Working papers

Was Banfield Right? New Insights from a Nationwide Laboratory Experiment
Co-authored with A. Aassve & F. Mattioli – R&R Journal of Regional Science
Since the pioneering study by Banfield (1958), the north-south gap in Ital- ian social capital has been considered by international scholars as an example of how cultural diversity within a country can generate different developmen- tal outcomes. Most studies, however, suffer from limited external validity and measurement error. This paper exploits a new and representative online lab- experiment to assess social-capital patterns in Italy. Unlike previous exper- iments, we do not inform participants about the geographic origins of their counterparts. This feature allows us to assess the north-south gap in univer- sal, as opposed to parochial, behavior. Results suggest that southerners and northerners do not systematically differ in generalized prosocial preferences. Northerners perform better only in trustworthiness, while they are statistically similar to southerners in many other economic preferences such as cooperation, trust, expected trustworthiness, altruism, and risk tolerance. We also show that the gap in trustworthiness stems from the lower reciprocity of southerners in response to large transfers, and it is characterized by the intergenerational transmission of norms. Possible policy implications are discussed.

I’m a survivor, keep on surviving: Early‐life exposure to conflict and subjective survival probabilities in adult life
Co-authored with B. Arpino & F. Salustri – R&R Journal of Population Economics
Life-course analyses have shown that early-life characteristics predict health and socio- economic status in adult life. This study analyses whether experiencing a traumatic event in childhood, i.e. the Second World War (WW2), affects a novel adulthood outcome, i.e. perceived longevity. We rely on a representative sample of European adults who were differentially exposed to WW2 early in life depending on their date and place of birth. Our results show that exposure to WW2 increases expected longevity, with socio-economic and health characteristics not playing a mediating role neither in childhood nor in adulthood. War exposure also counterbalances the adverse effects of health impairments on subjective survival probabilities, but it does not affect health outcomes per se. This latter fact, jointly with low mortality rates of the cohort under investigation, suggests that selective mortality and post-traumatic stress are not the main drivers of our findings. Our evidence, instead, provides support to the hypothesis that personal growth and life appreciation emerge after traumatic events, thereby leading to optimistic perceptions of longevity among war-exposed respondents. Policy implications are discussed in the light of the importance of perceived survival for predicting future health and economic choices. 

Culture and contemporary fertility dynamics in Europe
Co-authored with A. Aassve, F. Luppi & L. Mencarini – R&R European Sociological Review
The paper offers a new approach for analyzing the role of culture in contemporary fertility dynamics. Instead of considering the direct impact of culture on fertility, the authors argue that culture matters through its interaction with global trends. The study focuses on one cultural trait, namely generalized morality, which is conceptualized and measured with the values of respect, obedience, generalized trust and control. We limit ourselves to the period between 2000 and 2014, when there were divergent fertility trends in Europe and, in the latter part of this period, the Great Recession and its aftermath. Using Eurostat and OECD macro data for 177 regions in 23 European countries, a series of moderation analyses provide evidence that generalized morality is positively associated with fertility through the expansion of female education and the expansion of child-care services. Our results suggest, too, that generalized morality can sustain fertility in periods of heightened uncertainty. 

Understanding the heterogeneity of adverse COVID-19 outcomes: the role of poor quality of air and lockdown decisions
Co-authored with L. Becchetti, G. Conzo & F. Salustri
The uneven geographical distribution of the novel coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19) in Italy is a puzzle given the intense flow of movements among the different geographical areas before lockdown decisions. To shed light on it we test the effect of five potential correlates of daily adverse COVID-19 outcomes at province level, that is lockdown decisions, demographic structure, economic activity, temperature and particulate matter. We find that poor quality of air has a crucial role in making the effects of epidemic more serious, while lockdown and social distancing seem to be effective for contagions, but not yet for deceases. Consistent with previous studies, poor quality of air creates chronic exposure to adverse outcomes from respiratory diseases that increases such adverse outcomes in presence of virus circulation. The heterogeneity of diffusion does not seem to depend on other pre-existing factors that we test, i.e. temperature, commuting, health system efficiency, population density and the presence of Chinese community. We find, however, that COVID-19 outcomes are correlated with the presence of artisan firms. Our findings provide suggestions for investigating uneven geographical distribution patterns in other countries, and have relevant implications with respect to environmental and lockdown policies.

Park Municipalities and Mortality during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Co-authored with L. Becchetti, G. Conzo & F. Salustri
There is widespread debate on the drivers of heterogeneity of adverse COVID-19 pandemic outcomes and, more specifically, on the role played by context-specific factors. We contribute to this literature by testing the role of environmental factors as measured by environmentally protected areas. We test our research hypothesis by showing that the difference between the number of daily deaths per 1,000 inhabitants in 2020 and the 2018-19 average during the pandemic period is significantly lower in Italian municipalities located in environmentally protected areas such as national parks or regional parks. After controlling for fixed effects and various concurring factors, municipalities with higher share of environmentally protected areas show significantly lower mortality during the pandemic than municipalities that do not benefit from such environmental amenities.

Perceived immigration and voting behavior
Co-authored with D. Bellucci & R. Zotti
A growing number of studies have found significant effects of inflows of migrants on electoral outcomes. However, the role of perceived immigration, which in many European countries is above official migration statistics, is overlooked. This paper investigates the effects of perceived threat of immigration on voting behavior, by looking at whether local elections in Italy were affected by sea arrivals of refugees before the election day. While, upon arrival, refugees cannot freely go to the destination municipality, landing episodes were discussed in the media especially before the elections, thereby influencing voters’ perceptions about the arrivals. We develop an index of exposure to arrivals that varies over time and across municipalities depending on the nationality of the incoming refugees. This index captures the impact of perceived immigration on voting behavior, on top of the effects of real immigration as proxied for by the stock of immigrants and the presence of refugee centers. Results show that, in municipalities where refugees are more expected to arrive, participation decreases, whereas protest votes and support for extreme-right, populist and anti-immigration parties increase. Since these effects are driven by areas with fast broadband availability, we argue that anti-immigration campaigns played a key role.

The hidden cost of humanization: Individuating information reduces prosocial behavior toward ingroup members
Co-authored with S. Huettel, R. Kranton, V. Lee
Humanization increases pro-social behavior toward dehumanized outgroup members. The consequences for ingroup members, however, are less clear: does humanization increase or decrease pro-social behavior toward people within one’s own social group? We found robust support for a competitive model in which humanization decreases prosocial behavior toward ingroup members; these results replicated across multiple methods for group formation and different experimental games. Experiment 1 provided initial results in a Dictator Game. Experiment 2 replicated these results and showed that the effect resulted from decreased reliance on group membership labels – not the induction of new group identities. Experiments 3 and 4 demonstrated that this effect generalizes to more complex contexts, in Third-Party and Trust Games, respectively. Together, these results indicated that humanization carries a hidden cost for ingroup members by disrupting group identities that would otherwise make them targets of altruistic actions.

Social Identity and Punishment 
Co-authored with J. Butler & M. Leroch – dormant paper
Third party punishment is crucial for sustaining cooperative behavior. Still, little is known about its determinants. In this paper we use laboratory experiments to in- vestigate a long-conjectured interaction between group identification and bystanders’ punishment preferences using a novel measure of these preferences. We induce minimal groups and give a bystander the opportunity to punish the perpetrator of an unfair act against a defenseless victim. We elicit the bystander’s valuation for punishment in four cases: when the perpetrator, the victim, both or neither are members of the bystander’s group. We generate testable predictions about the rank order of punishment valuations from a simple framework incorporating group-contingent preferences for justice which are largely confirmed. Finally, we conduct control sessions where groups are not in- duced. Comparing punishment across treatment and control suggests that third-party punishers tend to treat others as in-group members unless otherwise divided.

Bank strategies in catastrophe settings: empirical evidence and policy suggestions
Co-authored with L. Becchetti & S. Castriota – dormant paper
The poor in developing countries are the most exposed to natural catastrophes and microfinance organizations may potentially ease their economic recovery. Yet, no evidence on MFIs strategies after natural disasters exists. We aim to fill this gap with a database which merges bank records of loans, issued before and after the 2004 Tsunami by a Sri Lankan MFI recapitalized by Western donors, with detailed survey data on the corresponding borrowers. Evidence of effective post-calamity intervention is supported since the defaults in the post-Tsunami years (2004-2006) do not imply smaller loans in the period following the recovery (2007-2011) while Tsunami damages increase their size. Furthermore, a cross-subsidization mechanism is in place: clients with a long successful credit history (and also those not damaged by the calamity) pay higher interest rates. All these features helped damaged people to recover and repay both new and previous loans. However, we also document an abnormal and significant increase in default rates of non victims suggesting the existence of contagion and/or strategic default problems. For this reason we suggest reconversion of donor aid into financial support to compulsory micro insurance schemes for borrowers.