Current Projects


Economic Downturns and Educational Attainment

Existing research generally confirms countercyclicality of higher education enrollment. This relationship is termed the ‘discouraged worker’ thesis, whereby youths seek shelter in the educational system to avoid hardships in the labor market. Alternatively, the ‘encouraged worker’ thesis predicts that economic downturns steer individuals away from the educational system because of higher opportunity costs. This study provides a formal test of these opposing theories using longitudinal data from the United States, as compared to similar data from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden. While existing research concentrates on aggregate unemployment fluctuations, this study investigates a multitude of macro-economic social stimuli that matter for enrollment decisions, such as the precise timing of recessions and shifts in the opportunity structure. Furthermore, as enrollment incentives are highly path dependent, the analyses uniquely address the heterogeneity of different educational subgroups. The surprising result is that in several instances, US youths display an increased hazard of school leaving and a decreased hazard of educational reenrollment in response adverse conditions. In contrast, European youths tend to make enrollment decisions that point to the discouraged worker mechanism, or insensitivity to adverse conditions.

Sole-author study conducted as Postdoctoral Prize Fellow at Nuffield College. The paper is conditionally accepted for publication.

Undergraduate Financing and Obtaining an Advanced Degree

One critical question regarding stratification patterns of higher education is whether the shift away from traditional gift aid programs, and toward widespread borrowing, affected not only outcomes at the undergraduate level, but also subsequent advanced degree attainment. Accounting for selection and omitted variable biases, this study investigates the causal effects of having received 'traditional' gift aid, as well as loan-taking, as an undergraduate on the chance of attaining an advanced degree later on. Data from college graduates between 1986 and 2007 in the National Survey of College Graduates are utilized to identify these effects. The good news is that, despite its policy changes, gift aid has maintained a large positive long-term effect across several decades, thus boosting higher education attainment far beyond the undergraduate degree. The effect size is substantial; having received gift aid as an undergraduate increases the chance of a master’s degree or higher with more than 5%-points in the most conservative estimation models. This effect has remained stable across college graduation cohorts spanning about 20 years, between 1986 and 2007. Conversely, taking out a loan negatively affects the advanced degree attainment; reducing the advanced degree attainment chance with a modest 2.5%-points.

Sole-author study conducted as Postdoctoral Prize Fellow at Nuffield College. The paper is currently under review.

Incentive Inequality and College Persistence

This study examines the implications of these structural labor market inequalities – the opportunity structure – for incentives to remain in college for blacks and whites. The goal of our approach is to advance an explanation for the persistence of racial gaps in college persistence and degree completion that emphasizes racial and gender differences in likely risks and rewards as undergraduates proceed through college. We first develop a method for calculating incentives for race-gender groups separately. This method is based on information drawn from current levels of educational persistence and labor market outcomes, which includes structurally unequal access and unequal returns (partially rooted in discrimination). These calculations represents the race-gender-specific opportunity structure. Subsequently, we use this method to demonstrate that college-enrolled black students have lower relative incentives to persist than white students because they gain less from continuing in college and completing a degree. This black-white “incentive inequality” appears at all observed educational decision nodes but is much higher in the early stages of higher education.

Research conducted in collaboration with Paul Attewell (CUNY, The Graduate Center). The paper is currently under review.

Perceived Social Mobility and Education

Education is considered a key driver of intergenerational social mobility in the United States. However, the past several decades have witnessed a dramatic increase in the costs of college attendance, which puts political pressure on what the roles of government and families in education financing ought to be. In this study, we examine how individuals’ perception of society’s intergenerational mobility affects their willingness to financially support children in college, as well as their opinion on whether the government should take a smaller or bigger role. Perceptions of mobility matter because they reflect individuals’ estimated opportunity structure and thereby an important component of returns to education. Using data from a nationally representative online survey, we show that (1) individuals who believe to live in a highly mobile society, exhibit more aversion toward government spending, and a preference for students relying on family support; (2) these associations are stronger among higher-SES groups; and (3) information treatments about objective social mobility only make optimistic individuals, who already favor college students to rely on family support, even more eager to contribute to tuition costs. These findings suggest that learning about factual levels of mobility reinforces existing beliefs and possibly their consequences for educational investment.

Research conducted in collaboration with Fangqi Wen (Nuffield College, University of Oxford). The paper is currently under review.


The Effect of Incarceration and Early-Life Mortality

This study identifies the effect of incarceration on premature death. Using longitudinal data a comprehensive treatment model reports a strong positive long-term impact of incarceration on the premature death risk. The current approach improves on earlier studies by rigorously addressing selection into treatment (incarceration) as well as by adjusting for a wide range of covariates of mortality. These include demographics, family background, geographic location, and indicators of health status measured in childhood or early adolescence. This study also expands on earlier research by observing much longer panel data – closer to the mortality curve. Aside from the evident main treatment effect, the results suggest a dosing effect and a timing effect, such that both longer sentences and younger age incarceration are predictive of an even higher premature death risk. Contrary earlier studies reporting racial heterogeneity of mortality risks in prison and non-prison populations, there is no evidence of a stronger, weaker, or reversed effect of incarceration on premature death for blacks, Hispanics, and whites.

Sole-author study conducted as Postdoctoral Prize Fellow at Nuffield College. The paper is currently under review.

Stratification and Mobility

Vertical and Horizontal Intragenerational Mobility

This study analyzes how career mobility patterns have changed over time and for whom. Structural change is believed to increase the prevalence of merit-based careers and increasing social mobility. We contrast two opposing perspectives on how structural change affect careers; demographic metabolism and the life course perspective. We apply a class scheme that combines vertical skill-based positioning as well as jobs’ nominal classification. Analyses identify career mobility dynamics through sequence analysis in the Swedish Level-of-Living surveys. Findings indicate a striking stability of attaining career mobility types between birth cohorts and substantial within career mobility between classes. However, substantive changes across cohorts are observed within genders. We further observe, in line with other recent research on the topic, no declining effect of class background on career mobility trajectories.

Research conducted in collaboration with Johan Westerman (Stockholm University, SOFI). The paper is currently under review.

The COVID-19 Economic Crash and Consequences for Mental Health

The COVID-19 economic crash is idiosyncratic because of its virtual standstill of economic activity. We therefore ask how individual labor market experiences are related to the development of mental health complaints in the Spring of 2020. As clinical data collection was compromised during the lockdowns, standardized surveys of the European labor force provide an opportunity to observe mental health complaints as the crisis unfolded. Data are representative of active members of the labor force of six European nations that contained varying levels of COVID-19 burdens in terms of mortality and lockdown measures. We document a steep occupational prestige level gradient on the probability of facing economic hardship during the lockdowns – looming job loss, income loss, and workload decline – which evidently exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities. Analyses indicate a striking positive relationship between instantaneous economic hardships during the COVID-19 lockdown and expressing feelings of depression and health anxiety. Importantly, the magnitude of the association between such hardships and indicators of mental health deterioration is highly depend on workers’ occupational standing, revealing a second layer of exacerbating inequality.

Research conducted in collaboration with Eva Velthorst (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, NY). The paper is currently under review (Revise & Resubmit).

The Role of College Majors for Occupational Closure and Matching

Occupational closure is predictive of higher earnings in the labor market. However, little is known about how closure is related to labor market payoffs among college graduates. This paper examines the role of field of study (college major) as a closure mechanism in U.S. occupations, using data from the American Community Survey. We measure college major density within each occupation, which we term ‘major specialization.’ Our analyses demonstrate that greater major specialization within an occupation is predictive of it having higher earnings, over and above previously-identified closure devices (licensing and unionization). We conclude that major specialization operates as an earnings-boosting closure device for the more highly educated segment of the labor market. Contrary to expectations, however, additional analyses regarding any earnings boost from individuals’ matching their own major with the typical major in their occupation yielded null results. Thus, conditional on entering a relatively closed occupation, deviating from the occupation’s usual credential does not generate any earnings penalty. These findings imply that social closure theory explains earnings differentials among the college-educated labor force, but human capital theory of degree matching within occupations does not.

Research conducted in collaboration with Paul Attewell (CUNY, The Graduate Center). The paper is currently under review.

Early Stage Research

Change in Skill Requirements in STEM Jobs between 1993 and 2017 (Sole-author).

Career Mobility of the European Working Classes (With Zachary Van Winkle & Marii Paskov).

Social Mobility Beyond the JD: The Mediating Role of Institution Selectivity and First Firm (With Jung In).