I study the causes and consequences of disparities in human capital within developing economies and the policies that can remedy them. I focus on the historical and social contexts of these inequalities so that development policymakers can properly tailor programs to the communities they serve.

Working Papers

Colonial Institutions, Marriage Markets, and HIV: Evidence from Mozambique (job market paper)

During the colonial period, several types of extractive institutions organized much of economic activity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Historians argued that two of them—one pushing men into circular migration and one restricting their mobility—had different effects on marriage markets with bride price but not on development. Specifically, young men in a migrant-sending institution could make bridewealth payments, narrowing the spousal age gaps that would later increase HIV risk. But much of their wages was captured by elders through inflated bride prices instead of being saved, limiting circular migration’s development potential. To compare these extractive regimes, I exploit the arbitrary border within Mozambique that separated the two institutions for a half-century (1893-1942). In the colonial era, spousal age gaps were smaller in the migrant-sending region, even after the border was erased and circular migration rates converged. Today, HIV prevalence is substantially lower in this area, likely due to narrower age gaps between partners, but development outcomes are similar. These results show how different forms of colonial extraction affect health and wealth in Africa, and that marriage markets are a channel through which historical events shape the present.

Work in Progress

Human Capital, Dating Markets, and HIV: Evidence from Schistosomiasis Control in Zimbabwe

HIV status is largely determined by behavior in dating markets, which in turn is shaped by human capital. Can improving the health of young adults thus lower their risk of contracting the virus? I examine a nationwide deworming program in Zimbabwe (2012-17) that substantially reduced rates of urogenital schistosomiasis, a parasitic worm disease that can limit learning and school attendance as well as cause lesions in female genitalia. Comparing districts with high and low rates of heavy schistosome infection prior to the program, I find that after it began, school attendance for young women increased 6 percentage points (p.p., 8 percent) more where morbidity had been higher, though there were no significant effects for males. Consistent with human capital's role in dating markets, HIV prevalence among young women decreased 2 p.p. (25 percent) more in these districts as they dated men closer to them in age and had fewer sexual partners. These results show the importance of human capital in reducing the spread of HIV, and that in addition to its other benefits, a cheap intervention against a neglected tropical disease also combats one of the deadliest modern pandemics.

Health, Income, and Public Finances in a Developing Economy: Evidence from Chagas Disease Eradication in Brazil (with Eduardo Montero)

This paper studies the channels through which improving childhood health in a developing economy increases income in adulthood, and whether it can improve a country’s fiscal health as well. We exploit Brazil’s eradication of Chagas Disease, which has two phases: one to three months of acute illness (generally in childhood) and chronic cardiovascular problems 10 to 30 years later in a large share of those infected. We make comparisons before and after eradication across municipalities where the disease’s main vector was present and those where it was not. We show that disparities in children’s literacy and schooling decreased substantially after eradication. For adults exposed to the campaigns as children, we find that each additional year of exposure increased employment and income, and decreased reliance on anti-poverty programs and fertility rates. We also examine two previously-unexplored channels through which disease impacts developing economies: labor productivity—immediately after eradication (for adults with acute Chagas Disease) and in the long run (for adults with chronic symptoms)—and expenditures by Brazil’s universal public health insurance and federal pension systems.

The Promises and Pitfalls of Using DHS Data for Comparisons across Countries and National Borders

Blood Taxes: The Development Effects of Military Conscription in Colonial French West Africa (with James Allen IV)

Data collection in progress at the Archives Nationales du Sénégal, Dakar, Senegal