Socio-Demographic Factors Associated with Self-Protecting Behavior during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Given the role of human behavior in the spread of disease, it is of vital interest to understand what drives people to engage in or refrain from health-related behaviors during a pandemic. This paper examines factors associated with the adoption of self-protective health behaviors, such as social distancing and mask wearing, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. These behaviors not only reduce an individual's own risk of infection, but also limit the spread of disease to others. Despite these dual benefits, universal adoption of these behaviors is not assured. We focus on the role of socioeconomic differences in explaining behavior, relying on data collected in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic (April 2020). The data include information on income, gender and race along with unique variables relevant to the current pandemic, such as work arrangements and housing quality. We find that higher income is associated with larger changes in self-protective behaviors. These gradients are partially explained by the fact that people with less income are more likely to report circumstances that make adopting self-protective behaviors more difficult, such as an inability to tele-work. Both in the U.S. and elsewhere, policies that assume universal compliance with self-protective measures—or that otherwise do not account for socioeconomic differences in the costs of doing so—are unlikely to be effective or sustainable.

The Marginal Labor Supply Disincentives of Welfare Reforms

  • with Robert Moffitt

Existing research on the static effects of the manipulation of welfare program benefit parameters on labor supply has allowed only restrictive forms of heterogeneity in preferences. Yet preference heterogeneity implies that the marginal effects of welfare reforms on labor supply may differ in different time periods with different populations and which sweep out different portions of the marginal distribution of preferences. A new examination of the heavily studied AFDC program examines changes in its tax rates in 1967, 1981, and 1996 and estimates the marginal effects on labor supply of a change in participation in each of those reform years. The estimates are based on a theory-consistent reduced form model which allows for a nonparametric specification of how changes in welfare program participation affect labor supply on the margin. Estimates of the model using a form of local instrumental variables show that the marginal treatment effects are quadratic, rising and then falling as participation rates rise. Applying the estimates to the three historical reform periods shows that marginal responses differed in each period because of differences in the composition of who was on the program and who was not.


Who Gains From Private Insurance?

The recent policy debate around healthcare reform has centered on competing “Medicare for All” proposals. These plans vary greatly in their details and implications for the private health insurance system today, including its elimination altogether. A study of the existing Medicare Advantage program provides an opportunity to understand how much consumer surplus is generated by the presence of private health insurance, competition among private health insurance plans, and which types of consumers benefit the most from these effects. In this paper, I quantify significant amounts of consumer welfare attributable to the Medicare Advantage program. These gains are particularly strong in markets where multiple insurance plans are competing. These consumer benefits are asymmetrically distributed across different market demographics. Enrollees in markets that are more urban, less white, and with a higher Medicaid eligible population benefit most from these private insurance plans. I also find insurance companies and the government derive substantial benefits from the program. These results suggest that policies which induce higher levels of competition are likely to generate more consumer welfare, particularly benefiting more economically vulnerable consumers.


Behavior During a Pandemic


Asymmetry in the Business Cycle: Friedman's Plucking Model with Correlation Innovations, Tara M. Sinclair,

Studies in Nonlinear Dynamics and Econometrics, 2010

Consumption and Portfolio Choice Over the Life Cycle, João F. Cocco, Francisco J. Gomes, and Pascal J. Maenhout,

The Review of Financial Studies, 2005

Why are the Beveridge-Nelson and Unobserved-Components Decomposition of GDP so Different?, James C. Morley, Charles R. Nelson, and Eric Zivot,

The Review of Economics and Statistics, 2003


Asymmetry in Business Cycles

  • with Tara M. Sinclair

  • Application of Sinclair (2010) model to explore slack in a variety of macroeconomic series both domestic and international.

Improving Real-Time Employment Estimates: A State-Space Signal Extraction Approach

  • with Tara M. Sinclair

  • Presented at Society of Nonlinear Dynamics and Econometrics 2014 and Georgetown Center for Economic Research 2015.