|Born||c. 1972 (age 41–42)
Tamil Nadu, India
|Nationality||United States, India|
|Fields||economics, behavioral economics|
|Institutions||Harvard University 2004–
|Alma mater||Harvard University Ph.D, 1998
Cornell University B.A., 1993
|Doctoral advisor||Drew Fudenberg
|Known for||Behavioral Economics
|Notable awards||MacArthur Fellow|
Sendhil Mullainathan (born c. 1972) is a Professor of Economics at Harvard University, and the author of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (with Eldar Shafir). He was hired with tenure by Harvard in 2004 after having spent six years at MIT. He is a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and conducts research on development economics, behavioral economics, and corporate finance. He is co-founder of ideas42, a non-profit that uses behavioral science to help solve social problems, and the MIT Poverty Action Lab. As one of the nation’s top economists, he has made extensive academic contributions with the including the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER), and has also worked in government with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CPFB).
Early life and career
Born in a small farming village in India, Mullainathan moved to the Los Angeles area at age seven. He received his B.A. in computer science, mathematics, and economics from Cornell University in 1993, and completed his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University 1993-1998.
Professor Mullainathan has made substantial contributions to the field of behavioral economics. He has also made innovative additions to the literature on development topics, such as discrimination, corruption, and corporate governance.
The 2013 piece “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function"  published in Science Magazine, compared farmers’ performance on intelligence tests in the bleak and stressful days before harvest, to the period of abundance following the sale of produce. Remarkably, the same farmer shows diminished cognitive performance before harvest, when poor, as compared with after harvest, when rich. The controlled study found that the stress associated with poverty impeded other behaviors.
As a research associate with NBER, he produced numerous papers that link behavioral science and economics. The 2002 paper, “Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier"  found an improvement in smokers’ psychological state when cigarette taxes were hiked to provide disincentive to buy cigarettes.
A December 2007 paper studies corruption in obtaining driving licenses in Delhi, India. On the average, individuals pay about twice the official amount to obtain a license and very few take the legally required driving test, resulting in many unqualified yet licensed drivers. The magnitude of distortions in the allocation of licenses increases with citizens’ willing to pay for licenses. These results support the view that corruption does not merely reflect transfers from citizens to bureaucrats but that it distorts allocation. The paper also shows that partial anti-corruption measures have only a limited impact because players in this system adapt to the new environment. Specifically, a ban on agents at one regional transport office is associated with a high percentage of unqualified drivers overcoming the residency requirement and obtaining licenses at other license offices.
The 2004 study utilized a simple technique to measure labor market discrimination: switch the names at the top of resumes. Controlling for other factors, Mullainathan and his co-authors found that applications with African-American sounding names attained 50% fewer callbacks. The experiment provides convincing evidence of implicit discrimination in hiring practices.
In collaboration with Marianne Bertrand, Mullainathan published a series of papers scrutinizing executive compensation. The studies explain that increasing financial reward for CEO performance is a more complicated matter than incentive. Factors may enable CEOs to gain from luck, manipulating committees (the Skimming Model), and decreased sector competition.
- Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, 2013.
- Mani, Anandi, Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir, and Jiaying Zhao. 2013. Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function. science 341, no. 6149: 976-980.
- Mullainathan, Sendhil, and Jonathan Gruber. 2005. Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier?. The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy 5, no. 1.
- Bertrand, Marianne, et al. "Obtaining a driver's license in India: an experimental approach to studying corruption." The Quarterly Journal of Economics 122.4 (2007): 1639-1676.
- Bertrand, M.; Mullainathan, S. (2004). "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination". American Economic Review 94 (4): 991–1013. doi:10.1257/0002828042002561.
- Mullainathan, Sendhil, and Marianne Bertrand. 2001. Are CEOs Rewarded for Luck? The Ones Without Principals Are. Quarterly Journal of Economics 116, no. 3: 901-932.
- Mullainathan, Sendhil, and Marianne Bertrand. 2000. Agents With and Without Principals. American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings 90, no. 2: 203-208.
- Mullainathan, Sendhil, and Marianne Bertrand. 1999. Is There Discretion in Wage Setting? A Test Using Takeover Legislations. Rand Journal of Economics 30, no. 3: 535-554.
- Harvard Faculty Web Page
- Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much
- The Mistake Busy People Make (Time)
- The Mental Strain of Making Do With Less (The New York Times)
- When a Co-Pay Gets in the Way of Health (The New York Times)
- Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function
- List of Working Papers Online
- TEDIndia Talk