Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Applied Economics

First Advisor

Iwan Barankay


This dissertation contains three self-contained chapters on human capital and altruism.

The first two chapters explore why women used to lag behind but now exceed men in college enrollment. Chapter 1 shows that examining occupations that require only a high school degree ("non-college" occupations) can help resolve two puzzles. First, why do women attend college at greater rates than men today, when men work more and earn more than women? I document that non-college occupations for men are both more plentiful and higher paying than those for women. Next, I link the occupational inequality in the non-college labor market to the gap in college enrollment, by employing two empirical exercises to show that non-college jobs dramatically affect college-going decisions. Using employment changes in the oil and gas industry, I demonstrate that increases in men's non-college job opportunities lead male high school graduates to forego college enrollment. Using the automation of the office, I demonstrate that declines in the non-college employment opportunities of women lead female college enrollment to grow over time. Thus, women's lower non-college job prospects contribute to their higher college enrollment. This leads to the second puzzle: why did women initially attend college at lower rates than men, when women have always had worse non-college job prospects than men? I develop a theoretical model to demonstrate that both the importance and availability of non-college occupations for women contributed to women's initially low enrollment, as well as to the growth in female enrollment over time, such that women eventually overtook men in college-going.

Chapter 1 argues that gender differences in occupations, particularly in the non-college labor market, lead women to choose to attend college at greater rates than men. In Chapter 2, I explore one key mechanism behind the severe occupational segregation in the non-college labor market. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (1979), I show that there exist large differences in skill profiles between men and women. In particular, "gender-based skill" for men tends to represent mechanical skill, while "gender-based skill" for women tends to represent numerical and coding ability. Using a Roy model adapted from Rosen and Willis (1979), I show that "gender-based skill" for men commands a return in the non-college labor market and therefore increases the opportunity cost of college attendance. "Gender-based skill" for women, on the other hand, does not appear to increase women's non-college earnings. Finally, I find that these skill differences significantly impact the likelihood of enrolling in college through their effect on wages. By increasing the value of the outside option to attending college for men, gender-based skill contributes to the greater college enrollment rate of women.

Chapter 3, joint with Judd Kessler and Katherine Milkman, explores altruism in a unique field context. We examine how reciprocity, an important motivation behind altruism, changes over time using a large quasi-experiment in the field. Specifically, we analyze administrative data from a university hospital system. The data include information about over 18,000 donation requests made by the hospital system via mail to a set of its former patients in the four months following their first hospital visit. We exploit quasi-experimental variation in the timing of solicitation mailings relative to patient hospital visits and find that an extra 30-day delay between the provision of medical care and a donation solicitation decreases the likelihood of a donation by 30%. Our findings have important implications for models of economic behavior, which currently fail to incorporate reciprocity's sensitivity to time. The fact that reciprocal behavior decays rapidly as time passes also suggests the importance of capitalizing quickly on opportunities to benefit from a quid pro quo.