Essays in labor economics
Author(s)Pallais, Amanda Dawn
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Economics.
David Autor and Esther Duflo.
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This dissertation consists of three chapters on topics in labor economics. In the first chapter, I present a model in which firms under-invest in hiring novice workers because they don't receive the full benefit of discovering novice talent. A firm must pay a cost to hire a novice worker. When it does, it obtains both labor services and information about the worker's productivity. This information has option value as a productive novice can be rehired. However, if competing firms also observe the novice's productivity, the option value of hiring accrues to the worker, not the employer. Firms will accordingly under-invest in discovering novice talent unless they can claim the benefit from doing so. I test this model's relevance in an online labor market by hiring 952 workers at random from an applicant pool of 3,767 for a 10-hour data entry job. In this market, worker performance is publicly observable. Consistent with the model's prediction, novice workers hired at random obtained significantly more employment and had higher earnings than the control group, following the initial hiring spell. A second treatment confirms that this causal effect is likely explained by information revelation rather than skills acquisition. Providing the market with more detailed information about the performance of a subset of the randomly-hired workers raised earnings of high-productivity workers and decreased earnings of low-productivity workers. Due to its scale, the experiment significantly increased the supply of workers recognized as high-ability in the market. This outward supply shift raised subsequent total employment and decreased average wages in occupations affected by the experiment (relative to non-treated occupations), implying that it also increased the sum of worker and employer surplus. Under plausible assumptions, this additional total surplus exceeds the social cost of the experiment. In the second chapter, I estimate the sensitivity of students' college application decisions to a small change in the cost of sending standardized test scores to colleges. In 1997, the ACT increased the number of free score reports it provided to students from three to four, maintaining a $6 marginal cost for each additional report. In response to this $6 cost change, ACT-takers sent more score reports and applications, while SAT-takers did not. ACT-takers also widened the range of colleges to which they sent scores. I show that students' response to the cost change is inconsistent with optimal decision-making but instead suggests that students use rules of thumb to make college application decisions. Sending additional score reports could, based on my estimates, substantially increase low-income students' future earnings. In the third chapter, I analyze the effects of the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarships, a broad-based merit scholarship program that rewards students for their high school achievement with college financial aid. Since 1991, over a dozen states, comprising approximately a quarter of the nation's high school seniors, have implemented similar merit scholarship programs. Using individual-level data from the ACT exams, I find that the program did not achieve one of its stated goals, inducing more students to prefer to stay in Tennessee for college, but it did induce large increases in performance on the ACT. This suggests that policies that reward students for performance affect behavior and may be an effective way to improve high school achievement.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Economics, 2011.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Economics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology