Why was remote work rare prior to the pandemic? One possibility is that remote work reduced worker productivity. Another is that it attracted less productive workers. We test these possibilities in the call-centers of a Fortune 500 online retailer. We find that working remotely increased call-center workers' productivity. When previously on-site workers took up opportunities to go remote in 2018, their hourly calls rose by 7.5%. Similarly, when COVID-19 closed on-site call centers, a difference-in-difference suggests that the productivity of workers who switched to remote work rose by 7.6% relative to their already remote peers. Despite these positive productivity effects, remote workers were 12pp less likely to be promoted. If better workers are more concerned about being overlooked in remote jobs, remote workers will be adversely selected. Consistent with this theory, we find evidence that remote work attracted latently less productive workers. When all workers were remote due to COVID-19, those who were hired into remote jobs were 18% less productive than those who were hired into on-site jobs. Extending remote opportunities to on-site workers similarly attracted less productive workers to on-site jobs. The sorting of workers by ability meant some workers opted out of remote work because they did not want to pool with less productive workers. This led to deadweight losses in the market for remote work. Looking forward to life after the pandemic, our model suggests that COVID-19 could attenuate these losses if firms have learned how to better evaluate remote workers or workers' tastes for remote work have become more heterogeneous.
In criminal courts, prosecutors have considerable discretion over defendant’s sentencing, suggesting skilled prosecutors may be able to reduce both incarceration and future crime. Leveraging the quasi-random assignment of low-level felonies in North Carolina Superior Court, we find that prosecutors vary in their effects on both incarceration and re-offense. Since differences across prosecutors in their re-offense effects cannot be fully explained by their incarceration effects, prosecutors vary in their “skill” — the degree to which they selectively incarcerate those defendants most likely to re-offend. Indeed, prosecutors who are one standard deviation above the mean achieve a 2pp (8%) lower rate of re-offense than one would expect given their incarceration effect.
Winner of University of Chicago Law School's Donald M. Ephraim Prize in Law and Economics
When setting pay, firms trade off the potential benefits of higher compensation—including increased productivity, decreased turnover, and enhanced recruitment—against their direct costs. We estimate productivity and labor supply elasticities with respect to wages among warehouse and call-center workers in a Fortune 500 retailer. To identify these elasticities, we use rigidities in the firm’s compensation policies that create plausibly exogenous variation relative to local outside options, as well as discrete jumps when the firm adjusts pay. We document labor market frictions that give firms wage-setting power: we estimate moderately large, but finite, turnover elasticities (−3.0 to −4.5) and recruitment elasticities (3.2 to 4.2). The firm gains $1.10 from increased productivity for a $1 increase in wages. By comparing warehouse workers’ responses to higher wages both across and within workers, we estimate that over half of the turnover reductions and productivity increases arise from behavioral responses as opposed to compositional differences. These aggregate patterns mask considerable heterogeneity by gender: women’s productivity responds more and their turnover responds less to wage changes than men’s, which can lead to occupational pay gaps.
Prosecutors have considerable discretion over defendant outcomes in criminal courts and aim to apply their discretion to reserve incarceration for those who are more likely to re-offend. However, it is unclear whether they have accurate beliefs about the correlates of re-offense. In a survey of over 100 prosecutors in North Carolina, we find that prosecutors have systematically biased beliefs about how age and prior criminal history relate to re-offense. Prosecutors underestimate the likelihood of criminal re-offense among young offenders and overestimate the likelihood of criminal re-offense among those with long criminal histories. In future work, we will link these beliefs and the extent of each prosecutor’s inaccuracies to court records to investigate how prosecutors’ beliefs relate to the outcomes in their cases.
We explore to what extent institutional discrimination contributes to observed racial disparities in prosecutors' cases. To assess this, we link prosecutor survey responses to administrative records from North Carolina's Superior Court. Our survey presents prosecutors with hypothetical cases to test how prosecutors (consciously or unconsciously) respond to past actions of police and statutes that have disparate impact on black men, while holding fixed true defendant conduct. By linking our survey results to administrative data, we test whether prosecutors' responses predict their historical charging decisions. This allows us to quantify how much racial gaps in prosecutors' charging decisions are influenced by these up-stream disparities.
In many state criminal courts, guidelines prescribe mandatory sentencing for many defendants. However, discretion eliminated at sentencing may reappear in charging, as prosecutors adjust a defendant’s arrest charge to side-step mandatory sentencing rules. We assess the extent to which prosecutors behaviorally respond to sentencing rules and the beneficiaries from their discretion. Our context is North Carolina Superior Court, where an institutional feature of the sentencing guidelines gives us purchase on prosecutors’ behavioral response to these rules. At certain criminal history cutoffs, the guidelines discontinuously shift from discretionary to mandatory incarceration. We find that prosecutors are more likely to reduce the arresting charge in cases that would otherwise be subject to mandatory incarceration. In our setting, such charge reductions undo 40% of the mechanical increase in incarceration rates around these discontinuities. We find that defendants whose observable characteristics suggest a low risk of re-offense are more likely to receive charge reductions, suggesting prosecutors’ behavioral responses to the guidelines helps to reserve incarceration for those more likely to re-offend.
We use data from a national staffing agency to compare the predictive content of criminal background checks to that of other signals that an employer observes about prospective employees. Even when managers are blind to criminal records that do not disqualify the candidate from the job, such a record does signal that the worker is less likely to complete the temporary assignment and receive a favorable review from the manager. However, the negative signal of a criminal record is more than outweighed by having completed a temporary assignment in the past. Our evidence suggests that prior work experience should outweigh criminal records when managers make hiring decisions. In our ongoing work, we highlight particular types of convictions that do not contain insight about workers' productivity and what types of prior convictions may have particularly racially disparate impacts in the labor market.