I am interested in understanding how culture shapes political and development outcomes. By culture, I mean shared beliefs and preferences of groups, in particular, which are shaped by social norms, religion, and social identity. Culture shapes political and economic outcomes through the tastes and wants of respective group members. One implication is that understanding this process is fundamental to comprehend the causes of certain outcomes and to inform the design and implementation of various policies in a way that addresses, or even takes advantage, of this knowledge. While paying special attention to causal identification, my work applied a broad range of methods, including advanced econometrics, survey experiments, and social statistics.
Job Market Paper (Econ JM Best Paper Award, 7th edition)
Coverage : World Bank Development Impact
I show that new economic opportunities that compel women to abandon their domestic roles have driven the adoption of religious veiling. Using human-coded data of around a quarter million photographs of pupils attached to Indonesian public high school yearbooks, I measure the prevalence of veiling among young women across Indonesian districts for more than two decades. I exploit exogenous variations generated by the interaction between international demand for Indonesia's product and sectoral and gender composition of local industries to show that the relationship is causal. This study demonstrates that veiling represents an effort by young women to reconcile their desire to join the formal labor market and the prevailing social norms in society.
This study postulates that the degree of competition between factions within the politically influential (majority) group in society could explain the severity of ethnic conflicts. Competing factions engage in various activism, including violence against "others", to signal their commitment towards the group, to gain sympathy and support. I devise a new index of factional competition to capture this phenomenon. Using the context of Indonesia’s consolidating democracy and its religious organizational dynamics, I show that this index is strongly correlated with the severity of religious conflicts, measured by the number of fatalities from religious violence. This relationship is robust to controlling for widely used fragmentation and polarization indexes as well as a wide range of confounders. In placebo tests, I show that this index has no relationship with other types of violence, such as crimes or domestic violence, or even other conflicts that are not religiously motivated.
Money or ideology: The motivation of politicians in a young democracy
Which factors shape the behavior of politicians? Using a novel, hand-coded dataset of over 1500 reports of wealth declaration by Indonesia’s Member of Parliament, I attempt to shed light on this question. Multiple reports submitted by individual MPs at a different point in time allow me to estimate the effect of sitting in a parliamentary position on personal wealth accumulation by holding individual characteristics constant. I find that politicians from ideological (Islamist) parties significantly differ from their non-ideological MP fellows in characteristics that are in line with their ideological tenets: They are poorer, have more children and are less likely to be a woman. Importantly, compared to non-ideological MPs, politicians from Islamist parties have a significantly lower growth of personal wealth. Further analysis suggests that different mechanism of vote gathering is the driver for this gap in behavior. The findings suggest that ideology could play as a disciplining mechanism for politicians in a clientelistic political environment.