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Sendhil Mullainathan

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Sendhil Mullainathan
Mullainathan in 2014
Bornc. 1973 (age 50–51)
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materCornell University (B.A.)
Harvard University (Ph.D.)
Known forBehavioral economics
Development economics
Corporate finance
AwardsMacArthur Fellow
Scientific career
FieldsEconomics, Behavioral economics
InstitutionsMIT 2024–
University of Chicago Booth School of Business 2018–2024
Harvard University 2004–2018
MIT 1999–2004
Doctoral advisorDrew Fudenberg
Lawrence Katz
Andrei Shleifer
Doctoral studentsEbonya Washington[1]
Benjamin Jones

Sendhil Mullainathan (pronunciation) (born c. 1973) is an American professor of Computation and Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business 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.

Mullainathan 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 and 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). In May 2018, he moved from Harvard to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, becoming the George C. Tiao Faculty Fellow.[3] In November 2018, he received the Infosys Prize (in Social Sciences category), one of the highest monetary awards in India that recognize excellence in science and research, for his contributions to the field of economics, especially behavioral economics.[4] In 2024, he moved back to MIT as a professor on joint appointment between the Department of Economics and the School of Engineering.[5]

Early life and career


Born in a small farming village in Tamil Nadu, India, Mullainathan moved to the Los Angeles area in 1980.[6][7] His father studied and later worked in aerospace engineering.[7] As security clearance laws in the US aerospace industry were tightened in the 1980s, his father lost his job.[7] His parents subsequently operated a video store.[7]

He received his B.A. in computer science, mathematics, and economics from Cornell University in 1993 and he completed his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University 1993–1998.[8]

Research contributions


He has made substantial contributions to the field of behavioral economics as well as innovative additions to the literature on development topics, such as discrimination, corruption, and corporate governance. According to IDEAS/RePEc, he ranked 185th in September 2018 in terms of research among 54 233 registered economists (i.e, among the top 0.4%).[9]

His 2013 "Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function"[10] 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",[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14][15][16]

Selected bibliography



  • 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: Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books. ISBN 9781846143458.

Journal articles





  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: Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books. ISBN 9781846143458.
  3. ^ "Behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan to join Booth faculty as University Professor". UChicago News. 21 May 2018. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  4. ^ "Infosys Prize – Laureates 2018 – Prof. Sendhil Mullainathan". www.infosys-science-foundation.com. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  5. ^ https://news.mit.edu/2024/school-engineering-welcomes-new-faculty-0523
  6. ^ "Is Alfred Marshall Passe?". Forbes. 17 October 2005. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d Feinberg, Cara (15 April 2015). "Harvard's Sendhil Mullainathan on behavior and poverty | Harvard Magazine". www.harvardmagazine.com.
  8. ^ "CV" (PDF). Harvard. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  9. ^ Top 10% Authors. Retrieved November 5th, 2018.
  10. ^ Mani, Anandi; Mullainathan, Sendhil; Shafir, Eldar; Zhao, Jiaying (2013). "Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function". Science. 341 (6149): 976–980. Bibcode:2013Sci...341..976M. doi:10.1126/science.1238041. PMID 23990553. S2CID 1684186.
  11. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Gruber, Jonathan (April 2002). "Do cigarette taxes make smokers happier?". NBER Working Paper. 8872. doi:10.3386/w8872.
  12. ^ 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. 122 (4): 1639–1676. doi:10.1162/qjec.2007.122.4.1639.
  13. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Bertrand, Marianne (September 2004). "Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination" (PDF). American Economic Review. 94 (4): 991–1013. doi:10.1257/0002828042002561.
  14. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Bertrand, Marianne (2001). "Are CEOs rewarded for luck? The ones without principals are". The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 116 (3): 901–932. CiteSeerX doi:10.1162/00335530152466269.
  15. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Bertrand, Marianne (May 2000). "Agents with and without principals". American Economic Review. 90 (2): 203–208. doi:10.1257/aer.90.2.203.
  16. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Bertrand, Marianne (November 1998). "Is there discretion in wage setting? A test using takeover legislation". NBER Working Paper. 6807. doi:10.3386/w6807.