Job Market Paper

Religious Messages and Adaptation to Water Scarcity : Evidence from Jordan
[Draft coming soon!]

Can religion be leveraged to promote urgent prosocial change? I study how religious messages on water preservation can induce communities to save water in the face of climate change. I conduct a randomized control trial with women attending religious classes in Jordan: women in treated classes attend a lesson on the importance of water and its preservation in Islam, while control women attend a lesson on an unrelated religious topic. Both groups additionally receive non-religious information on water conservation. The treatment leads to a 11 p.p. increase in the likelihood that a woman would choose to donate communal alms-giving to water charities, a 1.7 JD increase in individual donations to water charities, and a 0.4 point reduction in women' belief in their own water efficiency. Months later, treated households consume 5 cubic meters of water less, as indicated in their water bill. I explore potential mechanisms and find that the messages work through changing religious beliefs on water, and are most effective when religious norms are aligned with the desired pro-social behavior. 

Published Papers

Unilateral divorce rights, domestic violence and women’s agency: Evidence from the Egyptian Khul reform (with Viola Corradini), Journal of Development Economics, 2023

[Published version

We investigate whether the introduction of the right to unilateral, no-fault, divorce for women has an impact on domestic abuse, investments in children’s human capital, women’s labor force participation, and other proxies of women’s agency in the context of the Egyptian Khul reform of 2000. We employ a difference in differences design, comparing mothers of children older than the age cutoffs used to assign the children’s custody to the mother, to mothers of younger children, before and after the reform. The first group of women is less affected by the legislative change in terms of being able to make credible divorce threats because it faces higher divorce costs, including the loss of alimony and the marital house. Results suggest that the introduction of Khul decreased domestic abuse and increased investments into children’s education while we do not find significant effects on labor force participation. 

Working Papers

Tasty, Traditional, and Healthy Water: Considering Local Culture in Water-Adoption Interventions (with Martin Rossi)
[Draft available upon request]

Consumption of clean water is low in developing countries, but neither subsidies nor information consistently influence its adoption or willingness to pay for it. We provide experimental evidence that taste and tradition are important dimensions in clean water adoption decisions by poor households. We focus on filtered water from water-treatment units, a technology that produces clean water taking into account individuals’ tastes and local culture in the context of Egypt. Pilot results show that most individuals prefer filtered water to chlorinated water, leading to a three-fold increase willingness to pay. In addition, at zero prices, adoption rates are 30 percentage points higher for filtered water than chlorinated water. Our findings also suggest that people use taste as a proxy for healthy water in rural areas with high illiteracy rates. Our results have important policy implications, since they suggest that policy makers could divert their efforts from subsidized chlorine, the mainstream approach as of now, to new alternatives that consider taste and tradition.

Religious Media, Conversion and its Socio-Economic Consequences: The Rise of Pentecostals in Brazil (with Marcela Mello)

We study the socioeconomic consequences of adherence to the Pentecostal movement, using exposure to a church-affiliated TV channel as a source of quasi-random variation in religiosity. Our empirical strategy exploits the placement of transmitters prior to the channel being religiously affiliated. Results show that exposure to this TV channel leads to an increase of 1 p.p. (+30%) in the share of Pentecostals. This large change in religious adherence allows us to study its socioeconomic consequences. Consistent with the church’s prescriptions, we find that places exposed to this TV channel had higher fertility rate (0.03 child per women on average), lower female labor force participation (0.9 p.p.), lower schooling for young women (1.4 p.p.), and more votes for Pentecostal candidates (0.29 p.p.). We find no effects for male labor force participation and schooling. In an event-study framework, we exploit the expansion of RecordTV over time to show that the effects are not driven by other expansion strategies of the church. We find that the increase in the number of Pentecostal churches occurred as a result of change in content, but did not predate it, ruling out reverse causality.

The Arab Slave Trade and the Diffusion of Islam in Africa
[Draft available upon request]

I study the link between the Arab slave trade and the diffusion of Islam in Africa. In Islamic jurisprudence, lawful enslavement was restricted: a free Muslim could not be enslaved, but conversion to Islam by a non-Muslim slave did not automatically implied freedom. African populations were thus faced with a potential trade-off for preventive conversion, fully ensuring against the risk of enslavement on one side, and losing their cultural identity on the other. I argue that the intensity of the slave trade at the ethnic-group level solved the collective action problem, resulting in group conversion. Moreover, I show that conversion by sword is associated with the emergence, in the Muslim word, of discrimination between Arabs and black Africans: black Muslims were considered worse believers than Muslims of Arab descent. I test if black Muslims adopted stricter religious practices to signal their religious worth. Results show that historical conversion by sword to Islam, as opposed to spontaneous conversion, correlates with more conservative religious beliefs today.

The Long-run Political Effects of the Separation of Church and State: Evidence from the Papal State (with Brian Knight)
[Draft available upon request]

The degree of separation between church and state has potentially significant political and economic consequence. We examine the long-run effects of the separation of church and state in the context of the Papal State, which was governed by the Pope from 756 to 1871. In particular, we conduct a within-Italy border discontinuity design, comparing contemporary political outcomes in municipalities just inside of the historic Papal State boundary to those just outside of the boundary. In terms of political outcomes, we study the rise of the Fratelli d’Italia party (FdI) and the role of Giorgia Meloni, who took over the party in 2014 and, as we document in a text analysis of political manifestos, shifted the party towards pro-Catholic and pro-traditional family positions reflecting values of the former Papal State. Comparing municipal-level 2013 election outcomes, prior to Meloni, to municipal-level 2018 election outcomes, after Meloni took over, we find a statistically significant increase in support for FdI when crossing from just outside of the historic Papal State boundary to just inside. Using survey data, we also find no evidence of an increase in religiosity or support for Catholic instanced across the boundary, such as opposition to abortion or gay marriage, suggesting that our results are driven by the effects of exposure to Theocracy rather than exposure to Catholicism itself.

Selected Work in Progress

(Mis)Perceptions of Inequality, Social Cohesion, and Policy Preferences: Evidence from Lebanon, with Lydia Assouad, Augustin Bergeron and Salma Mousa  (funding secured) 

Water scarcity, Mental Health and Domestic Violence: Evidence from Jordan, with Lydia Assouad and Emma Smith (exploratory funding secured)

Gender, Transports and Labor Market Access in Cairo, with Viola Corradini