Field and Lab Experiments in Beliefs
This dissertation explores the role of beliefs in behavior using field and lab experiments. The first paper establishes a methodological framework for measuring beliefs (first-order) and beliefs about beliefs (second-order) about differences between two populations. The methodological framework is implemented in a lab experiment to measure first- and second-order beliefs about the differences between women and men in their performance on a math task and their choices in an abstract bargaining task. The second paper uses this methodological framework in a combination field and lab experiment to show that workers' second-order beliefs about managers' first-order beliefs regarding the relative productivity of women and men affect workers' job application decisions. The third paper tests how players' behavior in a game of school choice is affected by strategy advice. This lab experiment demonstrates how beliefs about optimal strategies can be affected by information. Beliefs about beliefs---second-order beliefs---about the differences between populations are important to understanding differences in outcomes between those populations. To study their potential impact, the first paper in this dissertation (co-authored with Andrew Dustan and Greg Leo) develops an incentive-compatible experimental framework for eliciting first- and second-order beliefs about the differences in any measurable characteristics between any two populations. We implement the procedure to study beliefs about the performance of men and women on math and abstract bargaining tasks. In the math task, 78% of participants believe that most men believe men outscore women. In contrast, 34% believe that most women believe men outscore women. Despite these differences in second-order beliefs, we observe no such difference in first-order beliefs. The pattern of results is similar in the bargaining task. These results have important labor market implications for the persistence of gender gaps. The second paper in this dissertation investigates how workers' job application decisions are affected by their beliefs about hiring managers' beliefs regarding the relative productivity of women and men. To this end, I combine a natural field experiment with a lab experiment. In the field experiment, I partner with a firm to solicit approximately 5,000 job applications using ads that randomize over the gender of the hiring manager and the gender associations of the product sector. I then recruit the same job-seekers to a structured online lab experiment to elicit their beliefs about hiring managers' beliefs, based on the manager's gender and product sector. Truth-telling is incentivized with the Binarized Scoring Rule, using the methodological framework I adapt from the first paper in this dissertation. I find that men are more likely to apply for a job with a manager whom they believe has beliefs that favor men more. A one standard deviation increase in beliefs about the manager's beliefs increases the probability a man applies by 30%. On the other hand, women are unresponsive to their beliefs about managers' beliefs. These results have important implications for the sorting by gender behavior driving a large part of the gender wage gap. The third paper in this dissertation (co-authored with Andrew Dustan, Martin van der Linden, and Myrna Wooders) implements a lab experiment to study how strategy advice affects participant decisions in a school choice game. In the Deferred Acceptance (DA) mechanism, advice to choose the dominant strategy of truth-telling induces participants to do so. In the Immediate Acceptance (IA) mechanism, advice to implement one of two heuristic strategies induces participants to choose one of those strategies. Using the varying proportions of participants choosing sub-optimal strategies in our data and a new partially-ordered typology of DA strategies, we perform exploratory analyses on mechanism performance. We find that DA outperforms IA, particularly under sub-optimal play, for almost all participants. These results demonstrate that beliefs about optimal strategies can be affected through information provision, ultimately impacting the performance of matching mechanisms.