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South Africa

“Your Ex Knows Best” - The Value of Reference Letters: Guest Post by Martin Abel

This is the first in our series of posts by Ph.D. students on the job market this year.
One of the key challenges of markets is to assess the quality of goods. A look at online dating websites – a market where information asymmetries loom particularly large - shows different ways in which people try to communicate that they are of “high quality”. A common strategy is to start your introduction with “My friends describe me as…” (to be followed by some glowing testimony “…smart, athletic, high-achieving – yet humble”). Why may this strategy not be effective? It raises questions about whether these friends are truthful and whether they have all the relevant information about your quality as a partner. The really interesting question you never see answered is: “How would your ex-partner describe you?”

My job market paper “The Value of Reference Letters”, coauthored with Rulof Burger (SU) and Patrizio Piraino (UCT), is about the challenges hiring firms face in identifying high-quality applicants. While the literature has largely focused on the role of friends and family members (Topa 2011, Beaman and Magruder 2012) in job referrals, we investigate whether information from ex-employers can facilitate the matching process. Specifically, we test the effect of a standardized reference letter asking previous employers to rate workers on a range of hard skills (e.g. numeracy, literacy) and soft skills (e.g. reliability, team ability).

When bad people do good surveys

Markus Goldstein's picture
So there I was, a graduate student doing my PhD fieldwork.    In the rather hot office at the University of Ghana, I was going through questionnaire after questionnaire checking for consistency, missed questions and other dimensions of quality.   All of a sudden I saw a pattern:  in the time allocation questions, men in one village seemed to be doing the exact same things, for the same amount of time, on two very different days of the week.  
 

Rethinking the household: the impacts of transfers

Markus Goldstein's picture
Two weeks ago, I blogged about some productive impacts of cash transfer programs.   For these effects, as well as the myriad other blog posts and papers on this topic out there, a key point is that the benefits of these transfers extend well beyond the actual individual recipient of the transfer.   
 

What the HIV prevention gel trial failure implies for trials in economics

Berk Ozler's picture

For the World AIDS Day, there is a sign at the World Bank that states that taking ARVs reduces rate of HIV transmission by 96%. If this was last year, a sign somewhere may well have read “A cheap microbicidal gel that women can use up to 12 hours before sexual intercourse reduces HIV infection risk by more than half – when used consistently.” Well, sadly, it turns out, so much for that.