Sendhil Mullainathan

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Sendhil Mullainathan
Born c. 1973 (age 43–44)
Tamil Nadu, India
Residence United States
Nationality United States, India
Alma mater Harvard University Ph.D, 1998
Cornell University B.A., 1993
Known for Behavioral Economics
Development Economics
Corporate Finance
Awards MacArthur Fellow
Scientific career
Fields economics, behavioral economics
Institutions Harvard University 2004–
MIT 1999-2004
Doctoral advisor Drew Fudenberg
Lawrence Katz
Andrei Shleifer
Doctoral students Ebonya Washington[1]

Sendhil Mullainathan (செந்தில் முல்லைநாதன்) (About this sound pronunciation ) (born c. 1973) is a Professor of Economics at Harvard University and the author of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much[2] (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 Ideas 42, a non-profit organization that uses behavioral science to help solve social problems, and J-PAL, the MIT Poverty Action Lab. He has made extensive academic contributions through the National Bureau of Economic Research and has also worked in government at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Early life and career[edit]

Born in a small farming village in India[citation needed], Mullainathan moved to the Los Angeles area at 7[citation needed]. He received his B.A. in computer science, mathematics, and economics from Cornell University in 1993[citation needed], and he completed his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University 1993-1998[citation needed].

Research contributions[edit]

He has made substantial contributions to the field of behavioural economics. He has also made innovative additions to the literature on development topics, such as discrimination, corruption, and corporate governance.

His 2013 "Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function"[3] published in Science, 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, compared with after harvest, when rich. The controlled study found that the stress associated with poverty impeded other behaviors.

As a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research, he produced numerous papers that link behavioral science and economics. The 2002 paper "Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier",[4] written together with Jonathan Gruber, 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.[5] 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 but licensed drivers. The magnitude of distortions in the allocation of licenses increases with citizens' willing to pay for licenses. The results support the view that corruption does not only transfer from citizens to bureaucrats but also 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 used a simple technique to measure labor market discrimination by switching the names at the top of resumes.[6] Controlling for other factors, Mullainathan and his co-authors found that applications with white sounding names attained 50% more 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.[7][8][9]

Selected bibliography[edit]


  • Mullainathan, Sendhil; Kling, Jeffrey R.; Congdon, William J. (2012). Policy and choice: public finance through the lens of behavioral economics. Washington: Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 9780815722588. 
  • Mullainathan, Sendhil; Shafir, Eldar (2013). Scarcity: why having too little means so much. London, England: Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books. ISBN 9781846143458. 

Journal articles[edit]



  1. ^ Washington, Ebonya (2003), Essays in public finance. Ph.D. dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  2. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Shafir, Eldar (2013). Scarcity: why having too little means so much. London, England: Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books. ISBN 9781846143458. 
  3. ^ Mani, Anandi, Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir, and Jiaying Zhao. 2013. Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function. science 341, no. 6149: 976-980.
  4. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Gruber, Jonathan (April 2002). "Do cigarette taxes make smokers happier?". NBER Working Paper. National Bureau of Economic Research. 8872. 
  5. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Bertrand, Marianne; Djankov, Simeon; Hanna, Rema (2007). "Obtaining a driver's license in India: an experimental approach to studying corruption". The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Oxford University Press. 122 (4): 1639–1676. doi:10.1162/qjec.2007.122.4.1639. 
  6. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Bertrand, Marianne (September 2004). "Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination". American Economic Review. American Economic Association. 94 (4): 991–1013. doi:10.1257/0002828042002561. 
  7. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Bertrand, Marianne (2001). "Are CEOs rewarded for luck? The ones without principals are". The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Oxford University Press. 116 (3): 901–932. doi:10.1162/00335530152466269. 
  8. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Bertrand, Marianne (May 2000). "Agents with and without principals". American Economic Review. American Economic Association. 90 (2): 203–208. doi:10.1257/aer.90.2.203. 
  9. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Bertrand, Marianne (November 1998). "Is there discretion in wage setting? A test using takeover legislation". NBER Working Paper. National Bureau of Economic Research. 6807. 

External links[edit]