What Makes People Give?

Fund-raisers swear that gimmicks like matching grants, challenge grants, and rewards increase donations. But do they? Click to read the New York Times article.

A surprising way minorities are turned off by job postings

New research indicates that job listings with equal employment opportunity language draw fewer minority candidates—in some cases, 50% fewer—than ads without the phrase, due, at least in part, to fears about being token hires. Click to read the Quartz at Work article.

Interview with John List

In the mid-1990s, John List began conducting economic experiments, but in the field rather than in the lab. List has published more than 200 articles in refereed academic journals during the last 20 years, many on field experiments and related work. Click to read the full Richmond Fed interview about his work.

Speaker Spotlight

What are John’s research interests? What is John’s role at Lyft, and how does he balance that with his academic work at the University of Chicago? How does he apply his experience in conducting economic field experiments to his work at Lyft? What interesting insights has he discovered in his current work at Lyft? What is the number one piece of advice that John gives his students?

The Why Axis

Can economics be passionate?… Can it center on people and what really matters to them day-in and day-out.… And help us understand their hidden motives for why they do what they do in everyday life?  Click for more information about The Why Axis.


The Chicago Heights Early Childhood Center (CHECC) is an ongoing research study aimed at studying programs that will decrease the achievement gap. The goal of CHECC is to intervene as early as possible to generate effects that are as great as possible.

My passion is using field experiments to explore economic questions. I view field experiments as representing a unique manner in which to obtain data because they force the researcher to understand everyday phenomena, many of which we stumble upon frequently. Merely grasping the interrelationships of factors in field settings is not enough, however, as the field experimenter must then seek to understand i) the mechanisms underlying those relationships, and ii) more distant phenomena that have the same underlying structure. Until these dual goals are achieved, one cannot reap the true rewards of field experimentation. For a more patient exposition of my views on field experimentation, please see this interview with Aaron Steelman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

To obtain field experimental data, I started in the early 1990s by exploring behaviors in the only market I had expertise in and the one I could self-fund: the sportscard trading market. Since those early days, I have branched out considerably. By now, I have made use of several different markets, including using hospitals, pre-K, grammar, and high schools for educational field experiments, countless charitable fundraising field experiments to learn about the science of philanthropy, the Chicago Board of Trade, Costa Rican CEOs, the new automobile market, coin markets, auto repair markets, open air markets located throughout the globe, various venues on the internet, several auction settings, shopping malls, various labor markets, and partnered with various governmental agencies.

More recently, I have been engaged in a series of field experiments with various publicly traded corporations—from car manufacturers to travel companies to ride-share. I view this as exciting because I can put economic theories and behavioral approaches to the test in the markets with which economists concern themselves. Not only have results proven to be informative and valuable but also above expectations, as successful field experiments yielding quite interesting data patterns have been generated. Most recently, these revolve around the economics of tipping, the economics of apologies, and the economics of the gender pay gap in the gig economy.

While my work in education and charity continue to be a major focus of my current research agenda, overall, the data that I have collected have provided insights into many subsets of microeconomics including how behavioral economic theories apply in the real world, pricing behavior, discrimination in the marketplace, the valuation of non-marketed goods and services, public good provisioning, auction theory, and the role of the market in the development of rationality.

Below please find select areas that my research has touched. Please click on the links and images to see my research.