Román Andrés Zárate is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute on Behavior and Inequality. He will be joining the Department of Economics at the University of Toronto in 2020. He studied economics at Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he completed his PhD. His research lies in the intersection of the economics of education, development, and organizational economics. He has a particular interest in studying the formation of social skills, and their impact on labor market outcomes and productivity of organizations. He has used field and natural experiments to study the role of social interactions and peer characteristics on students' outcomes. He is currently working to improve measures of social skills and estimate their effect on job opportunities and inequality in developing countries.
Zárate, R. A. Social and academic peer effects: Experimental evidence from selective high schools in Peru.
A growing literature emphasizes the importance of social skills in the labor market. However, to date, no study addresses the role of peer characteristics in the formation of social skills. This paper reports estimates of academic and social peer effects from a large-scale field experiment at selective boarding schools in Peru. My experimental design overcomes some methodological challenges in the peer effects literature. I randomly varied the characteristics of neighbors in dormitories with two treatments: (a) less or more sociable peers (identified by their position in the school's friendship network before the intervention) and (b) lower- or higher-achieving peers (identified by admission test scores). While more sociable peers enhance the formation of social skills, higher achieving peers do not improve academic achievement; in fact, they further reduce the academic performance of lower-achieving students. These results appear to be driven by students' self-confidence and the social support they receive from their neighbors. I interpret these findings in the context of a simple self-confidence model where students infer their skills by interacting with their peers.
The educational mismatch hypothesis asserts that students are hurt by affirmative action policies that place them in selective schools for which they wouldn't otherwise qualify. We evaluate mismatch in Chicago's selective public exam schools, which choose students using neighborhood-based diversity criteria as well as test scores. Regression discontinuity estimates for applicants favored by affirmative action indeed show no gains in reading and substantial negative effects of exam school attendance on math scores. These results hold for more selective schools and for applicants most likely to benefit from affirmative-action, a pattern suggestive of mismatch. However, exam school effects in Chicago are explained by the high quality of schools attended by applicants who are not offered an exam school seat. Specifically, mismatch arises because exam school admission diverts many applicants from high-performing Noble Network charter schools, where they would have done well. Exam school applicants' previous achievement, race, and other characteristics that are sometimes said to mediate student-school matching play no role in this story.
Conover, E., Zárate, R. A., Camacho, A., & Baez, J. E. (2019). Cash and ballots: Conditional transfers, political participation and voting behavior. Economic Development and Cultural Change (forthcoming).
Abdulkadroǧlu, A., Angrist, J. D., Narita, Y., Pathak, P. A., & Zárate, R. A. (2017). Regression discontinuity in serial dictatorship: Achievement effects at Chicago's exam schools. American Economic Review, Papers & Proceedings, 107(5), 240-245.
Many school and college admission systems use centralized mechanisms to allocate seats based on applicant preferences and school priorities. When tie-breaking uses non-randomly assigned criteria like distance or a test score, applicants with the same preferences and priorities are not directly comparable. The non-lottery setting does generate a kind of local random assignment that opens the door to regression discontinuity designs. This paper introduces a hybrid RD/propensity score empirical strategy that exploits quasi-experiments embedded in serial dictatorship, a mechanism widely used for college and selective K-12 school admissions. We use our approach to estimate achievement effects of Chicago's exam schools.
Economics of Education
Labor and Organizational Economics