Published and Accepted Work
Why Do Women Earn Less Than Men? Evidence from Bus and Train Operatorswith Valentin BolotnyyCoverage: The Wall Street Journal • Marginal Revolution • Society of Human Resources • Quartz
Journal of Labor Economics 40(2), 2021
Female workers earn $0.89 for each male-worker dollar even in a unionized workplace where tasks, wages, and promotion schedules are identical for men and women by design. We use administrative timecard data on bus and train operators to show that the earnings gap can be explained by female operators taking, on average, 1.5 fewer hours of overtime and 1.3 more hours of unpaid time-off per week than male operators. Female operators, especially those who have dependents, pursue schedule conventionality, predictability, and controllability more than male operators. Analyzing two policy changes, we demonstrate that while reducing schedule controllability can reduce the earnings gap, it can also make workers—particularly female workers—worse off.
Tripping Through Hoops: The Effect of Violating Compulsory Government Procedures with Helen Ho Coverage: Probable Causation Podcast
Conditionally accepted at the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy
Millions of Americans must navigate complex government procedures under the threat of punishment. Violating these requirements can lead to poverty traps or deepening legal system involvement. We use a field experiment to estimate the effect of failing to appear for court on subsequent legal contact. The treatments reduce failure to appear by 39 percent. Using treatment assignment to identify the causal impact of minor procedural violations, we find no effect on arrests. However, for lower-level cases, violations increase fines and fees paid by 60 percent or $80, equivalent to a high-interest loan, showing that minor procedural violations can be costly.
Ten percent of Black children in the U.S. spend time in foster care—twice the rate of white children. We estimate unwarranted disparities in foster care placement decisions, adjusting for differences in the potential for future maltreatment by leveraging the quasi-random assignment of cases to investigators. Using a sample of nearly 220,000 maltreatment investigations, we find that Black children are 1.7 percentage points (50%) more likely to be placed into foster care following an investigation than white children conditional on subsequent maltreatment potential. This disparity is entirely driven by white investigators and by cases where maltreatment potential is present, in which Black children are twice as likely to be placed as white children (12% vs. 6%). These results suggest white children may be harmed by “under-placement” in high-risk situations via the leniency that white investigators afford to white parents. Leveraging the additional quasi-random assignment of hotline call screeners, we find that both screeners and investigators are responsible for unwarranted disparities in placement, with investigators amplifying the disparity for cases with subsequent maltreatment potential and mitigating it for lower-risk cases. This finding highlights the importance of “systems-based” analyses of inequity in high-stakes decisions, where discrimination can compound across multiple decision-makers.
Firm Frictions and The Payoffs of Higher Pay: Labor Supply and Productivity Responses to a Voluntary Minimum Wagewith Emma Harrington[ Revised Sept 2022 • Expands and subsumes "The Payoffs of Higher Pay" (2021) ] Coverage: The Wall Street Journal • Marginal Revolution
What are the returns to higher pay for firms — and how much can these returns offset the effects of firms’ monopsony power? We study a Fortune 500 firm’s voluntary company-wide $15/hour minimum wage, which was had more bite in some of the firm’s warehouses than others. In a continuous difference-in-differences design, we find that a $1/hour increase in pay halves worker departures (elasticity=9.6). This finite labor-supply response suggests that the firm had some monopsony power even in the thick labor markets around logistics hubs. Yet a $1/hour pay bump increases objective measures of worker productivity by 5.9% (elasticity=1.06). Our estimates indicate that productivity gains fully defrayed increased labor costs. Though workers’ productivity response could offset the firm’s monopsony power, internal documents suggest that this major firm did not fully account for the potential payoffs of higher pay when setting wages.
How does remote work affect productivity and how productive are workers who choose remote jobs? We estimate both effects in a US Fortune 500 firm’s call-centers that employed both remote and on-site workers in the same jobs. Prior to Covid-19, remote workers answered 12 percent fewer calls per hour than on-site workers. When the call-centers closed due to Covid-19, the productivity of formerly on-site workers declined by 4 percent relative to already-remote workers, indicating a third of the initial gap was due to a negative treatment effect of remote work. Yet an 8-percent productivity gap persisted, indicating that the majority of the productivity gap was due to negative worker selection into remote work. Difference-in-differences designs also indicate that remote work degraded call quality — particularly for inexperienced workers — and reduced workers’ promotion rates. In a model of the market provision of remote work, we find that firms were in a prisoner’s dilemma: all firms would have gained from offering comparable remote and on-site jobs, but any individual firm was loathe to attract less productive workers.
In an increasingly digital world, how does sitting near coworkers affect col- laboration, on-the-job training, and output? We study software engineers at a Fortune 500 firm, whose main campus has two buildings several blocks apart. When offices were open, engineers working in the same building as all their teammates received 23 percent more online feedback on their computer code than engineers with distant teammates. After offices closed for COVID-19, this advantage shrank by 17 percentage points. Sitting near coworkers increases how much junior engineers learn from their senior colleagues — not only in- person but also online. Proximity particularly increases feedback to female en- gineers and young engineers, who are more likely to quit the firm when prox- imity is lost. However, sitting together reduces senior engineers’ programming output, suggesting a trade-off between short-term productivity and long-run human-capital development. Even pre-COVID, gaining one distant teammate reduced online feedback among coworkers sitting together: thus, remote-work policies may impact even workers who choose to go into the office.