Tyler Ransom

Assistant Professor of Economics
University of Oklahoma

Research Affiliate
Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)








Department of Economics
University of Oklahoma
322 CCD1, 308 Cate Center Drive
Norman, OK 73072

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Papers under Revision to Resubmit

College Attrition and the Dynamics of Information Revelation
with Peter Arcidiacono, Esteban Aucejo, and Arnaud Maurel
R & R, Journal of Political Economy (updated May 31, 2016)

This paper investigates the role played by informational frictions in college and the workplace. We estimate a dynamic structural model of schooling and work decisions, where individuals have imperfect information about their schooling ability and labor market productivity. We take into account the heterogeneity in schooling investments by distinguishing between two- and four-year colleges, graduate school, as well as science and non-science majors for four-year colleges. Individuals may also choose whether to work full-time, part-time, or not at all. A key feature of our approach is to account for correlated learning through college grades and wages, whereby individuals may leave or re-enter college as a result of the arrival of new information on their ability and productivity. Our findings indicate that the elimination of informational frictions would increase the college graduation rate by 9 percentage points, and would increase the college wage premium by 32.7 percentage points through increased sorting on ability.

Working Papers

What the Students for Fair Admissions Cases Reveal About Racial Preferences
with Peter Arcidiacono and Josh Kinsler
(April 15, 2022)

Using detailed admissions data made public in the SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC cases, we examine how racial preferences for under-represented minorities (URMs) affect their admissions to Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill. At Harvard, the admit rates for typical African American applicants are on average over four times larger than if they had been treated as white. For typical Hispanic applicants the increase is 2.4 times. At UNC, preferences vary substantially by whether the applicant is in-state or out-of-state. For in-state applicants, racial preferences result in an over 70% increase in the African American admit rate. For out-of-state applicants, the increase is more than tenfold. Both universities provide larger racial preferences to URMs from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

Published & Forthcoming Papers

Divergent: The Time Path of Legacy and Athlete Admissions at Harvard
with Peter Arcidiacono and Josh Kinsler
Journal of Human Resources, Forthcoming.

We examine how increased admissions competition at elite US colleges has affected the admissions advantage that legacies and athletes (LA) receive. Using 18 years of Harvard admissions data, we show that non-legacy, non-athlete (NLNA) applications expanded while LA applications remained flat. Yet, the share of LA admits remained stable, implying substantial increases in LA admissions advantages. These facts imply a strong degree of complementarity in the number of LA admits and overall admit quality. If the admissions advantages for LA applicants had been constant throughout this period, there would have been a large increase in the number of minority admits.

Understanding Migration Aversion using Elicited Counterfactual Choice Probabilities
with Gizem Koşar and Wilbert van der Klaauw
Journal of Econometrics, Forthcoming.

This paper investigates how migration and location choice decisions depend on a large set of location characteristics, with particular focus on measuring the importance and nature of non-monetary costs of moving. We employ a stated-preference approach to elicit respondents' choice probabilities for a set of hypothetical choice scenarios, using two waves from the NY Fed's Survey of Consumer Expectations. Our stated probabilistic choice approach allows us to recover the distribution of individual-level preferences for location and mobility attributes without concerns about omitted variables and selection biases that hamper analyses based on observed mobility choices alone. We estimate substantial heterogeneity in the willingness-to-pay (WTP) for location characteristics and in moving costs, both across and within demographic groups. We find moving costs to be strongly associated with attachment to the current neighborhood and dwelling and to social networks. Our results indicate evidence of sorting into current locations based on preferences for location attributes as well as a strong negative association between respondents' non-monetary moving costs and their moving expectations and actual mobility decisions.

Recruit to Reject? Harvard and African American Applicants
with Peter Arcidiacono and Josh Kinsler
Economics of Education Review, 2022, 88: 102255.
Guest column at VoxEU

Elite colleges in the US have seen dramatic increases in applications over the past few decades, in part the result of expanded applicant recruiting. However, broadening the applicant pool while also maintaining diversity may require encouraging applications from individuals who have little to no chance of admission. We shed new light on this behavior using detailed data on Harvard University that was made public as part of the SFFA v. Harvard lawsuit. We show that Harvard encourages applications from many students who effectively have no chance of being admitted, and that this is particularly true for African Americans. After a 28-year period where the African American share of applicants to Harvard was roughly stable, the African American share of applicants grew by almost 57% over four years. Yet, there was little change in the share of admits who were African American, consistent with our finding that the increase in applications was driven by those with lower SAT scores. We show that this change in applicant behavior resulted in substantial convergence in the overall admissions rates across races yet no change in the large cross-race differences in admissions rates for high-SAT applicants.

Asian American Discrimination in Harvard Admissions
with Peter Arcidiacono and Josh Kinsler
European Economic Review, 2022, 144: 104079.

Using detailed admissions data made public in the SFFA v. Harvard case, we examine how Asian American applicants are treated relative to similarly situated white applicants. Our preferred model shows that typical Asian American applicants would see their average admit rate rise by around 1 percentage point (19%) if they were treated as white applicants. We show that one of the channels through which Asian Americans are penalized is the personal rating and that including the personal rating cuts the Asian American penalty by less than half. While identifying the causal impact of race using observational data is challenging because of the presence of unobservables, this concern is mitigated in our setting. There is limited scope for omitted variables to overturn the result because (i) Asian Americans are substantially stronger than whites on the observables associated with admissions and (ii) the richness of the data yields a model that predicts admissions extremely well.

Labor Market Frictions and Moving Costs of the Employed and Unemployed
Journal of Human Resources, 2022, 57 (S): S137–S166

Search frictions and switching costs may grant monopsony power to incumbent employers by reducing workers' outside options. This paper examines the role of labor market frictions and moving costs in explaining worker flows across US labor markets. Using data on non-college-educated workers from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), I estimate a dynamic model of job search and location choice. I find that moving costs are substantial and that labor market frictions primarily inhibit the employed. Reducing these frictions would result in a higher wage elasticity of labor supply to the firm and could reduce employer monopsony power.

Legacy and Athlete Preferences at Harvard
with Peter Arcidiacono and Josh Kinsler
Journal of Labor Economics, 2022, 40 (1): 133–156.

We use public documents from the Students For Fair Admissions v. Harvard University lawsuit to examine admissions preferences for recruited athletes, legacies, those on the dean's interest list, and children of faculty and staff (ALDCs). Over 43% of white admits are ALDC; the share for African American, Asian American, and Hispanics is less than 16%. Our model of admissions shows that roughly three-quarters of white ALDC admits would have been rejected absent their ALDC status. Removing preferences for athletes and legacies would significantly alter the racial distribution of admitted students away from whites.

Changes across Cohorts in Wage Returns to Schooling and Early Work Experiences
with Jared Ashworth, V. Joseph Hotz, and Arnaud Maurel
Journal of Labor Economics, 2021, 39 (4): 931–964
Guest column at VoxEU

This paper investigates the wage returns to schooling and actual early work experiences, and how these returns have changed over the past twenty years. Using the NLSY surveys, we develop and estimate a dynamic model of the joint schooling and work decisions that young men make in early adulthood, and quantify how they affect wages using a generalized Mincerian specification. Our results highlight the need to account for dynamic selection and changes in composition when analyzing changes in wage returns. In particular, we find that ignoring the selectivity of accumulated work experiences results in overstatement of the returns to education.

Selective Migration, Occupational Choice, and the Wage Returns to College Majors
Annals of Economics & Statistics, 2021, No. 142: 45–110

I examine the extent to which the monetary returns to college majors are influenced by selective migration and occupational choice across locations in the US. To quantify the role of selection, I develop and estimate an extended Roy model of migration, occupational choice, and earnings where, upon completing their education, individuals choose a location in which to live and an occupation in which to work. In order to estimate this high-dimensional choice model, I make use of machine learning methods that allow for model selection and estimation simultaneously in a non-parametric setting. I find that OLS estimates of the return to business and STEM majors relative to education majors are biased upward by 15% at the median. Selection is strongest in locations in the Northeastern US.

Learning during the COVID-19 pandemic: It is not who you teach, but how you teach
with George Orlov, Doug McKee, James Berry, Austin Boyle, Thomas J. DiCiccio, Alex Rees-Jones, and Joerg Stoye
Economics Letters, 2021, Volume 202, Article 109812

We use standardized end-of-course knowledge assessments to examine student learning during the disruptions induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Examining seven economics courses taught at four US R1 institutions, we find that students performed substantially worse, on average, in Spring 2020 when compared to Spring or Fall 2019. We find no evidence that the effect was driven by specific demographic groups. However, our results suggest that teaching methods that encourage active engagement, such as the use of small group activities and projects, played an important role in mitigating this negative effect. Our results point to methods for more effective online teaching as the pandemic continues.

Do Foreigners Crowd Natives out of STEM Degrees and Occupations? Evidence from the U.S. Immigration Act of 1990
with John V. Winters.
ILR Review, 2021, 74 (2): 321–351.

This paper examines effects of the U.S. Immigration Act of 1990 on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and labor market outcomes for nativeborn Americans. The Act increased the inflow and stock of foreign STEM workers in the U.S., potentially altering the relative desirability of STEM fields for natives. The authors examine effects of the policy on STEM degree completion, STEM occupational choice, and employment rates separately for black and white men and women. The novel identification strategy measures exposure to foreign STEM workers of age-18 native cohorts immediately before and after the policy change via geographic dispersion of foreign-born STEM workers in 1980, which predicts subsequent foreign STEM flows. The Act affected natives in three ways: (1) black male students moved away from STEM majors; (2) white male STEM graduates moved away from STEM occupations; and (3) white female STEM graduates moved out of the workforce.

Published PDF
Preprint (January 9, 2019)
IZA Discussion Paper No. 9920 (April 2016)

Affirmative Action, Transparency, and the SFFA v. Harvard Case
with Peter Arcidiacono and Josh Kinsler
University of Chicago Law Review Online, 2020, October issue.
Note: Not peer-reviewed

Has the College Wage Premium Continued to Rise? Evidence from Multiple U.S. Surveys (with Jared Ashworth)
Economics of Education Review, 2019, 69 (1): 149–154.

This paper examines trends in the college wage premium (CWP) by birth cohort across the five major household surveys in the United States: the Census/ACS, CPS, NLSY, PSID, and SIPP. We document a general flattening in the CWP for birth cohorts 1970 and onward in each survey and even a decline for birth cohorts 1980–1984 in the NLSY. We discuss potential reasons for this finding and show that the empirical discrepancy is not a function of differences in composition across surveys. Our results provide crucial context for the vast economic literatures that use these surveys to answer important policy questions about intertemporal changes in the returns to skill.

Published PDF
Preprint (February 14, 2019)
IZA Discussion Paper No. 11657 (July 2018)

Do High School Sports Build or Reveal Character? Bounding Causal Estimates of Sports Participation (with Michael R Ransom)
Economics of Education Review, 2018, 64 (1), 75–89.

We examine the extent to which participation in high school athletics has beneficial effects on future education, labor market, and health outcomes. Due to the absence of plausible instruments in observational data, we use recently developed methods that relate selection on observables with selection on unobservables to estimate bounds on the causal effect of athletics participation. We analyze these effects in the US separately for men and women using three different nationally representative longitudinal data sets that each link high school athletics participation with later-life outcomes. We do not find consistent evidence of individual benefits reported in many previous studies—once we have accounted for selection, high school athletes are no more likely to attend college, earn higher wages, or participate in the labor force. However, we do find that men (but not women) who participated in high school athletics are more likely to exercise regularly as adults. Nevertheless, athletes are no less likely to be obese.

Published PDF
Preprint (March 30, 2018)
IZA Discussion Paper No. 11110 (October 2017)

Works in Progress

Beating the Heat: Temperature and Spatial Reallocation over the Long Run
with Christos Makridis.

Does temperature affect real economic activity? Using the annual Current Population Survey between 1963 and 2015, we show that there is no association between temperature and earnings, hours, or output after controlling for time-invariant spatial heterogeneity and time-varying demographic factors. These results are robust to five separate sources of micro-data, different sampling horizons, functional forms, spatial measures of temperature, and subsets of the data. This paper studies the relationship between temperature and productivity across space and time. Motivated by these null results, we develop a spatial equilibrium model where temperature can affect not only firm productivity, but also individual locational choice. After calibrating the model, we use it to disentangle the role of reallocation versus actual productivity losses in the U.S. economy between 1980 and 2015. Nearly all of the variation is driven by reallocation. We subsequently use the model to evaluate a counterfactual climate scenario and recover a new spatial equilibrium for the U.S. economy by 2050.

The Role of Supply and Demand Factors in Explaining the Migration of College Majors
with Joel McGuire.

This paper examines location as an outcome of college major choice. We document substantial differences in the spatial availability of college majors. These differences explain much of the cross-major variation in unemployment and migration, but not earnings. Using a natural experiment, we show that migration differences across majors appear to be driven by labor demand and not labor supply.

Minorities in STEM: The Role of Ability Revelation
with Nick Huntington-Klein.

Coming soon.