Valentin Bolotnyy

Kleinheinz Fellow

Hoover Institution

Stanford University

I am an economist and Kleinheinz Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. I work on topics across public and labor economics, often forming research partnerships with government agencies to improve public services and gain insight into social behavior. I am also an Affiliated Scholar with the Deliberative Democracy Lab at Stanford's Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL).

I received a PhD in Economics from Harvard University and a BA in Economics and International Relations from Stanford University.

Email: vbolotnyy@stanford.edu
Office: Herbert Hoover Memorial Building (HHMB) 107
434 Galvez Mall
Stanford, CA 94305


Graduate Student Mental Health: Lessons from American Economics Departments

We study the mental health of graduate students at 8 top-ranked economics PhD programs in the U.S. using clinically validated surveys. We find that 24.8% experience moderate or severe symptoms of depression or anxiety - more than two times the population average. Though our response rate was 45.1% and sample selection concerns exist, conservative lower bounds nonetheless suggest higher prevalence rates of such symptoms than in the general population. Mental health issues are especially prevalent at the end of the PhD program: 36.7% of students in years 6+ of their program experience moderate or severe symptoms of depression or anxiety, versus 21.2% of first-year students. 25.2% of economics students with these symptoms are in treatment, compared to 41.4% of graduate students in other programs. A similar percentage of economics students (40-50%) say they cannot honestly discuss mental health with advisers as say they cannot easily discuss non-academic career options with them. Only 26% find their work to be useful always or most of the time, compared to 70% of economics faculty and 63% of the working age population. We provide recommendations for students, faculty, and administrators on ways to improve graduate student mental health.

Scaling Auctions as Insurance: A Case Study in Infrastructure Procurement

Most U.S. government spending on highways and bridges is done through “scaling” procurement auctions, in which private construction firms submit unit price bids for each piece of material required to complete a project. Using data on bridge maintenance projects undertaken by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), we present evidence that firm bidding behavior in this context is consistent with optimal skewing under risk aversion: firms limit their risk exposure by placing lower unit bids on items with greater uncertainty. We estimate the amount of uncertainty in each auction, and the distribution of bidders’ private costs and risk aversion. Simulating equilibrium item-level bids under counterfactual settings, we estimate the fraction of project spending that is due to risk and evaluate auction mechanisms under consideration by policymakers. We find that scaling auctions provide substantial savings relative to lump sum auctions and show how our framework can be used to evaluate alternative auction designs.

Immigrant Intergenerational Mobility: A Focus on Childhood Environment

Over 60% of immigrant parents in Sweden start off in the bottom quintile of the income distribution, yet only about 30% of their children are still in the bottom income quintile in adulthood. This progress notwithstanding, we show using administrative data that immigrant children who grow up in the 20th income percentile place three income ranks lower than native children of similarly low-income parents. This income gap cannot be explained by differences in parent education levels, family structure, or municipality of residence. The gap can, however, be explained by differences in immediate, 100 × 100 - meter neighborhoods. Immigrant children grow up in relatively denser neighborhoods with fewer native-born and high-earning neighbors. Data from Stockholm suggest that immigrant families sort into different neighborhoods than natives due to Sweden’s rental housing allocation mechanism that is based on waiting time rather than market rents.

Adapting to Heat: Evidence from the Texas Criminal Justice System

Using administrative criminal records from Texas, we show how heat affects criminal defendants, police officers, prosecutors, and judges. We find that arrests increase by up to 15% on hot days, driven by increases in violent crime. We see no evidence that charging-day heat impacts prosecutorial decisions. However, largely working alone, judges dismiss fewer cases, issue longer prison sentences, and levy higher fines when ruling on hot days. Higher incomes, newer housing, more teamwork, and less accessible weapons may decrease these adverse effects of heat. Effects of future climate change are partially mitigated by adaptation, but uneven adaptation exacerbates inequality in the effects across locations.

How Does Childhood Environment Shape Political Participation? Evidence from Refugees

Where do the political behaviors and preferences of refugees come from? We compile a novel database of over 600,000 U.S. immigration records largely for refugees fleeing socialist dictatorships and link these records to national voter files. We show that an immigrant's origin country influences voting behavior and partisan preferences. Using a between-siblings design, we find that each additional year of time spent in the origin country is associated with an increased likelihood of voting in midterm (2.3%) and presidential elections (0.8%), as well as an increased likelihood of registering as a Republican in adulthood (2.2%). A Facebook survey of a comparable population reveals that immigrants who arrive in the U.S. at older ages look less like ideological partisans than people who arrive at younger ages. We propose four hypotheses for why more time in the origin country can manifest as increased civic engagement and conservatism once in the U.S.

Other Projects

Can Deliberative Discussions Heal Political Divides?

Policy Story for PolicyEd. December 13th, 2022. A national experiment called “America in One Room” brought together more than 500 randomly selected voters from around the country for a weekend of guided deliberation. Those who participated were more likely in the short run to moderate their political attitudes and more likely in the long run to engage in civil society.

Counting on Coronavirus Luck is Not a Fall Election Strategy. Best Bet is Vote by Mail.

Op-ed with Larry Diamond. May 4th, 2020. Vote by mail is not a partisan plot, it's critical infrastructure to assure a safe election in a pandemic. Now is the time to invest and prepare.

How Unpredictable Schedules Widen the Gender Pay Gap

With Natalia Emanuel. July 1st, 2022. The authors analyzed seven years of pay data for bus and train operators employed by the MBTA at union-negotiated rates and found that even among people in exactly the same role at the same seniority level, women still took home 11% less than men. They identified three factors driving this persistent earnings gap: unpredictable, unconventional, and uncontrollable schedules.

How Unpredictable Schedules Widen the Gender Pay Gap

Policy Story for PolicyEd with Natalia Emanuel. January 4th, 2023. The gender pay gap can remain even among workers with the same role, seniority, and pay structure. One reason is due to unpredictable scheduling. When schedules are unpredictable, women are less likely than men to be able to accept last-minute overtime opportunities and to work odd hours. Making schedules more predictable can help reduce the gap.

The Immigrant Doctors Project

The Immigrant Doctors Project is an effort by (former) Harvard and MIT Economics PhD students to highlight the areas of the United States that rely most heavily on immigrant doctors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

To Address Collegiate Mental Health, Start with Vaccine Mandates and In-Person Classes

Op-ed with Paul Barreira. August 5th, 2021. Changing culture around mental health will mean envisioning college as a space where academic excellence is closely intertwined with meaningful social relationships and thriving mental health.