Jacob French


Welcome to my website

I am an Assistant Professor of Economics at New York University's Stern School of Business.

My research focuses on topics in Labor Economics, Education Economics, and Economic History using a variety of Applied Microeconomics tools. 



Working Papers

Technological Change, Inequality, and Intergenerational Mobility: The Case of Early 20th Century Agriculture 

Labor-augmenting technologies are central to lifting standards of living but are often associated with a reallocation of labor which is potentially costly for incumbent workers. How large are these costs and in what dimensions are they born out? This paper studies the mechanization of early 20th-century agriculture in the United States, an episode of rapid technological change impacting a large proportion of the economy. Using an instrumental variables approach, I find that increased exposure to technological change caused incumbent workers to leave agriculture. These moves were disproportionately into lower-paying occupations as compared to the typical post-agricultural occupation. On the other hand, incumbent farmers faced no significant occupational displacement while also experiencing a significant increase in the average product of agricultural labor in their region. These effects did not attenuate over time and were transmitted into a second generation. The children of farmers from counties that experienced more technological change had higher non-agricultural wages in adulthood, while the children of wage-workers who left agriculture from the same regions had lower wages in adulthood as compared to their peers. These empirical results are used to discipline a dynamic occupational sorting model which indicates that 16\% of workers had lower lifetime welfare due to technological change, and the total consumption equivalent cost to these individuals was 11\% of the total surplus generated by the technological shock. These results highlight the way in which new technologies can both increase surplus and have long-lasting negative effects for some individuals.

Moves of Opportunity, Supporting Services, and Labor Market Outcomes 

This paper provides new evidence that neighborhood quality impacts labor market outcome using novel panel data from a public housing demolition in Memphis, Tennessee. Residents at a large public housing site were required to relocate into the surrounding metropolitan area due to the demolition of their housing units, a move which significantly improved their neighborhood environment. This relocation is estimated to have increased hourly wages by $0.69, more than 7% of pre-move wages. Crucially, the impacts of relocation on employment were heterogeneous by age and education, with both more educated and younger adults avoiding the relocation associated job loss their peers experienced. This result suggests that some demographic groups unambiguously benefited from the relocation. Evidence suggests that these positive outcomes may have been modulated by the personalized case management services residents received over the course of relocation and for several subsequent years. Exploiting variation from a discontinuity in the intensity with which these services were offered, more attention from a case manager is estimated to have prevented post-move job loss. Finally, data on employers shows that post-move jobs were not physically inaccessible from the initial public housing site, suggesting proximity to job opportunities alone is not able to explain the wage increases. 

Information Provision and Gender Differences in Negotiation: Evidence from Business Majors

(with Patricia Cortes, Jessica Pan, and Basit Zafar) 

We assess the role of information gaps in understanding gender differences in negotiation behavior by conducting a randomized information experiment on the 2018 to 2020 graduating cohorts of undergraduate business majors from Boston University. Prior to starting their job search, treated students were provided with objective information about the gender gap in negotiation among their peers along with the earnings changes conditional on negotiating. We find sizable immediate effects on negotiation intentions that persist to actual negotiation behavior, particularly for men. While the treatment affects women's negotiation behavior through belief-updating, the effects on men's behavior are primarily through increased salience of the information. Further, we find some evidence that gender-specific treatment spillovers likely contribute to the smaller average treatment effects on behavior for women. Overall, our findings suggest that such information interventions can help to nudge women who have potentially large financial returns to negotiation to realize these gains. 


Estimating Students' Valuation for College Experiences, 2023 Journal of Public Economics

(with Esteban Aucejo, and Basit Zafar) 

Quantifying the consumption value of college – the utility students derive from in-person instruction and on-campus social activities – has been challenging. We leverage the COVID-19 shock to elicit students’ intended likelihood of enrolling in higher education under different costs and possible states of the world, that vary in terms of class formats (i.e., in-person vs. remote instruction) and restrictions to campus social life. We show how such data can be used to recover students’ willingness-to-pay (WTP) for college-related activities in the absence of COVID-19, without parametric assumptions on the underlying heterogeneity in WTP. We find that the average WTP for in-person instruction (relative to a remote format) represents around 6.5% of the average annual net cost of attending university, while the average WTP for on-campus social activities is 10.2% of the average annual net costs. Lower-income and first-generation derive substantially lower value from university social life, partly due to time and resource constraints. Beyond providing an explanation for why college persistence rates may differ by socioeconomic background, our results have implications for how college costs should be structured.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Student Experiences and Expectations: Evidence from a Survey, 2020 Journal of Public Economics

(with Esteban Aucejo, Maria Paola Ugalde Araya, and Basit Zafar)

Media Coverage

The Chronicle of Higher EducationMarket WatchThe Education Gadfly ShowVoxEU

In order to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on higher education, we surveyed approximately 1,500 students at one of the largest public institutions in the United States using an instrument designed to recover the causal impact of the pandemic on students’ current and expected outcomes. Results show large negative effects across many dimensions. Due to COVID-19: 13% of students have delayed graduation, 40% have lost a job, internship, or job offer, and 29% expect to earn less at age 35. Moreover, these effects have been highly heterogeneous. One quarter of students increased their study time by more than 4 hours per week due to COVID-19, while another quarter decreased their study time by more than 5 hours per week. This heterogeneity often followed existing socioeconomic divides; lower-income students are 55% more likely than their higher-income peers to have delayed graduation due to COVID-19. Finally, we show that the economic and health related shocks induced by COVID-19 vary systematically by socioeconomic factors and constitute key mediators in explaining the large (and heterogeneous) effects of the pandemic.

Work In Progress

Understanding Gaps in College Achievement - Draft Coming Soon

(with Esteban Aucejo, Maria Paola Ugalde Araya, and Basit Zafar)

Striking a Balance with Income-Driven Repayment: Default Protection vs. Labor Market Distortions 

(with Spencer Perry and Alex Toy)

Information Frictions Among Non-college Labor Market Entrants 

(with Spencer Perry)

Patterns in Local Economic Growth 1865-1926