Working Paper Abstracts


A Mixed Bag: The Hidden Time Costs of Regulating Consumer Behavior

Abstract: The non-monetary costs consumers experience from price and quantity regulations are challenging to quantify, and thus easily overlooked. Using quasi-experimental policy variation and high-frequency supermarket data, this paper identifies time costs of policies that ban and tax the use of disposable carryout bags (DCB). DCB policies cause persistent 3% increases in supermarket checkout duration. Moreover, DCB policies and their associated time costs disincentivize grocery shopping, with supermarkets in regulated jurisdictions experiencing a 1.6% reduction in sales. The results explicitly link time costs as a mechanism behind policy avoidance and highlight trade-offs between convenient and environmentally-friendly behaviors in healthy food acquisition.

Gender Differences in Accepting Low-Promotability Tasks? The Effect of Peer Comparisons on Pro-Social Behavior

(with Elizabeth Deakin and Sofia B. Villas-Boas)

Abstract: Governance—the way rules are set and implemented—in many institutions is sustained through the voluntary service of groups of individuals. For instance, the success of not-for-profit professional societies, civic organizations, and public universities depends on the willingness of members and employees to serve in governance. With the objective to understand the effect of social comparisons on voluntary service in governance, we implement and analyze a field experiment at a large public university. Using a randomized experimental design, we examine how revealing a department's service rankings among its peers, in terms of previous service on faculty committees, affects future voluntary service of individual faculty members. We find that revealing a service ranking in the lowest quartile leads to significantly higher response rates than disclosing a median and higher-than-median quartile ranking. Second, beyond informing department heads of their departments' service rank, directly informing individual faculty members does not have an average incremental effect on voluntary service responses. Finally, we show the above treatment effects are driven by female faculty responses, even though female faculty were no more likely than their male peers to respond to serve before the peer comparison treatment. Given that these tasks have low promotability, this differential gender response has implications for women and men faculty careers.

Bag "Leakage": The Effect of Disposable Carryout Bag Regulations on Unregulated Bags

Abstract: Governments often regulate the consumption of products with negative externalities (e.g., gasoline, tobacco, sugar). Leakage occurs when partial regulation results in increased consumption of products in unregulated parts of the economy. If unregulated consumption is easily substituted for regulated consumption, basing the success of a regulation solely on reduced consumption in the regulated market overstates the regulation's welfare gains. This article quantifies leakage from an increasingly popular environmental policy—the regulation of disposable carryout bags (DCB). In California, DCB policies prohibit retail food stores from providing customers with thin plastic carryout bags at checkout and require stores to charge a minimum fee for paper carryout bags. However, all remaining types of disposable bags are unregulated (e.g., garbage bags, food storage bags, paper lunch sacks). Using quasi-random variation in local government DCB policy adoption in California from 2008-2015, I employ an event study design to quantify the effect of bag regulations on the consumption of plastic and paper carryout bags, as well as the consumption of other disposable bags sold. This article brings together two data sources: (i) weekly retail scanner data with product-level price and quantity information from 201 food stores in California, and (ii) observational data collected at checkout in seven Californian supermarkets. The main results show that a 40 million pound reduction of plastic from the elimination of plastic carryout bags is offset by an additional 16 million pounds of plastic from increased purchases of garbage bags (i.e., sales of small, medium, and tall garbage bags increase by 67%, 50%, and 5%, respectively). Additionally, DCB policies lead to a 69 million pound increase in paper carryout bags used annually. Altogether, I show that DCB policies are shifting consumers towards fewer but heavier bags. This bag "leakage" is an unintended consequence of DCB policies that offsets the benefits of reduced plastic carryout bag use. I conclude by discussing the environmental implications of policy-induced changes in the composition of plastic and paper bags, with respect to carbon footprint, landfilling, and marine pollution.

Soda Wars: Effect of Soda Tax Election on University Soda Purchases

(with Scott Kaplan, Sofia B. Villas-Boas, and Kevin Jung)

Abstract: This paper examines how consumers alter their behavior due to a local tax policy change aimed at dealing with the potential health hazards of sugar consumption in soda beverages. Using panel data of product purchases from university residence halls, restaurants, and retailers, we measure the consumption effects of a soda tax campaign and election in Berkeley, California. Our approach has two parts: First we use a difference-in-difference model estimating the change in soda consumed relative to the change in consumption in control product categories. Our results show that the campaign, and in particular the election, causes soda consumption to significantly drop. Second, we estimate a structural model for beverage demand as a function of attributes. We find that soda is an inelastic good, which would imply that a price increase due to a tax would not lead to a significant drop in demand. Our findings have interesting policy implications, suggesting the effects of media coverage and election outcomes on attitudes and behaviors may be larger than the effects of the soda tax itself.