Working papers and works in progress

College Admissions Testing and Learning about Ability: Evidence from Strategic ACT and SAT Taking. 

Draft available upon request. 


Using administrative data from North Carolina, I study the decision to take multiple college admissions tests in the presence of universal ACT testing. I find that low-income students are less likely than their peers to take the SAT in addition to the state-mandated ACT, and that they improve upon their initial ACT scores by less when doing so. Taken together, these disparities decrease low-income students’ rankings in the test score distribution when evaluating students on their maximum score rather than their initial ACT score. I provide evidence that income gaps in multiple test-taking are partially driven by differential responses to the ability signal sent by a student’s initial ACT score.

Impacts of Unconditional Cash on Single Parenthood of Young Children in the U.S.: Evidence from the Baby’s First Years Study. 


Shah, Hema & Lisa A. Gennetian. (2023, forthcoming). Unconditional Cash Transfers for Families with Children in the U.S.: A Scoping Review. Review of Economics of the Household

NBER Working Paper w30965 available here.                                                                                        


Children represent the largest indirect beneficiaries of the U.S. social welfare system. Yet, many questions remain about the direct benefits of cash aid to children. The current understanding of the impacts of cash aid in the U.S. is drawn primarily from studies of in-kind benefits, tax credits, and conditional cash aid programs. A corresponding economics literature focuses on the role of income and the labor supply responses of parents, parenting skills, and early education as family investment mechanisms that reduce socioeconomic inequality in children’s well-being. In contrast to the U.S., dozens of low- to middle-income nations use direct cash aid—conditional or unconditional—as a central policy strategy, with demonstrated positive effects across a host of economic and health measures and selected aspects of children’s health and schooling. This paper reviews the economic research on U.S. safety net programs and cash aid to families with children and discusses what existing studies reveal about the impacts of cash aid on family investment mechanisms and children’s outcomes. We specifically highlight gaps in understanding the impacts of unconditional cash aid on children. We then review nine contemporary unconditional cash transfer programs and discuss their promise and limitations in filling the U.S.-based economic evidence gap. 

Shah, Hema. (2020). A Glass Escalator for Female UVA Graduates? Gender Gaps Across the Starting Salary Distribution. Atlantic Economic Journal, 48(4), 539-541.

Full text PDF available here.                                                                                           


Despite unprecedented increases in women’s college attendance and labor force participation over the last century, large gender differences in pay persist even for graduates of elite universities. Can these gender differences in salary be explained by observed differences in graduates’ skills and preparation, such as choice of major? Using unique data from the University of Virginia Career Center, I apply linear Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition models as well as unconditional quantile decomposition methods to measure the extent to which differences in early career compensation can be explained by observable differences in productive characteristics. I find that the explained share varies greatly across the pay distribution. In particular, at the low end of the salary distribution, the gender pay gap is larger and is only partially accounted for by gender differences in college major choice, industry choice, and internship experience. At the middle of the pay distribution, the gender pay gap can be almost entirely attributed to observable gender differences in these characteristics. Interestingly, at the high end of the salary distribution, gender differences in college major choice, industry choice, and internship experience suggest that the gender pay gap should be even larger than what is observed in the data. My results suggest that female graduates in high-paying majors and industries do not encounter a “glass ceiling” at the beginning of their careers. Rather, female UVA graduates either receive preferential labor market treatment, are more competent than male peers in the same majors and industries, or demand compensating wage differentials to account for differences in preferences for certain high-paying positions.