Job market paper

This study shows that civilians' behavior can be severely affected by territorial occupation by an insurgent group, and that these effects can persist after the government regains control and the occupation ends. I consider a framework of civilian behavior under insurgent rule, where civilians have the option to cooperate with, or resist, rules imposed by insurgents. I exploit the temporary occupation of territory in Nigeria by Boko Haram, an insurgent group with a strong anti-educational stance, as a quasi-experiment. Behavior is measured through school participation among children. Using individual-level panel data, I compare children exposed to the insurgency with children exposed to both the insurgency and occupation. The main results show (i) an immediate, negative effect on school participation, especially for those sharing a social identity with the insurgents, exposed to violent rule enforcement, and facing social pressure to conform, (ii) these negative effects persist in the long-run for the first and second group only. The effects cannot be explained by well-documented mechanisms linking conflict to lower school participation, demonstrating the need for accounting for occupation, and not solely violence, when considering the impact of insurgencies on civilians.


In a time of rising threat, recurring discussions about burden sharing within NATO and almost twenty years after the start of the 'war on terrorism', I explore a novel idea in the field of alliance and defense spending: the effect of alliance-membership on defense spending in response to a threat. Instead of estimating the determinants of defense spending or burden sharing among members, this paper focuses on two types of states (small and large) and how alliance membership shapes their response to threat. Using the synthetic control method, I create a comparison unit for each type consisting of a weighted average of non-NATO, European countries. 2001 is considered as the starting year of widespread threat, caused by a sudden increase in transnational terrorism. This way, I can estimate the 'alliance effect'. I find that both types of states have stronger (positive) response to threat as NATO members, compared to if they would not have been part of the alliance.

Working papers

Though there is evidence indicating that the presence of coca increases violence, changes to the price of coca products can have both negative and positive effects on conflict. This study addresses this matter, using novel data on local prices of coca products, production and supply chain differences. Using this data, it is possible to disentangle the returns to employment in the agricultural sector (coca cultivation) and employment in the criminal sector (being a member of a militia or armed group). Proxies are developed for each of these concepts: income from coca cultivation for farmers, agricultural households and cultivators and the objective prize for armed groups and militias. This paper thereby identifies each agents' respective exposure to price changes, and estimates the effect of such changes on violence. The results show the presence of the opportunity cost effect: an increase in income from coca results in a reduction in violence. This reduction comes with an increase in school attendance for rural households. An increase in the objective prize leads to more violence. Moreover, armed groups flock to the area that witnesses an such an increase, resulting in higher levels of competition which coincides with the timing of the increase in violence. Additionally, increases in expected returns to joining a militia can potentially lead to a higher school dropout rate among children.

The Olympic effect: fact or fiction? (co-authored with Mustafa Kaba). Under review.

Hosting the Olympic Games implies tremendous costs and uncertain profits, yet countries historically have been striving to host this mega event and bidding decisively. More recently though, countries are withdrawing their bids from the election procedure. This puzzling historical interest in hosting the games and the recent trend of withdrawals cast doubt on the existence of the so-called Olympic effect: the positive impact of the Olympics on international trade. In this paper, we estimate the Olympic effect on long-term exports using the synthetic control method. We show that the Olympic effect is more pronounced for countries that stand to gain from an international publicity. The results also present the novel insight that a substantial positive Olympic effect is only associated with earlier games.

Work in progress

Reputation signaling and contract-intensive industries (with Mustafa Kaba)

Reputation plays a crucial role in business and trade. In this paper, we argue that contract-intensive industries are more likely to suffer from a reputation trap due to their heavy reliance on relationship-specific inputs that are otherwise not sold on exchange. We then argue that a way out of this trap is to have a third-party organization signalling reputation on behalf of them. We test the effectiveness of this strategy using the Olympics Games as an instrument to signal reputation and to increase the export levels of contract-intensive industries. We find that hosting the Olympics lead to ~20% increase in the exports of these industries compared to non-contract-intensive industries.

Shocks to international food prices: food security in sub-Saharan Africa

Can food prices explain food security? Survey data shows that less than 10% of people cite (high) prices as the first or second reason for experiencing food insecurity. This project examines drivers of food security and household fragility in conflict affected areas.

It was better back in my day: heterogeneity in support for democracy (with Tuuli Tähtinen)

This project focuses on explaining significant heterogeneity across age groups with respect to support for democracy and electoral participation, and considers to what extent (violent) protests and exposure to conflict can explain these differences.

Religious violence and the spread of ideology

This project focuses on the question of whether being confronted with sets of ideas, convictions and ideologies – such as religion – through conflict leads to shifts in the (reported) religion of individuals. Such an alignment could be either due to a genuine shift in preferences or strategic, as individuals try to avoid potential retaliation. I compare violence carried out by self-representing religious militias to violence carried out by groups that do not align themselves with a religion.