Information Policies and Higher Education Choices: Experimental Evidence from Colombia with Leonardo Bonilla and Nicolas Bottan (Submitted).

This paper studies the effects of a large-scale information policy that nudges high school students towards college information websites in Colombia. We collect panel data on 6,000 students in 115 public schools and match them to administrative records. Students in 58 randomly-chosen schools received a 35-minute presentation on the earning premiums of college, funding opportunities to cover costs, and the importance of test scores for admissions and financial aid. Our findings indicate that students learn about financial aid but do not update their inflated beliefs about college earnings, are not motivated to improve academic performance, nor substantially modify their enrollment choices. These null results are precisely estimated, robust, and consistent with the related literature. We conduct an in-depth analysis of the reasons driving the limited effects of information provision on higher education choices, identifying factors that may increase the effectiveness of these policies to motivate the demand for college.

*Featured in the World Bank’s Development Impact Blog (Jul 2016).

“Police Interactions with Youth at Risk: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Honduras” with Michael Weintraub, Javier Osorio, and Reynaldo Rojo (Submitted).

Gang-driven violence in Central America has imposed high costs on local populations. Despite the scope of the problem, there is little convincing evidence of what works to reduce violence in the region and, in particular, whether police-led interventions can change perceptions in ways that might cripple gangs’ abilities to recruit young people. This paper presents experimental evidence on the effectiveness of a 56-hour violence prevention program, provided by the Honduran National Police to at-risk adolescents (aged 13-18). Out of 164 classrooms in nine schools, 80 were randomly selected to receive the violence prevention program and 84 selected into the control group. Results consistently show few changes in attitudes among students in classrooms that received the program. These findings suggest that in-school pedagogical interventions directed at a broad and heterogeneous group of adolescents may be less effective compared to targeted interventions for young people that can be accurately identified at risk for gang recruitment.

Can’t Stop the One-Armed Bandits: The Effects of Access to Gambling on Crime with Nicolas Bottan and Ignacio Sarmiento-Barbieri.

We study the effect of a large increase in access to gambling on crime by exploiting the expansion of video gambling terminals in Illinois since 2012. Even though video gambling was legalized by the State of Illinois, local municipalities were left with the decision whether to allow it within their jurisdiction. The City of Chicago does not allow video gambling, while many adjacent jurisdictions do. We take advantage of this setting along with detailed incident level data on crime for Chicago to examine the effect of access to gambling on crime. We use a difference-in-differences strategy that compares crime in areas that are closer to video gambling establishments with those that are further away along with the timing of video gambling adoption. We find that (i) access to gambling increases violent and property crimes; (ii) these are new crimes rather than displaced incidents; and (iii) the effects seem to be persistent in time.

*Media Coverage: The Inquirer, News-Gazette, Illinois News Network.

Recent patterns and trends in the youth labor market in Colombia: Diagnosis, challenges, and public policy challenges” with Darío Maldonado and Carlos S. Guzmán-Gutiérrez (In Spanish).

This paper describes the youth labor market in Colombia during the past decade. We calculate labor market indicators for young people aged between 14-28 years using microdata from the \emph{Gran Encuesta Integrada de Hogares} (GEIH, for its acronym in Spanish) over the period 2008-2017. These estimates help document the main patterns and trends in the labor market for youth in labor force participation, employment, unemployment, informality, and earnings. We compare these outcomes to the same indicators for adults (defined as people between the ages of 29-65 years). Additionally, we explore differences within youth labor market outcomes by gender, region, educational attainment, socioeconomic status, and experience. Our results indicate that young Colombians have greater labor market attachment, mostly in low quality jobs: unsalaried and informal. We identify that some youths are more vulnerable than others. While recent labor policy has provided some gains, further efforts are required to create new and better jobs for Colombian youths.

“How important is spatial correlation in randomized controlled trials?” with Kathy Baylis.

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have become the gold standard for impact evaluation since they provide unbiased estimates of causal effects. This paper focuses on RCTs that allocate treatment status over clusters in geographical proximity. We study how omitting spatial correlation in outcomes or unobservables at the cluster-level affects difference-in-difference estimates at the individual-level. Using Monte Carlo experiments, we identify bias and efficiency problems and propose solutions to overcome them. Our framework is then tested on data from Mexico’s Progresa program. Results show that spatial correlation may affect both the precision of the estimate and the estimate itself, especially when geographic dependence is high.