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Student News January 31, 2024

Four graduate students receive research grants from the Program for Research on Inequality (PRI)

The Program for Research on Inequality (PRI) has awarded new research grants to four graduate students in the Economics Department at Princeton. Congratulations to Samya Aboutajdine, Maria Oaquim de Medeiros, Jordan Richmond, and Carolyn Tsao.

The grants, awarded by PRI Director and Assistant Professor of Economics Ellora Derenoncourt, reflect PRI’s mission to foster community among scholars of inequality in economics, at Princeton and beyond, and to actively support research in this area.

Each grant recipient is pursuing a Ph.D. in economics and working on a research project related to inequality. Learn more about each winner and their research below.

Samya Aboutajdine

Samya Aboutajdine is in her second year of the Ph.D. program at Princeton, and the goal of her research is to study the less-explored question of supply-side multipliers, particularly in the context of major exogenous supply disruptions prevalent since 2020.

Focusing on the aftermath of events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the escalating impacts of climate change, her empirical investigation seeks to assess whether supply shocks have amplified effects through household disposable income, with unequal shock incidence on workers influencing the aggregate demand amplification of supply shocks and the consequential implications for effective policy making during disasters. She aims to explore how labor laws, unemployment benefits, and fiscal stimulus shape the answer to this question.

To achieve this, she plans to leverage granular data and adopt a staggered treatment setting, capitalizing on the exogenous nature of supply shocks induced by natural disasters and epidemics.

"Drawing on methodologies akin to those used by [Chetty et al., 2023], which utilized mobile phone GPS data to track the effects of Covid-19, I intend to proxy for supply shocks using firm exposure estimations based on high-frequency measures of human mobility around firm locations," she said.

"The generous support from PRI will be essential in enabling the acquisition of these comprehensive and novel datasets. By disentangling the movements in demand induced by supply shocks from those directly caused by the source of the shock, such as consumers prioritizing essential goods after a disaster, my aim is to contribute empirical evidence that can inform effective disaster-related policy decisions."

Maria Oaquim de Medeiros

Maria Oaquim de Medeiros is in her second year of the Ph.D. program, and her research will explore whether race-based affirmative action in Brazilian universities influences the hiring practices of white employers exposed to this policy while in college.

"Greater diversity in college can boost interracial interactions that have the potential to reduce bias and increase awareness of racism," she said. The project will also evaluate whether affirmative action changed the racial composition of entrepreneurs in Brazil and, consequently, the workforce composition of these firms.

The project is joint work with Javier Feinmann (Berkeley), Ursula Mello (INSPER), Sebastián Otero (Columbia), and Roberto Rocha (Berkeley). To investigate these questions, the authors need to merge several Brazilian administrative datasets.

"The generous funding from PRI will help me access Higher Education data, which is only available in a secure room in Brazil."

Jordan Richmond

Jordan Richmond is in his sixth year of the Ph.D. program, and his research will explore the consequences of private equity acquisitions for workers.

Private equity funds have a large footprint in the U.S. economy, accounting for more than one-third of recent U.S. mergers and acquisitions. Private equity funds invest directly in other companies through leveraged buyouts, using large amounts of debt alongside capital from their investors to make acquisitions, and attempt to make a profit by implementing operational and financing changes at the firms they invest in to increase their value.

"Existing research suggests that private equity funds increase profits at firms that they acquire," he said. "But do acquisitions that increase profits help or hurt workers, and are there heterogeneous impacts of acquisitions across the wage distribution?"

Richmond's project will develop empirical evidence to answer these questions by combining data on private equity acquisitions with linked employer-employee U.S. tax records.

Carolyn Tsao

Carolyn Tsao is also in her sixth-year of the Ph.D. program, and her research aims to understand the extent to which the returns to acquiring English language proficiency vary across racial groups in the U.S.

"English language proficiency is an increasingly valued skill in the U.S. labor market, yet the share of school-aged children in the U.S. who are considered not proficient in English has risen over the past decade, due to a range of factors from changing immigration patterns to COVID-19," she said.

In addition, prior research documents that employers differentially discriminate against workers based on race and ethnicity, suggesting it is plausible that the growing lack of proficiency in English in the U.S. may differentially affect populations from different backgrounds later in life.

Carolyn's research, which is a joint project with fellow Princeton Economics Ph.D. student Amy Kim, explores whether there are heterogeneous returns to acquiring English language proficiency through life for individuals from Black, Hispanic, South-East Asian, and East Asian populations in the U.S.

"The research grant from PRI will be used to acquire uniquely-suited administrative data from Texas, which tracks students in K-12 along with the main language spoken at home and their English proficiency through to their post-secondary education and participation in the workforce. We are not aware of other datasets that have such an extensive panel of information available to study what we think is a critical question for today's students as they prepare for the future workforce. We are excited and grateful for the opportunity to pursue this topic!"

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