I am a behavioral economist studying applied micro questions in fields such as education, development, and family economics. In my research, I examine social influences on individual behavior and beliefs (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 Postdoctoral Fellow at the briq Institute on Behavior & Inequality and will join the Toulouse School of Economics as an Assistant Professor in September 2023. In May 2022 I completed my PhD in Economics at UC Berkeley. 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

Selective Memory around Big Life Decisions [pdf]

Selective memory can lead people to mistake life outcomes as what they always wanted. Using data on past fertility desires from a panel tracking fertility preferences and actual fertility for 3,936 Kenyans from their early twenties to their thirties, I provide monetary incentives to remember and to be reminded of past desires. I find that: (i) 29% of respondents have more children by their thirties than once desired; (ii) despite incentives, especially respondents with excess fertility misremember past desires in the direction of current fertility and do not want to be reminded of them, consistent with motivated memory; (iii) selective memory affects the intergenerational transmission of fertility preferences.

Coverage: Roland Bénabou's 2021 Jean-Jacques Laffont Prize lecture on "Beliefs and Misbeliefs: The Economics of Wishful Thinking", video here (1:04:24 to 1:09:40)


The Illusion of Stable Fertility Preferences (Population Studies) (with Joan Hamory, Jennifer Johnson-Hanks and Edward Miguel) [pdf]

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 a nine-year period, when respondents were in their 20s. 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, such 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)