I am a behavioral economist studying applied micro questions in fields such as education and development. In my research, I examine social influences on individual behavior (e.g. social- or self-image concerns) around big life decisions such as career or fertility choices and explore their potential consequences for society-wide outcomes such as intergenerational transmission and social mobility.

I am a PhD-candidate in the Economics department at UC Berkeley and will be on the job market in 2021-22. I will be available for interviews during both the EJME 2021 and the ASSA 2022 Annual Meeting or any other suitable time in December/January.

Prior to my PhD, I obtained an M.Phil. in Economics from the University of Oxford, a B.Sc. in Economics from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and spent a year as visiting undergraduate student at Harvard University.

You can find my CV here.

If you have comments, thoughts, ideas or questions related to my research, don't hesitate to reach out!

Contact: mwmueller[at]berkeley.edu

Job Market Paper

Intergenerational Transmission of Education: Internalized Aspirations versus Parent Pressure (pdf)

High school graduates in Germany who lack parents with college experience are 40 percentage points less likely to attend college than those with college-educated parents, despite the fact that in Germany college is free. This study provides evidence that parental influence explains a significant portion of this socio-economic gap through at least two channels: one, parental pressure and two, the intergenerational transmission of beliefs and preferences. To understand parental influence, I conduct a field experiment with 1,195 students and 819 parents in Germany. Importantly, I experimentally make students' stated college plans visible to parents. In the first finding, visibility to parents doubles the socio-economic gap in college plans to 27 percentage points. This is mainly driven by a large increase in college plans among students with college-educated parents. To disentangle mechanisms, I collect detailed survey data on students' and parents' subjective expectations for various career tracks and estimate a structural model of career choice under uncertainty. Model simulations indicate that 40% of the socio-economic gap in college plans is explained by parental pressure and 44% by students internalizing family-specific beliefs.

Working Papers

Experimental Evidence on Selective Memory of Big Life Decisions using 10 Years of Panel Survey Data [pdf]

This study shows that motivated memory biases influence how life outcomes shape preferences and beliefs. I design randomized experiments around memory and embed them in a panel tracking fertility preferences and actual fertility for 3,928 Kenyans over a decade from their early twenties to their thirties. Using data on respondents' actual past fertility desires, I provide experimental incentives to remember and to be reminded of past desires. I report five results. First, 30% of respondents have more children by their thirties than once desired. Second, respondents are systematically biased in recalling past fertility desires -- they mis-remember past desired fertility in the direction of current fertility. Third, financial incentives improve memory of neutral questions like Kenya's past vice-president. For those who do not have more children than once desired they also improve memory of past fertility desires. However, financial incentives do not improve memory of past fertility desires for those with more children than once desired, suggesting selective forgetting is deliberate and motivated. Consistent with motivated memory, and my fourth finding, respondents with more children than once desired forego money to avoid information about their past desires. Fifth, motivated memory affects what preferences respondents pass on to the next generation. The paper also makes the methodological point that selective memory can systematically bias answers to retrospective survey questions.

The Illusion of Stable Fertility Preferences (revised and submitted) (with Joan Hamory, Jennifer Johnson-Hanks and Edward Miguel)

Abstract: Fertility preferences have long played a key role in models of fertility differentials and change. We examine the stability of preferences over time using rich panel data on Kenyan women's fertility desires, expectations, actual fertility and recall of desires in three waves over nine years when respondents were in their twenties. We find that although desired fertility is quite unstable, most women perceive their desires to be stable. Under hypothetical future scenarios, few expect their desired fertility to increase over time, but in fact increases in fertility desires are common. Moreover, when asked to recall past desires, most respondents report previously wanting exactly as many children as they desire today. These patterns of bias are consistent with the emerging view that fertility desires are contextual, emotionally laden, and structured by identity.

Work in Progress

The Economic Value of Identity (with Eugen Dimant, Kwabena Donkor, Lorenz Götte, Michael Kurschilgen)