Author's School

Olin Business School

Author's Department/Program

Business Administration


English (en)

Date of Award

Spring 4-26-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Radhakrishnan Gopalan


This dissertation consists of three essays that examine the determinants of individual financial decision making and the welfare implications of those decisions. In the first essay, I consider an important dimension of individual welfare, namely mental health, to study whether the use of different financial services helped to withstand the damage caused by a large earthquake that hit Chile in February 2010. Using a rich nationally representative panel data set and geographic differences in ground shaking caused by the earthquake as an exogenous source of damage, I find that earthquake insurance reduced the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by more than 50% among individuals who lived in properties that were damaged by the earthquake. However, I find no significant effects for the amount of savings and bank relationships. Overall, these results suggest that the welfare impact of financial services is driven by the ability to transfer resources across states of the world, but not through time.

In the second essay, I study the extent to which low income students in the U.S. understand and take into consideration the financial aspects of their higher education. Using a rich data set from a large U.S. non-profit organization, I find that low income post-secondary students are poorly informed about three main financial aspects of their higher education: expected income, financing costs and opportunity cost of being enrolled. This result holds for students who are academically talented, have been exposed to financial education (including a semester-long personal finance class) and relevant financial experiences. Furthermore, preliminary results of a randomized controlled trial (N=117) suggest that an hour-long financial education workshop on the main financial aspects of college increases students' GPA by 0.2 points (p-value=0.15) and their ability to receive financial aid from the non-profit organization by 11.4 percentage points (p-value=0.25). Overall, these results suggest that (lack of) financial literacy can affect both educational attainment and financial outcomes of low income post-secondary students.

In the third essay, I study if civic capital, defined as the set of values and beliefs within a community that promote cooperation for socially valuable purposes (Guiso, Sapienza and Zingales, 2011), affects the use of deposit accounts among Chilean households. Using an institutional setting of limited supply side barriers for access to deposit accounts and a rich household data set, I find that households from areas with higher levels of civic capital, measured as the rate of registration to vote, are more likely to have savings accounts and hold larger amounts in those accounts. This association is stronger for households that are less educated and less intensive users of communication and information devices such as phone, computer and the internet. These results are consistent with the idea that civic capital helps to overcome educational and informational barriers that limit the demand for deposit accounts.


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