Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award

Summer 8-1-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Alberto Chong

Second Advisor

Thomas Mroz

Third Advisor

Jonathan Smith

Fourth Advisor

Gustavo Bobonis


This dissertation comprises of essays in the field of development economics. Leveraging insights from psychology, mingling them in economic theory, and testing them through experimental (and quasi-experimental) methods, I study three policy questions: Does grading system affect student performance? Does symbolic incentive offered in a competitive game increase student attendance? Does institutional quality affect the provision of public goods and the perception of tax as a burden?

In the first chapter, I study whether level of discretization of reported grades to students affect their academic performance? This is the first experimental study to test how performance reporting using a coarse grading scale: {A,B,C,D,F} (Letter Grading System or LGS - the treatment group) or a very fine grading scale: [0,100] (Numerical Grading System or NGS - the control group) affects student performance. While I find no difference in average student performance between LGS and NGS, this negligible effect, however, masks important gender-differences in student performance with female students responding more positively to NGS and male students responding more positively to LGS. The theoretical model presented in the paper throws light on a possible mechanism (risk-attitudes) causing these gender-differences. This evidence is informative of the role that the chosen grading scale may have played in the widely seen gender-gap in student learning.

In the second chapter, I report the results of a field experiment conducted to study how student attendance changes when transformed into a strategic-decision using a competitive game setting. The game awarded points to students based on their daily attendance. Each student could track the weekly status of his/her game points, along with the game points of every other student in the class, thereby bringing an explicit strategic element to the intervention. The scoring rule had a novel weighting mechanism, designed to lower absenteeism by a greater degree in the weeks when students are more likely to be absent. This experiment was conducted with 217 classrooms, divided into two treatments (Group Game and Classroom Game) and one control group of a not-for-profit educational institution in India. Symbolic rewards were provided to the winners of the game in the treatment classrooms. The results show a significant positive effect on students whose attendance was greater than 75% while not much effect on the rest. This provides evidence of how the use of a simple competitive game with low-cost, symbolic rewards can efficiently and positively impact student attendance.

In the third chapter, coauthor Alberto Chong and I study the role that institutional quality plays in determining government’s effectiveness in delivering public goods and in, therefore, mediating the effects of higher taxation in an economy. This study is inspired from the observation that poorer countries, despite having a much smaller public sector and correspondingly a smaller tax burden than richer countries, have mostly displayed a weaker economic performance than richer countries. Using a simple theoretical model, we show that the provision of public goods and optimal tax levels increase with improved institutional quality. Using firm level perceptions data on the quality of public services and the tax burden, consistent with the predictions of our model, we find that a higher level of institutional quality bolsters positive perception of the quality of public services while at the same time moderating the view of the taxes as an obstacle to growth.