, and affiliated Professor of Data Science at New York University. He is the Director of NYU’s Jordan Center for Advanced Study of Russia, a co-Director of the NYU Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) laboratory, and a co-author/editor of the award winning politics and policy blog The Monkey Cage at The Washington Post. His original research was on mass political behavior in post-communist countries. More recently, he has focused on the relationship between social media and politics, including partisan chambers, online hate speech, whether exposure to social media increases political knowledge, online networks and protest, disinformation and fake news, and Russian bots.  His research has appeared in over two-dozen scholarly journals, and his most recent book is the co-authored Communism’s Shadow: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Political Attitudes (Princeton University Press, 2017). Professor Tucker’s work on social media and politics has been funded by five philanthropic foundations and the National Science Foundation. Follow him  @j_a_tucker.



Princeton University






Free University of Bozen-Bolzano

Title: The Economics of Missionary Expansion: Evidence from Africa and Implications for Development

Abstract: One of the most powerful cultural transformations in modern history has been the dramatic expansion of Christianity outside Europe. Recent, yet extensive, literature uses Christian missions established during colonial times as a source of exogenous variation to study the long-term effects of religion, human capital and culture in Africa, the Americas and Asia. We argue that the endogeneity of missionary expansion may be underestimated, thus questioning the link between missions and economic development. Using annual panel data on missions from 1751 to 1932 in Ghana as well as cross-sectional data on missions for 43 sub-Saharan African countries in 1900 and 1924, we show that:
(i) locational decisions were driven by economic factors, as missionaries went to healthier, safer, and more accessible and developed areas, privileging the best locations first;
(ii) these factors may spuriously explain why locations with past missions are more developed today, especially as most studies rely on historical mission atlases that tend to only report the best mission locations.

Our study identifies factors behind the spatial diffusion of religion. It also highlights the risks of omission and endogenous measurement error biases when using historical data and events for identification.

Alexander Moradi is Professor in Economics at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano. He is a specialist in employing historical data to analyse health, living standards, urban development, and trade in the long run. Prof Moradi has published widely including in journals such as the American Economic Journal, The Economic Journal, Review of Economics and Statistics and Journal of Economic History.



Vanderbilt University






Yale SOM






University of Southern Denmark





Joint with SPS


Michigan State University







Cornell University






Toulouse School of Economics






National Cancer Institute

Title: Lung Cancer Risk Prediction and Assessment: application to the Lung Cancer Screening Trials

Abstract: In practice, the success of lung cancer screening program may depend on successful identification of individuals at high risk. Screening high-risk individuals may increase the benefit of lung cancer screening, reduce overall costs and improve the current poor survival from lung cancer. The aim of this study is to create a risk prediction model to identify individuals at different risks of lung cancer. We developed a tree classification model and constructed a stratification procedure to group subjects according to baseline information. We evaluate the sub-groups that benefit the most or the least from lung cancer screening test. We provide an intuitive selection procedure on identifying the risk of lung cancer. The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) x-ray arm data was used as the training dataset to generate the risk prediction model. The Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial data was used as the independent validation dataset. The proposed method developed in this study might be useful for investigating the difference between risk-based and outcome-based screening strategies in assessing targeted risk subgroups, and for planning and designing cancer screening and prevention trials.

Dr. Ping Hu received her B.S. in Mathematics from Beijing Institute of Technology, China. She received M.S. in Health Policy and Management and Sc.D. in Biostatistics from Harvard University, USA. She had her post-doctoral training at Department of Biostatistics, Harvard University. She worked on Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) at Dana Farber Cancer institute, during her doctoral program and as a post-doc. She went to Brown University as a faculty, and later moved to the Washington DC area. She has been working at National Cancer Institute (NCI) since 2000. She is a Statistician and China projects representative. In NCI, she has been working on the two-important early detection screening trials in the world: the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) randomized cancer screening trial as a key point person for lung component, and the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) as one of the statisticians who designed the trial. Her research interests include statistical modeling of early detection of disease and cancer screening, design and analysis of clinical trials, cancer risk prediction and assessment, surivival analysis, nonparametric and semi-parametric methods.



Last updated 18 March 2019 - 17:36:43