Andres Barrios Fernandez

Ph.D. in Economics, LSE







Valle Nevado Workshop

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Published papers:

Neighbors' Effects on University Enrollment (AEJ: Applied Economics) #Data #Code
Last draft , Online Appendix

This paper provides causal evidence that close neighbors significantly influence potential applicants’ decision to attend university. I create a unique dataset combining detailed geographic information and individual educational records in Chile, and exploit the quasi-random variation generated by student loans eligibility rules. I find that potential applicants are significantly more likely to attend and complete university when their closest neighbor—-defined as the closest individual applying to university one year before—-becomes eligible for a student loan and enrolls in university. This increase in enrollment is mediated by an increase in the probability of taking the admission exam and applying to university. The closest neighbor typically lives 0.09 km away, and neighbors’ influence decays with distance. My results highlight the importance of social influences for university enrollment decisions and suggest that financial aid and university access policies may have important spillover effects.

O Brother, Where Start Thou? Sibling Spillovers on College and Major Choice in Four Countries (The Quarterly Journal of Economics) with A. Altmejd, M. Drlje, J. Goodman, M. Hurwitz, D. Kovac, C. Mulhern, C. Neilson and J. Smith. Online Appendix , Summary Video

Family and social networks are widely believed to influence important life decisions but causal identification of those effects is notoriously challenging. Using data from Chile, Croatia, Sweden, and the United States, we study within-family spillovers in college and major choice across a variety of national contexts. Exploiting college-specific admissions thresholds that directly affect older but not younger siblings’ college options, we show that in all four countries a meaningful portion of younger siblings follow their older sibling to the same college or college-major combination. Older siblings are followed regardless of whether their target and counterfactual options have large, small or even negative differences in quality. Spillover effects disappear, however, if the older sibling drops out of college, suggesting that older siblings’ college experiences matter. That siblings influence important human capital investment decisions across such varied contexts suggests that our findings are not an artifact of particular institutional detail but instead a more generalizable description of human behavior. Causal links between the postsecondary paths of close peers may partly explain persistent college enrollment inequalities between social groups and suggests that interventions to improve college access may have multiplier effects.

It's time to learn: School Institutions and Returns to Instruction Time (Published, Economics of Education Review) with G.Bovini. #Data #Code

This paper investigates whether the effects of a reform that substantially increased daily instruction time in Chilean primary schools vary depending on school institutions. Focusing on incumbent students and exploiting an IV strategy, we find that longer daily schedules increase reading scores at the end of fourth grade and that the benefits are greater for pupils who began primary education in no-fee charter schools rather than in public schools. We provide evidence that these two types of publicly subsidized establishments, which cater to similar students but differ in their degree of autonomy, expand the teaching input in different ways: in order to provide the additional instruction time, no-fee charter schools rely more on hiring new teachers and less on increasing teachers’ working hours than public schools do.

Recidivism and Neighborhood Institutions: Evidence from the Rise of the Pentecostal Church in Chile (Forthcoming, Journal of Labor Economics)
with Jorge Garcia-Hombrados CEP Discussion Paper CEPR Discussion Paper

This paper uses rich administrative data from Chile to provide causal evidence that the local institutions of the neighborhood to which inmates return after prison matter. Specifically, we show that the opening of an Evangelical church reduces twelve-month reincarceration rates among property crime offenders by 11 percentage points, an effect that represents a drop of 18% in the probability of returning to prison for this group of individuals. We discuss three classes of mechanisms that could drive these effects: promotion of Evangelism, provision of social support, and increased difficulty to commit crimes. Our analyses suggest that the social support that Evangelical churches offer to their communities—i.e., charitable activities and alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation—is an important driver of their effects on recidivism. Evangelical churches also seem to make it more difficult to commit crimes by reducing the number of potential criminal partners in the neighborhood. Finally, we show that NGO openings also reduce recidivism. Organizations helping their beneficiaries to improve their earnings potential or to overcome alcohol and drug abuse problems reduce reincarceration rates by 11 and 10 percentage points respectively. These results suggest that interventions that give recently released inmates access to local support networks could play an important role in encouraging desistance from crime.

Peer Effects in Education (Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Economics and Finance).
Last draft

The identification of peer effects is challenging. There are many factors not related to social influences that could explain correlations among peers. This article discusses the main challenges for the identification of peer effects, describes some of the empirical strategies commonly used to overcome these challenges, and summarizes the main findings of the literature on peer effects in education. Peers have been shown to affect many important outcomes, including academic performance and educational trajectories. Confirming the existence of peer effects is important from a policy perspective. Both the cost-benefit analysis and the design of policies are likely to be affected by the existence of social spillovers. However, making general policy recommendations from the current evidence is not easy. The size of the peer effects documented in the literature varies substantially across settings and depending on how peers are defined and characterized. Understanding what is behind this heterogeneity is thus key to extract more general policy lessons. Access to better data and the ability to map social networks will likely facilitate investigating which peers and which characteristics matter the most in different contexts. Conducting more research on the mechanisms behind peer effects is also important. Understanding these drivers is key to take advantage of social spillovers in the design of new educational programs, to identify competing policies, and to gain a deeper understanding of the nature and relevance of different forms of social interactions for the youth.

Working papers and ongoing projects:

Elite Universities and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human and Social Capital (Revise and Resubmit, American Economic Review) with C.Neilson and S.Zimmerman
Online Appendix

Do elite colleges help talented students from modest backgrounds join the social elite, or help incumbent elites retain their positions? We combine five decades of linked data on parents and children in Chile with a regression discontinuity design to show that, in the long run, elite colleges in fact do both. We first document intertwined intergenerational persistence in academic achievement and social status. Mean child rank on college admissions exams is linear in parent rank, with higher intercepts and flatter slopes for children whose parents attend a set of high-status, high-tuition private high schools. At the same time, children of high-status parents are more likely to attend high-status high schools and enroll in elite college degree programs, with gaps increasing in parents’ exam rank. We then show that parents’ access to elite colleges raises child social capital, but not human capital. Children of lower-status parents just above the threshold for admission to elite degree programs score no better on college entrance exams than children of parents just below, but are 21% more likely to attend a high-status private high school. Social and spousal links to high-status college peers are the key mechanism. Combining our descriptive and quasi-experimental estimates in a VAR model of social and academic mobility shows that elite universities raise both the intergenerational correlation between parent and child social capital and the cross-sectional correlation between social and human capital. Elite universities thus reduce social capital mobility but shift its distribution along meritocratic lines, towards academic high-achievers.

Teacher Value Added and Gender Gaps on Educational Outcomes (Revise and Resubmit, Economics of Education Review)
with Marc Riudavets

This paper uses rich administrative data from Chile to estimate teacher-value added (TVA) on test scores and on an index of educational attainment. We allow each teacher to have a different TVA for male and female students and show that differences in TVA explain an important part of the gender gaps we observe in test scores and in postsecondary education trajectories. We next exploit rich information on teaching practices and show that at least in terms of the practices we observe there do not seem to be important differences in what makes teachers effective for male and female students. We do find, however, significant associations between certain practices and teacher effectiveness, which suggest that some teaching strategies benefit all students independently of their gender. Finally, we also show that on average female teachers are more effective at teaching female students and that math teachers tend to be biased in favor of male students. Interestingly, teachers with smaller gender biases seem to be more effective for both, male and female students.

Closing Gaps in Higher Education Trajectories: The Effect of Targeted Information and Mentorship (New draft coming soon)
with Josefina Eluchans-Errázuriz and Fernanda Ramírez-Espinoza
#Information pack #Student testimony #Visiting schools #Implementation team
#AEA RCT registry

This paper uses a large-scale RCT to evaluate in a unified setting---i.e., Chile---a low-touch and a high-touch intervention designed to help high school senior students to make informed choices about their postsecondary education trajectories. In line with previous research, we find that providing information alone improves students' understanding of the higher education system but does not make a difference in their probability of applying to or enrolling in college. In contrast, providing information and mentoring increases students' probability of registering and taking the college admission exam by 12.8 percentage points, of applying for funding by 10.3 percentage points, and of enrolling in higher education by 8 percentage points. The increase in higher education enrollment is similarly explained by an increase in attendance to universities and to vocational higher education institutions. The design of the RCT also allows us to study spillovers of the mentoring program on the classmates and friends of treated students. We find evidence of strong social spillovers. Despite not finding evidence of social learning among classmates of treated students---i.e., they do not improve their understanding of the higher education system---they become 5.1 percentage points more likely to register and 5 percentage points more likely to actually take the college admission exam. Nevertheless, they do not become more likely to apply for funding or to university, and as a result, we do not find evidence of them becoming more likely to enroll in higher education. In contrast, close friends of treated students do improve their understanding of the higher education system and become 5 percentage points more likely to apply to university and 4 percentage points more likely to enroll in higher education. These results suggest that social spillovers can multiply the effect of policies designed to expand access to higher education and that they can be used to improve the cost efficiency of college-going interventions.

Inequality in College Applications: Evidence from Three Continents
with Adam Altjmed, Aspacia Bizopoulou, Martti Kaila, Christopher Neilson, Sebastián Otero, and Xiaoyang Ye

This paper documents large gaps in the fields and in the quality of the college programs to which individuals from different gender and social groups apply in Brazil, Chile, China, Finland, Greece, Spain, and Sweden. These seven countries are different in size, economic development, culture, and geographic location. However, in all of them, universities select their students through centralized admissions. This feature of their higher education systems allows us to study differences in college applications conditioning on the most important factor that colleges use to select their students---i.e., students' academic performance. We document a large and significant gender gap in preferences for fields of study. Even after conditioning on academic performance, women are between 20 and 40 percentage points less likely to apply to STEM degrees, and between 10 and 30 percentage points more likely to apply to health degrees. In addition, we find that conditional on application scores, individuals from households with low parental education apply to worse-quality college programs measured by peer test scores. Indeed, low-SES students at the top of the academic performance distribution apply to programs in which peer scores are between 0.05σ and 0.25σ lower than in the programs to which similarly talented students from high-SES households. Our results show that the gaps that we observe in college applications are not fully explained by institutional barriers or differences in applicants' academic potential. Differences in applications across gender and social groups drive an important part of these gaps.

(Dis)Connecting People: Nokia Mass Layoffs and Entrepreneurship
with Jarkko Harju and Tuomas Matikka

The rapid decline of Nokia mobile phone operations in 2009–2012 left many high-skilled workers looking for new career paths. We use rich matched employer-employee data covering all Nokia workers and other individuals in Finland to study how this sudden labor market shock affected displaced workers. We find that a distinctively large share of the high-skilled Nokia workers established a new business after being displaced (9% compared to 3% for displaced workers from other firms). This effect was amplified by generous start-up grants provided by Nokia since 2011 as a part of their global support program for the displaced workers (Bridge). The firms founded by former Nokia employees do not perform better than firms founded by similar workers displaced from other firms or than firms established in Finland at the same time. This holds true even when focusing on firms operating in the ICT sector. This result suggests that using generous seed funding to encourage high-skilled displaced workers to become entrepreneurs does not lead to the creation of more profitable businesses.

Direct and Indirect Effects of Armative Action in University Admissions
with Carolina Allende-Labbé and Jorge Rodríguez

This paper provides causal evidence that giving preferential access to college to talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds not only benefits them but also their younger siblings and neighbors. We study a program that reserves places for students completing high school in the top 10% of their class. We thus overcome en- dogeneity concerns using a regression discontinuity design through which we compare the outcomes of individuals whose high school GPA places them marginally above and below of the top 10% of their class. We proceed in a similar way to estimate indirect e↵ects, as we compare individuals with an older sibling or neighbor near the eligibility threshold for preferential admissions. Eligibility for preferential admissions increases four-year college enrollment by 4 (9%) percentage points and college completion by 1.8 (5%) percentage points. The younger siblings and close neighbors of direct ben- eficiaries also benefit from the program. They become around 2 percentage points more likely to attend and to complete a four-year college degree. Social spillovers of programs that expand access to college are not trivial and should be incorporated in the evaluation and design of this type of program.