Published Papers

Looming Large or Seeming Small? Attitudes Towards Losses in a Representative Sample.

Forthcoming at The Review of Economic Studies, with Erik Snowberg, Stephanie Wang, and Colin Camerer.

Idea: Around half of the U.S. population downweight losses relative to gains. Loss tolerance is correlated with individual characteristics and behaviors.

Working Paper


We measure individual-level loss aversion using three incentivized, representative surveys of the U.S. population (combined N=3,000). We find that around 50% of the U.S. population is loss tolerant, with many participants accepting negative-expected-value gambles. This is counter to earlier findings—which mostly come from lab/student samples—and expert predictions that 70-90% of participants are loss averse. Consistent with the difference between our study and the prior literature, loss aversion is more prevalent in people with high cognitive ability. Loss-tolerant individuals are more likely to report recent gambling and to have experienced financial shocks. These results support the general hypothesis that individuals value gains and losses differently, although the tendency in a large proportion of the population to emphasize gains over losses is an overlooked behavioral phenomenon.


Journal of Political Economy Microeconomics 1(1), with Mark Dean, Pietro Ortoleva, Erik Snowberg, and Colin Camerer.

Idea: Clear patterns of correlations betweeen behavioral economic measures in a large-scale representative-sample incentivized survey.

Published Version , Working Paper


We study the pattern of correlations across a large number of behavioral regularities, with the goal of creating an empirical basis for more comprehensive theories of decision-making. We elicit 21 behaviors, using an incentivized survey on a representative sample (n=1,000) of the US population. Our data show a clear and relatively simple structure underlying the correlations between these measures. Using principal components analysis, we reduce the 21 variables to six components corresponding to clear clusters of high correlations. We examine the relationship between these components, cognitive ability, and demographics. Common extant theories are not compatible with all the patterns in our data.

Gradual Franchise Extensions and Government Spending in Nineteenth-Century England

Journal of Politics, January 2024.

Idea: After a certain point extending voting rights to poorer citizens leads to lower spending on public goods.

Published Version , 2020 Long-Version Working Paper
(Originally: Extension of the Franchise and Government Expenditure on Public Goods: Evidence from Nineteenth-Century England)


This paper investigates the effect of extending the franchise on government spending on public goods in nineteenth-century England and Wales. The effect of franchise extension is identified by exploiting extensive regional and temporal variation in the right to vote in municipal elections between 1867 and 1900. Semi-parametric regressions show robust evidence of an inverted-U-shaped relationship: extending the right to vote from the rich to the middle class led to increased spending, but further franchise extensions—beyond around 50% of the adult male population—led to lower expenditure. Further, government spending was lower in towns where the poor were enfranchised by national reforms. A simple model shows that the inverted-U-relationship can be explained by the trade-offs between public spending and private consumption faced by poor voters. These results suggest that enfranchising the poor may lead to smaller government, in contrast to the predictions of many theoretical models.

Interest Rates, Sanitation Infrastructure, and Mortality Decline in Nineteenth-Century England and Wales.

Journal of Economic History, March 2022.

Idea: High costs of borrowing deterred investment in sanitation infrastructure such as sewer systems and clean water supply, and hence delayed Britain’s mortality decline.

Working Paper (Previously: Financing Sanitation Infrastructure in Nineteenth-Century England and Wales)


This paper investigates whether high borrowing costs deterred investment in sanitation infrastructure in late nineteenth-century Britain. Town councils had to borrow to fund investment, with considerable variation in interest rates across towns and over time. Panel regressions, using annual data from over eight hundred town councils, indicate that higher interest rates were associated with lower levels of infrastructure investment between 1887 and 1903. Instrumental variable regressions show that falling interest rates after 1887 stimulated investment and led to lower infant mortality. These findings suggest that Parliament could have expedited mortality decline by subsidizing loans or facilitating private borrowing.

Saving Face Through Preference Signaling and Obligation Avoidance.

Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, with Matthew Chao, August 2020.

Idea: Some individuals pay to publically signal reciprocity, even at the cost of the person they are reciprocating to.


Many individuals act more selfishly in games when actions are hidden and their image is not at risk. However, some individuals may still desire to publicly signal reciprocity or other socially desired behavior in these contexts. These individuals may view hidden actions not as an opportunity to act selfishly, but rather as an obstacle to signaling preferences or type. Study 1 tests this by implementing a trust game where nature stochastically intervenes and allocates nothing in place of the second-mover’s choice. When nature intervenes, many second-movers choose to sacrifice pay in order to truthfully signal that they attempted to allocate more, and that they therefore tried to reciprocate. Since signaling can be costly, Study 2 tests whether some individuals strategically reject interactions that could necessitate this type of signaling response. Players play two rounds of dictator games of increasing size, swapping roles in between. In treatments that allow it, many players reject allocations from their partner in the first round; they then act more selfishly as the dictator in the subsequent, higher-stakes round. Together, these results emphasize that the need to signal reciprocity or other socially desired behavior can influence how people engage with and respond to others in strategic contexts.

The Contribution of Infrastructure Investment to Britain’s Urban Mortality Decline 1861-1900.

Economic History Review, February 2019.

Awarded 2020 T.S. Ashton Prize for best paper in the Economic History Review by a junior scholar.

Idea: Sanitation infrastructure significantly reduced urban mortality from waterborne, and maybe airborne, disease.

Published Version , Working Paper


It is well-recognized that both improved nutrition and sanitation infrastructure are important contributors to mortality decline. However the relative importance of the two factors is difficult to quantify, since most studies are limited to testing the effects of specific sanitary improvements. This paper uses new historical data regarding total investment in urban infrastructure, measured using the outstanding loan stock, to estimate the extent to which the mortality decline in England and Wales between 1861 and 1900 can be attributed to government investment. Fixed effects regressions indicate that infrastructure investment explains approximately 22-25% of the decline in mortality between 1861 and 1900, once time trends are accounted for. Since these specifications may not fully account for the endogoneity between investment and mortality, I perform additional specifications using lagged investment as an instrument for current investment. These estimates suggest that government investment was the major contributor to mortality decline, explaining up to 60% of the reduction in total urban mortality between 1861 and 1900 and 88% between 1861 and 1890. Additional results indicate that investment in urban infrastructure led to declines in mortality from both waterborne and airborne diseases.

Democratic Reform and Opposition to Government Expenditure: Evidence from Nineteenth-Century Britain.

Quarterly Journal of Political Science, October 2018.

Idea: Spending on public goods higher where elites are middle class. Test using 1894 legislation as a natural experiment.

Published Version , Working Paper


Several theories have argued that democratic reform will lead to higher government spending. However, these theories have generally focused on expenditure on redistribution rather than expenditure on public goods. This paper presents a model predicting that democratization leads to lower government expenditure on infrastructure if the median pre-reform voter is middle class. This prediction is tested using a new panel dataset of town council infrastructure spending and revenue in nineteenth-century Britain. An 1894 national reform implementing a system of “one-household-one-vote” and the secret ballot is used as the treatment event in a difference-in-difference analysis. The results show that democratic reform slowed the growth of town council investment in public goods, including water supply and other public infrastructure. In line with the theoretical prediction, this negative effect was strongest when democratic reform transferred power from the middle class to the poor.

Working Papers

Willingness to Accept, Willingness to Pay, and Loss Aversion.

with Mark Dean, Pietro Ortoleva, Erik Snowberg, and Colin Camerer.

(Earlier titles: On the Relation between Willingness to Accept and Willingness to Pay; Originally Willingness-To-Pay and Willingness-To-Accept are Probably Less Correlated than You Think.)

Working Paper (July 2023)

Idea: Three new empirical findings contradict predictions of standard theories of reference dependence, and point to alternative theories of the endowment effect.


We study the endowment effect using four incentivized representative surveys with 4,000 U.S. adults. We replicate the standard finding of an endowment effect for lotteries—a divergence between Willingness to Accept (WTA) and Willingness to Pay (WTP)—but document three new findings. First, we find little evidence that the endowment effect is related to loss aversion for risky prospects, contradicting predictions of leading explanations such as prospect theory. Second, WTA and WTP not only diverge but are, at best, weakly correlated. Third, WTA and WTP strongly relate to other aspects of risk preferences. Our results allow us to differentiate between existing theories, and point to Salience or Cautious Utility as the most complete explanations for our data.

Loss Attitudes in the U.S. Population: Evidence from Dynamically Optimized Sequential Experimentation (DOSE).

with Erik Snowberg, Colin Camerer and Stephanie Wang (Previously “Dynamically Optimized Sequential Experimentation (DOSE) for Estimating Economic Preference Parameters”.)

Working Paper (March 2019)

NBER Paper (November 2018)

Idea: Only around half the U.S. population are loss averse. Introduces new technique (DOSE) to estimate economic preference parameters.


We introduce DOSE—Dynamically Optimized Sequential Experimentation — and use it to estimate individual-level loss aversion in a representative sample of the U.S. population (N=2,000). DOSE elicitations are more accurate, more stable across time, and faster to administer than standard methods. We find that around 50% of the U.S. population is loss tolerant. This is counter to earlier findings, which mostly come from lab/student samples, that a strong majority of participants are loss averse. Loss attitudes are correlated with cognitive ability: loss aversion is more prevalent in people with high cognitive ability, and loss tolerance is more common in those with low cognitive ability. We also use DOSE to document facts about risk and time preferences, indicating a high potential for DOSE in future research.

Democracy, Redistribution, and Inequality: Evidence from the English Poor Law.

Under Review

Working Paper

Idea: Democratization led to higher welfare spending in high inequality areas, consistent with theoretical models.


This paper tests the relationship between inequality, democratization, and expenditure on poor relief in England and Wales between 1885 and 1905. Poor relief served as the main form of social insurance at that time and, in contrast to modern-day welfare programs, was provided by elected local governments. As a result, policy varied substantially across the country in terms of both the magnitude and nature of the support provided. Prior to 1894, a number of institutional features —a graduated franchise, the absence of a secret ballot, and the participation of unelected magistrates—helped landowners to control these local councils, and hence poor law policy. These advantages were removed by a national reform in 1894, an event which serves as the treatment event in a difference-in-difference analysis. The analysis tests whether the effect of this reform varied according to the level of inequality in each district, as predicted by theoretical models of democratization. The results show that, consistent with these theories, unequal districts experienced greater increases in poor law expenditure following democratic reform.

Work in Progress

The Historical Development of Fiscal and Legal Capacity in England and Wales, with Tim Besley, Dan Bogart and Nuno Palma.

Government Austerity and the Anti-Vaccination movement in nineteenth-century England and Wales

Equality of Opportunity or Equality of Outcome?, with Matthew Chao

Time Stability of Econographics, with Colin Camerer, Pietro Ortoleva and Erik Snowberg.

International Econographics, with Colin Camerer, Salvatore Nunnari, Pietro Ortoleva, and Erik Snowberg.

Other Publications

Book Review of The River Pollution Dilemma in Victorian England: Nuisance Law Versus Economic E.fficiency. By Leslie Rosenthal. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014. Australian Economic History Review, November 2015.

Book Review of The Rise of a Victorian Ironopolis: Middlesbrough and Regional Industrialization. By Minoru Yasumoto. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2011. Published in the Journal of Economic History, September 2013.

An economic impact assessment of the CCPMO with Gavan Conlon and Patrice Muller (London: London Economics, 2008).