Emily Oster

University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States

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Publications (44)61.84 Total impact

  • JAMA The Journal of the American Medical Association 02/2014; · 29.98 Impact Factor
  • Emily F. Oster
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    ABSTRACT: A common heuristic for evaluating the problem of omitted variable bias in economics is to look at coeffcient movements after inclusion of controls. The theory under which this is informative is one in which the selection on observables is proportional to selection on unobservables, an idea which is formalized in Altonji, Elder and Taber (2005). However, this connection is rarely made explicit and the underlying assumption is rarely tested. In this paper I first show how, under proportional selection, coeffcient movements, along with movements in R-squared values, can be used to calculate a measure of omitted variable bias. I then undertake two validation exercises. First, I relate maternal behavior on child birth weight and IQ. Simple controlled regressions give misleading estimates; estimates adjusted with a proportional selection adjustment fit significantly better. Second, I match observational and randomized trial data for 29 relationships in public health. I show that on average bias-adjusted coeffcients perform much better than simple controlled coeffcients and I suggest that a simple form of this adjustment could dramatically improve inference in many public health contexts.Institutional subscribers to the NBER working paper series, and residents of developing countries may download this paper without additional charge at www.nber.org.
    05/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 was the first U.S. legislation to address genetic discrimination. We sought to assess understanding of GINA among individuals affected by the autosomal dominant condition, Huntington disease (HD). We conducted a cross-sectional survey of individuals with varying risk of HD to assess their familiarity with GINA. As a control, individuals were surveyed about their familiarity with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Those who reported familiarity with GINA were asked about their knowledge of specific provisions of the legislation. The survey was offered to 776 participants and completed by 410 (response rate 53%). Respondents across all groups were less familiar with GINA (41% slightly, somewhat, or very familiar) than with HIPAA (65%; p<0.0001). Of individuals with or at risk for HD who reported some familiarity with GINA, less than half correctly identified GINA's protections, and less than 15% correctly identified its limitations. Thus, among individuals affected by HD, familiarity with and knowledge of GINA are low. The effectiveness of the legislation may be limited by this lack of knowledge.
    Clinical Genetics 11/2012; · 4.25 Impact Factor
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    Emily Oster, Ira Shoulson, E. Ray Dorsey
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    ABSTRACT: One of the most basic predictions of human capital theory is that life expectancy should impact human capital investment. Limited exogenous variation in life expectancy makes this difficult to test, especially in the contexts most relevant to the macroeconomic applications. We estimate the relationship between life expectancy and human capital investments using genetic variation in life expectancy driven by Huntington disease (HD), an inherited degenerative neurological disorder with large impacts on mortality. We compare investment levels for individuals who have ex ante identical risks of HD but learn (through early symptom development or genetic testing) that they do or do not carry the genetic mutation which causes the disease. We find strong qualitative support: individuals with more limited life expectancy complete less education and less job training. We estimate the elasticity of demand for college completion with respect to years of life expectancy of 0.40. This figure implies that differences in life expectancy explain about 10% of cross-country differences in college enrollment. Finally, we use smoking and cancer screening data to test the corollary that health capital is responsive to life expectancy.Institutional subscribers to the NBER working paper series, and residents of developing countries may download this paper without additional charge at www.nber.org.
    03/2012;
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    Emily Oster
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    ABSTRACT: Despite high rates of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the corresponding high mortality risk associated with risky sexual behavior, behavioral response has been limited. This paper explores three explanations for this: bias in OLS estimates, limited non-HIV life expectancy and limited knowledge. I find support for the first two. First, using a new instrumental variable strategy I find that OLS estimates of the relationship between risky sex and HIV are biased upwards, and IV estimates indicate reductions in risky behavior in response to the epidemic. Second, I find these reductions are larger for individuals who live in areas with higher life expectancy, suggesting high rates of non-HIV mortality suppress behavioral response; this is consistent with optimizing behavior. Using somewhat limited knowledge proxies, I find no evidence that areas with higher knowledge of the epidemic have greater behavior change.
    Journal of Health Economics 01/2012; 31(1):35-49. · 1.60 Impact Factor
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    Emily F. Oster, Ira Shoulson, E. Ray Dorsey
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    ABSTRACT: We use novel data to study the decision to undergo genetic testing by individuals at risk for Huntington disease (HD), a hereditary neurological disorder that reduces healthy life expectancy to about age 50. Although genetic testing is perfectly predictive and carries little financial or time cost, less than 10 percent of at-risk individuals are tested prior to the onset of symptoms. Testing rates are higher for individuals with higher ex ante risk of carrying the genetic expansion for HD. Untested individuals express optimistic beliefs about their probability of having HD and make fertility, savings, labor supply, and other decisions as if they do not have HD, even though individuals with confirmed HD behave quite differently. We show that these facts are qualitatively consistent with a model of optimal expectations (Brunnermeier and Parker, 2005) and can be reconciled quantitatively in this model with reasonable parameter values. This model nests the neoclassical framework and, we argue, provides strong evidence rejecting the assumptions of that framework. Finally, we briefly develop policy implications.Institutional subscribers to the NBER working paper series, and residents of developing countries may download this paper without additional charge at www.nber.org.
    12/2011;
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    ABSTRACT: Cellular technologies have become increasingly important in the developing world; infrastructure for mobile networks has expanded dramatically over the past two decades giving access to remote areas without previous phone service. Despite this expansion, relatively little is known about the correlates of the rollout of cellular phone networks or the performance of these networks. Since the rollout of cellular networks has been largely spearheaded by an active private sector in telecommunications, how demand-side and cost-side factors affect the timing of rollout and quality of network service is of particular interest. In this paper we use new data to estimate the correlates of cellular phone access and network performance across rural areas of Malawi. We compile a dataset which combines administrative data of the entire cellular network of Malawi with geographic and Census data to describe the rollout and the performance of the cellular network measured by the dropped call rate. We find that both demand-side and cost-side factors are important in determining the timing of network access, while demand-side factors appear most relevant for the dropped call rate, one metric of network quality.Institutional subscribers to the NBER working paper series, and residents of developing countries may download this paper without additional charge at www.nber.org.
    12/2010;
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    Emily Oster, M. Bryce Millett
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    ABSTRACT: Over the last two decades in India there have been large increases in outsourced jobs and large increases in schooling rates, particularly in English. Existing evidence suggests the trends are broadly related. In this paper we explore how localized these impacts are; this has implications for understanding how quickly information about these jobs diffuses. We use panel data on school enrollment from a comprehensive school-level administrative dataset. This is merged with detailed data on Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) center location and founding dates. Using school fixed effects, we estimate the impact of introducing a new ITES center in the vicinity of the school on enrollment. We find that introducing a new ITES center results in a 5.7% increase in number of children enrolled; these effects are extremely localized. We argue this result is not driven by pre-trends in enrollment or endogenous center placement, and is not a result of ITES-center induced changes in population or increases in income. The effect is driven entirely by English-language schools, consistent with the claim that the impacts are driven by changes in returns to schooling.
    National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, NBER Working Papers. 01/2010;
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    Emily Oster, Gang Chen, Xinsen Yu, Wenyao Lin
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    ABSTRACT: Oster (2005) argued that parents with Hepatitis B (HBV) have more sons, which explained Asia's "missing women". Lin and Luoh (2008) show no relationship between gender and mother's HBV. We test for a relationship between paternal HBV and son share and find none.
    Economics Letters. 01/2010; 107(2):142-144.
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    ABSTRACT: Individual, personalized genetic information is increasingly available, leading to the possibility of greater adverse selection over time, particularly in individual-payer insurance markets. We use data on individuals at risk for Huntington disease (HD), a degenerative neurological disorder with significant effects on morbidity, to estimate adverse selection in long-term care insurance. We find strong evidence of adverse selection: individuals who carry the HD genetic mutation are up to 5 times as likely as the general population to own long-term care insurance. This finding is supported both by comparing individuals at risk for HD to those in the general population and by comparing across tested individuals in the HD-risk population with and without the HD mutation.
    Journal of Public Economics. 09/2009;
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    Emily F. Oster, Rebecca L. Thornton
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    ABSTRACT: We estimate the role of benefits and peer effects in technology adoption using data from randomized distribution of menstrual cups in Nepal. Using individual randomization, we estimate causal effects of peer exposure on adoption; using differences in potential returns we estimate effects of benefits. We find both peers and value influence adoption. Using the fact that we observe both trial and usage of the product, we examine the mechanisms driving peer effects. We find that peers matters because individuals learn how to use the technology from their friends, but that they do not affect individual desire to use the cup.
    Journal of the European Economic Association 03/2009; · 1.36 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Background Individuals at risk for Huntington disease (HD) face a possibly shortened lifespan, and, as a result, they may want to own more life insurance. However, insurance companies may discriminate against this population, resulting in lower ownership rates. Methods We compared rates of life insurance ownership and amount of life insurance owned between 567 individuals at risk for HD in the PHAROS population (a longitudinal, observational study of individuals at risk for HD) and matched controls in the nationally representative Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF). Individuals were matched based on five-year age group, gender, employment status, race, marital status, whether they had children, and education category. If an individual from PHAROS was matched with more than one individual from the SCF, insurance ownership was compared to the average of the matched controls. We compared rates of insurance ownership and amount of ownership with t-tests. Results Compared to their matched controls, individuals at risk for HD were 3 percentage points more likely to own life insurance (86.4% vs. 83.4%, p = 0.04). However, among those who owned insurance, individuals at risk for HD were 17 percentage points less likely to own a policy larger than $250,000 (49% vs. 32%, p < 0.001). Differences in overall ownership do not significantly vary by age, employment, or education; however, differences in ownership of large policies are limited to individuals over 40. Conclusions Individuals at risk for a genetic disease are slightly more likely to own life insurance than matched controls, although they tend to own smaller policies. The higher overall ownership suggests higher demand for insurance. The smaller size of policies may point to discrimination. However, this could also point to lower income in this population, which we were not able to adjust for in this study.
    Neurotherapeutics. 01/2009; 6(1):210-211.
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    Emily Oster, Rebecca Thornton
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    ABSTRACT: The aim of this paper is to convey to a wider audience of applied statisticians that "nonparametric" (matching) estimation methods can be a very convenient tool to overcome problems with "endogenous" control variables. In empirical research one is often interested in the causal effect of a variable "X" on some outcome variable "Y". With observational data, i.e. in the absence of random assignment, the correlation between "X" and "Y" generally does not reflect the treatment effect but is confounded by differences in observed and unobserved characteristics. Econometricians often use two different approaches to overcome this problem of confounding by other characteristics. First, controlling for observed characteristics, often referred to as selection on observables, or instrumental variables regression, usually with additional control variables. Instrumental variables estimation is probably the most important estimator in applied work. In many applications, these control variables are themselves correlated with the error term, making ordinary least squares and two-stage least squares inconsistent. The usual solution is to search for additional instrumental variables for these endogenous control variables, which is often difficult. We argue that nonparametric methods help to reduce the number of instruments needed. In fact, we need only one instrument whereas with conventional approaches one may need two, three or even more instruments for consistency. Nonparametric matching estimators permit consistent estimation without the need for (additional) instrumental variables and permit arbitrary functional forms and treatment effect heterogeneity. Copyright (c) 2008 The Author. Journal compilation (c) 2008 International Statistical Institute.
    National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, NBER Working Papers. 01/2009;
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    Emily Oster
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    ABSTRACT: An estimated 33 million people are infected with the HIV virus, with 67% of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this, knowledge about HIV prevalence in Africa is limited and imperfect. Although population-based testing in recent years has provided reliable information about current prevalence in the general population, we have little reliable data on prevalence in early years of the epidemic. This paper suggests a new methodology for estimating HIV prevalence and incidence using inference from mortality data. This methodology can be used to generate prevalence estimates from early in the epidemic. This information is valuable for understanding how the epidemic has evolved over time and is also likely to be helpful in analyses that explore how policy affects the epidemic or how HIV affects other country-level outcomes.
    The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy. 01/2009; 10(1):80-80.
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    Robert Jensen, Emily Oster
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    ABSTRACT: Cable and satellite television have spread rapidly throughout the developing world. These media sources expose viewers to new information about the outside world and other ways of life, which may affect attitudes and behaviors. This paper explores the effect of the introduction of cable television on women's status in rural India. Using a three-year, individual-level panel data set, we find that the introduction of cable television is associated with significant decreases in the reported acceptability of domestic violence toward women and son preference, as well as increases in women's autonomy and decreases in fertility. We also find suggestive evidence that exposure to cable increases school enrollment for younger children, perhaps through increased participation of women in household decision making. We argue that the results are not driven by preexisting differential trends. (c) 2009 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology..
    The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 01/2009; 124(3):1057-1094.
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    ABSTRACT: Genetic testing in Huntington disease, an inherited ultimately fatal neurodegenerative disorder, is infrequent despite wide availability. Factors influencing the decision to pursue testing are largely unknown. We conducted a prospective longitudinal observational study of 1,001 individuals in North America who were at risk for Huntington disease who had not pursued genetic testing prior to enrollment. We evaluated the rationale for remaining untested at baseline, determined the concerns of those who eventually pursued testing, and assessed the population's psychological attributes. We contrasted responses between those who did and did not pursue testing, and between United States and Canadian residents. The principal reasons for remaining untested were comfort with risk and uncertainty and the inability to "undo" knowledge gained. After enrollment, 83 individuals [8.3%] pursued genetic testing. Their greatest concern was losing health insurance, and 41.6% of them [vs. 6.7% of those who did not pursue testing; P < 0.001] reported paying out of pocket for testing or other medical services to conceal their genetic risk from their insurer/employer. Among individuals who were tested, more United States residents [46.1%] than Canadian residents [0.0%; P = 0.02] paid out of pocket for health services or genetic testing. Psychological attributes were similar among individuals who did and did not pursue testing. Individuals at risk for Huntington disease who pursued genetic testing feared losing medical insurance, and many paid out of pocket for medical services. Alleviating the fear of health insurance loss may help those who want to pursue genetic testing for many other conditions. [ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT0052143].
    American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A 07/2008; 146A(16):2070-7. · 2.30 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: This paper sheds new light on the impact of AIDS on cross-country income levels. We consider new UNAIDS/WHO data on officially reported AIDS cases for a panel of 89 countries over a 15 year period from 1986-2000 during which AIDS has spread across the world. These data are used to estimate cross-country level regressions employing panel data techniques. Our findings are as follows: First, when using the entire sample of countries we find that AIDS has a negative albeit marginally significant effect on the level of income. Second, when we control for regional effects we show that this negative effect is primarily driven by the sub-Sahara Africa and Latin America subsamples. Third, using AIDS data by age group, we find that the disease has a significantly negative impact on income only via infected people between the ages 16 and 34. Finally, while the economic impact of AIDS is negative and statistically significant, its economic significance measured by the estimated size of the AIDS coefficient is quite small.
    07/2008;
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    Emily Oster, Gang Chen
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    ABSTRACT: Earlier work (Oster, 2005) has argued, based on existing medical literature and analysis of cross country data and vaccination programs, that parents who are carriers of hepatitis B have a higher offspring sex ratio (more boys) than non-carrier parents. Further, since a number of Asian countries, China in particular, have high hepatitis B carrier rates, Oster (2005) suggested that hepatitis B could explain a large share { approximately 50% { of Asia's \missing women". Subsequent work has questioned this conclusion. Most notably, Lin and Luoh (2008) use data from a large cohort of births in Taiwan and find only a very tiny effect of maternal hepatitis carrier status on offspring sex ratio. Although this work is quite conclusive for the case of mothers, it leaves open the possibility that paternal carrier status is driving higher sex offspring sex ratios. To test this, we collected data on the offspring gender for a cohort of 67,000 people in China who are being observed in a prospective cohort study of liver cancer; approximately 15% of these individuals are hepatitis B carriers. In this sample, we find no effect of either maternal or paternal hepatitis B carrier status on offspring sex. Carrier parents are no more likely to have male children than non-carrier parents. This finding leads us to conclude that hepatitis B cannot explain skewed sex ratios in China.
    06/2008;
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    ABSTRACT: We propose an economic theory of infectious disease transmission and rational behavior. Diseases are costly due to mortality (infected individuals can die prematurely) and morbidity (lower productivity and quality of life). Our model offers three main insights. First, a greater prevalence of diseases implies a lower savings-investment propensity because of mortality and morbidity. The extent to which preventive health investment can counter this depends on the prevalence rate and, specifically, on the strength of the disease externality. Second, infectious diseases can generate low-growth traps in which income alone can not push the economy out of underdevelopment. This is distinctly different from the development traps found by previous literature. Third, income per se does not cause health when prevalence is high. Successful interventions should therefore be health specific and when possible channeled via the public health delivery system.
    03/2008;
  • Neurotherapeutics. 01/2008; 5(2):368-368.

Publication Stats

432 Citations
61.84 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2004–2013
    • University of Chicago
      • Department of Economics
      Chicago, Illinois, United States
  • 2012
    • Johns Hopkins Medicine
      • Department of Neurology
      Baltimore, MD, United States
  • 2009
    • University of Rochester
      Rochester, New York, United States
  • 2008
    • University of Michigan
      Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States