Quality Externalities on Platforms: The Case of Airbnb
[with Peter Coles, Steven Levitt, and Igor Popov] (2019).
We explore quality externalities on platforms: when buyers have limited information, a seller's quality affects whether her buyers return to the platform, thereby impacting other sellers' future business. We propose an intuitive measure of this externality, applicable across a range of platforms. Guest Return Propensity (GRP) is the aggregate propensity of a seller's customers to return to the platform. We validate this metric using Airbnb data: matching customers to listings with a one standard deviation higher GRP causes them to take 17\% more subsequent trips. By directing buyers to higher-GRP sellers, platforms may be able to increase overall seller surplus.
Efficient Location Choice and the Returns to Agglomeration
[with Stephen Morris] (2017).
In this note we consider a scenario where agents must make a binary choice about where to locate. They have
heterogeneous preferences over locations. In addition, whichever
location an agent chooses, his utility also includes an agglomeration
effect that is increasing in the proportion of the population that
chooses that location. Each individual is uncertain about the distribution
of preferences in the population, but knows his own preferences, which
serve as a noisy signal of population preferences.
We show that if the marginal returns to agglomeration are sufficiently
decreasing in the proportion of the population co-locating (returns are more concave
than log) then there will be over-agglomeration in equilibrium, relative to the social optimum. If the agglomeration
function is less concave than log (for example, linear) there will
be under-agglomeration in equilibrium.
The Welfare Implications of Health Insurance
Anup Malani] (2018).
We analyze the financial value of insurance when individuals have access to credit markets. Loans allow consumers to smooth shocks across time, decreasing the value of the smoothing (across states of the world) provided by insurance. We derive a simple formula for the incremental value of insurance and show how it depends on individual age, health, and income and on the features of available loans. Our central contribution is to derive formulas for aggregate welfare that can be taken to data from typical studies of health insurance. We provide both exact formulas that can be taken to data on the distribution of medical expenditures and income and an approximate formula for aggregate data on medical expenditure. Using the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey we illustrate how the incremental value of insurance is decreasing with access to loans. For consumers in the sickest decile, access to a five-year loan decreases the incremental value of insurance by $338 (6%) on average and $3,433 (36%) for the poorest consumers. We also find that our approximate formula is a reasonable proxy for the exact one in our data.
A Tale of Two Cities: Software Developers Working from
Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic
[with Denae Ford, Margaret-Anne Storey, Thomas Zimmermann, Christian Bird,
Chandra Maddila, Jenna Butler, Brian Houck and Nachiappan Nagappan]
ACM Transactions on Software Engineering and Methodology 31(2), (2022). (preprint)
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world to its core and has provoked an overnight exodus of developers who normally worked in an office setting to working from home. The magnitude of this shift and the factors
that have accompanied this new unplanned work setting go beyond what the software engineering community
has previously understood to be remote work. To find out how developers and their productivity were affected,
we distributed two surveys (with a combined total of 3,634 responses that answered all required questions) weeks apart to understand the presence and prevalence
of the benefits, challenges, and opportunities to improve this special circumstance of remote work. From
our thematic qualitative analysis and statistical quantitative analysis, we find that there is a dichotomy of
developer experiences influenced by many different factors (that for some are a benefit, while for others a
challenge). For example, a benefit for some was being close to family members but for others having family
members share their working space and interrupting their focus, was a challenge. Our surveys led to powerful
narratives from respondents and revealed the scale at which these experiences exist to provide insights as to h
ow the future of (pandemic) remote work can evolve.
The Effects of Remote Work on Collaboration among Information Workers
[with Longqi Yang, David Holtz, Siddharth Suri, Shilpi Sinha, Jeffrey Weston, Connor Joyce,
Neha Parikh Shah, Kevin Sherman, Brent Hecht, and Jaime Teevan] Nature Human Behavior (2021).
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused a rapid shift to full-time remote work for many information workers. Viewing this shift as a natural experiment in which some workers were already working remotely before the pandemic enables us to separate the effects of firm-wide remote work from other pandemic-related confounding factors. Here, we use rich data on the emails, calendars, instant messages, video/audio calls and workweek hours of 61,182 US Microsoft employees over the first six months of 2020 to estimate the causal effects of firm-wide remote work on collaboration and communication. Our results show that firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network of workers to become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts. Furthermore, there was a decrease in synchronous communication and an increase in asynchronous communication. Together, these effects may make it harder for employees to acquire and share new information across the network.
Challenges and Gratitude: A Diary Study of Software Engineers Working From Home During Covid-19 Pandemic
[with Jenna Butler] ICSE SEIP (2021).
The Covid-19 pandemic dramatically changed how organizations worked. Microsoft was one of the first to ask employees to work from home (WFH). We developed an anonymous nightly diary study with 435 participants, and we learned about their experiences over the first 10 weeks of the WFH directive. We found the largest challenges were having too many meetings, feeling overworked, and physical and mental health. However, there were things to be grateful for, and many people were thankful for family, increased flexibility, their job, and their team. We also learned that the simple act of reflecting nightly during the study could be helpful: people who reported no gratitude were 22% (p-value=.000007) less likely to report being satisfied that day. Our management used the anonymized, aggregate data to create new programs (such as No Meeting Friday) to address these challenges. We then saw immediate feedback on these programs in the diaries and used that to inform future decisions.
Taxation in Matching Markets
[with Arnaud Dupuy, Alfred Galichon, and Scott Duke Kominers] International Economic Review 61(4) (2020). (preprint)
We analyze the effects of taxation in two-sided matching markets, i.e.~markets in which all agents have heterogeneous preferences over potential partners.
In matching markets, taxes can generate inefficiency on the allocative margin by changing who is matched to whom, even if the number of workers at each firm is unaffected.
While the allocative inefficiency of taxation need not be monotonic in the level of the tax when transfers flow in both directions, we show that it is weakly increasing in the tax rate for markets in which workers refuse to match without a positive wage.
We introduce a renormalization that allows for an equivalence between markets with taxation and markets without taxation but with adjusted match values.
We use our equivalence to show additional properties of matching markets with taxation and to adapt existing econometric methods to such markets. We then estimate the preferences in the college-coach US football matching market and show through simulations of tax reforms that the true deadweight loss can differ dramatically from that measured without accounting for the preference heterogeneity of the matching market.
In addition to highlighting the potential for allocative distortions from taxation, our model provides a continuous link between canonical models of matching with and without transfers.
Price-Linked Subsidies and Imperfect Competition in Health Insurance
Mark Shepard] American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 12(3) (2020). (preprint)
Policymakers subsidizing health insurance often face uncertainty about future market prices. We study the implications of one policy response: linking subsidies to prices, to target a given post-subsidy premium. We show that these price-linked subsidies weaken competition, raising prices for the government and/or consumers. However, price-linking also ties subsidies to health care cost shocks, which may be desirable. Evaluating this tradeoff empirically using a model estimated with Massachusetts insurance exchange data, we find that price-linking increases prices 1-6%, and much more in less competitive markets. For cost uncertainty reasonable in a mature market, these losses outweigh the benefits of price-linking.
Behavior in Strategic Settings: Evidence from a Million
John A. List,
Jeff Picel] Games 10(2) (2019). (preprint)
We make use of data from a Facebook application where hundreds of thousands of people played a simultaneous move, zero-sum game – rock-paper-scissors – with varying information to analyze whether play in strategic settings is consistent with extant theories. We report three main insights. First, we observe that
most people employ strategies consistent with Nash, at least some of the time. Second, however,
players strategically use information on previous play of their opponents, a non-Nash equilibrium behavior; they are more likely to do so when the expected payoffs for such actions increase. Third, experience matters: players with more experience use information on their opponents more effectively than less experienced players, and are more likely to win as a result. We also explore the degree to which the deviations from Nash predictions are consistent with various non-equilibrium models. We analyze both a level-k framework and an adapted quantal response model. The naive version of each these strategies – where players maximize the probability of winning without considering the probability of losing – does better than the standard formulation. While, one set of people use strategies that resemble quantal response, there is another group of people who employ strategies that are close to k1; for naive strategies the latter group is much larger.
The Effect of Meeting Rates on Matching Outcomes
[with Simon Weber ] Economic Theory 67 (2019). (preprint)
We extend the classic matching model of Choo and Siow (2006) to allow for the possibility that rate at which potential partners meet affects their probability of matching. We investigate the implications on estimated match surplus and supermodularity.
How Does Technological Change Affect Quality-Adjusted Prices in Health Care? Evidence from Thousands of Innovations
[with Kris Hult and
Tomas Philipson] American Journal of Health Economics, 4(4) (2018). (preprint)
Medical innovations have improved treatment for many diseases but have simultaneously raised spending on healthcare.
Many health economists believe that technological change is the major factor driving the growth of the healthcare sector. Whether quality has increased as much as spending – that is, whether new innovations raise or lower quality-adjusted prices in health care – is a central question for both positive and normative healthcare analysis. We do a systematic analysis of the impact of technological change on quality-adjusted prices, with over six thousand comparisons between innovations and incumbent technologies.
We observe each innovation's price and quality, as well as the price and quality of an
incumbent technology treating the same disease. We find that the innovations' quality-adjusted prices are higher than the incumbents' for about two-thirds of innovations. Nevertheless, we argue that quality-adjusted prices may fall or rise over time depending on the effect of competition on incumbents' prices over time. A 4% price decline due to competition would offset the cross-sectional price difference for a majority of indications. We discuss the conditions particular to healthcare that may cause increases in quality-adjusted prices over time rather than decreases as experienced in many other industries.
To Groupon or Not to Groupon: The Profitability
of Deep Discounts
[with Benjamin Edelman and Scott Duke Kominers],
Marketing Letters. 27(39) (2016) (preprint)
examine the profitability and implications of online discount
vouchers, a relatively new marketing tool that offers consumers
large discounts when they prepay for participating firmsí goods
and services. Within a model of repeat experience good purchase,
we examine two mechanisms by which a discount voucher service
can benefit affiliated firms: price discrimination and
advertising. For vouchers to provide successful price
discrimination, the valuations of consumers who have access to
vouchers must generally be lower than those of consumers who do
not have access to vouchers. Offering vouchers tends to be more
profitable for firms which are patient or relatively unknown,
and for firms with low marginal costs. Extensions to our model
accommodate the possibilities of multiple voucher purchases and
firm price re-optimization. Despite the potential benefits of
online discount vouchers to certain firms in certain
circumstances, our analysis reveals the narrow conditions in
which vouchers are likely to increase firm profits.
The First Order Approach to Merger Analysis
[with E. Glen Weyl],
Economics Journal: Microeconomics
5(4) (2013). (SSRN)
information local to the premerger equilibrium, we derive
approximations of the expected changes in prices and welfare
generated by a merger. We extend the pricing pressure approach
of recent work to allow for non-Bertrand conduct, adjusting the
diversion ratio and incorporating the change in anticipated
accommodation. To convert pricing pressures into quantitative
estimates of price changes, we multiply them by the merger
pass-through matrix, which (under conditions we specify) is
approximated by the premerger rate at which cost increases are
passed through to prices. Weighting the price changes by
quantities gives the change in consumer surplus.
Discrete Choice Cannot Generate
Demand that is Additively Separable in Own Price
[with Scott Duke Kominers],
116(1) (2012). (preprint)
that in a unit demand discrete choice framework with at least
three goods, demand cannot be additively separable in own price.
This result sharpens the analogous result of Jaffe and Weyl
(2010) in the case of linear demand and has implications for
testing of the discrete choice assumption, out-of-sample
prediction, and welfare analysis.
Price Theory and Merger Guidelines [with
E. Glen Weyl],
3(1) (2011). (preprint)
Linear Demand Systems are Inconsistent
with Discrete Choice
E. Glen Weyl],
B. E. Journal of Theoretical Economics 10(1) (Advances) Article
52 (2010). (SSRN)
that with more than two options, a discrete choice model cannot
generate linear demand.
Microsoft technical report: The New Future of Work: Research from Microsoft into the Pandemic's Impact on Work Practices [co-edited with Jaime Teevan and Brent Hecht]
The coronavirus pandemic not only caused a public health crisis, it also caused technological, social, and cultural disruption. This past year, people across the globe experienced a rapid shift to remote work that upended their existing practices and will have long-term implications for how work gets done in the future. Looking forward, we expect that some of those who used to work from offices will continue to work remotely, while others will adopt hybrid models that will involve a combination of working from the office and working remotely. The current moment presents a unique opportunity to understand the nature of work itself, to improve remote support for a range of work practices, and to use what we have learned through remote work to improve in-office and hybrid practices.
As a company whose mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, it is vital that Microsoft understands the massive transition currently underway so that we can help our customers come through this challenging time stronger and more resilient. We are all right now participants in a giant, natural, uncontrolled remote work experiment from which Microsoft must learn. Just as research has been fundamental in developing ways to prevent and treat COVID-19, it is also fundamental to understanding and supporting evolving the sociotechnical work practices.
At the start of the pandemic, researchers from across Microsoft formed an ongoing cross-company initiative to coordinate efforts with the goal of understanding the impact of remote work and identifying opportunities to support new working practices. The initiative consists of over 50 research projects conducted by teams that span a range of disciplines (including engineering, research, marketing, human resources, and facilities) and divisions (including Microsoft Research, Office, Windows, Azure, Xbox, GitHub, and LinkedIn). The projects employ many different methodologies, ranging from small-scale, formative interviews with customers to large-scale modeling exercises and even EEG measurements of electrical impulses in the brain.
This report provides a synthesis of the findings from these many research projects. We believe it represents the largest compilation of research related to the pandemic's impact on work practices available to date. The findings highlight a number of acute challenges and suggest opportunities to develop new work practices that are more efficient, equitable, and energizing. Work will never again be the same. With care and effort, however, we hope to make it better.
Microeconomics textbook: Chicago Price Theory [with Robert Minton, Casey B. Mulligan, and Kevin M. Murphy] Princeton University Press, 2019.
Inequity and Unequalness in Health
More fair by design: Economic design responses to inequality
Ed. Scott Kominers and Alexander Teytelboym, (Forthcoming).
To Groupon or Not To Groupon: New Research on
[with Benjamin G. Edelman and Scott Duke Kominers], Harvard Business Review [Blog],
January 12, 2011.