Sarah Robinson

PhD Candidate in Economics

University of California Santa Barbara

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I am a PhD Candidate in Economics at the University of California Santa Barbara. My research interests are broadly in health economics and public economics. Currently, I am particularly interested in how firms make decisions about the health insurance they offer to workers.

I will be on the 2022-2023 job market and available for interviews. You can find my CV here.

Contact Information:

  (805) 316-1377


Education & Experience:

  PhD in Economics, UC Santa Barbara (in progress)

  MA in Economics, UC Santa Barbara 

  Deloitte Consulting LLP, Strategy & Operations

  BA in Philosophy, Politics & Economics, magna cum laude, Claremont McKenna College

Working Papers

“Do Firms Avoid Health Insurance Mandates? Evidence from the Self-Funding of Employer Plans”

Fifty percent of the U.S. population gets health insurance through an employer, and roughly half of employers only offer one health plan. Therefore, the choices made by firms about what plan(s) to offer are critical to understanding the health insurance available to workers. This paper focuses on one dimension of the firm’s decision: whether to self-fund plans (meaning the firm bears the financial risk of claims itself). I study whether firms use self-funding to avoid complying with mandates to cover specific procedures or providers. Using administrative data on the health plans offered by firms and a difference-in-differences design, I find that new mandates increase rates of self-funding among smaller firms (100-249 employees) by 3.2 percentage points, an increase of 14.5%. The mandates do not appear to affect larger firms (250+ employees), who are more likely to already be self-funded in the pre-period. These results imply that new mandates can lead to long-lasting reductions in the proportion of firms that are bound by any state health insurance regulations, including all previously mandated benefits as well as premium taxes.

“Corporate Political Spending and State Tax Policy: Evidence from Citizens United” with Cailin Slattery and Alisa TazhitdinovaNBER Working Paper 30352 — Featured in: Wall Street Journal, Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance [non-technical summary]
Revise & Resubmit, Journal of Public Economics

To what extent is U.S. state tax policy affected by corporate political contributions? The 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling provides an exogenous shock to corporate campaign spending, allowing corporations to spend on elections in 23 states which previously had spending bans. Ten years after the ruling and for a wide range of outcomes, we are not able to identify economically or statistically significant effects of corporate independent expenditures on state tax policy, including tax rates, discretionary tax breaks, and tax revenues.

“What Drives Tax Policy? Political and Economic Determinants of State Tax Policy in the Past 70 Years” with Alisa Tazhitdinova (Under Review)

We study U.S. state tax rules over the past 70 years to shed light on the determinants of U.S. state tax policy, generating three key results. First, we show that long-term tax trends are not consistent with Tiebout sorting and race-to-the-bottom competition models. Second, we document evidence of increasing polarization of tax rates between Democratic and Republican states in the 1970s and from 2000 onward. Third, we use machine learning techniques to show that the timing and magnitude of tax changes are not driven by federal changes, economic needs, state politics, institutional rules, neighbor competition, or demographics. Altogether, these factors explain less than 20% of observed tax variation.

“Geographic Variation in C-Sections in the United States: Trends, Correlates and Other Interesting Facts” with Heather Royer and David Silver (Under Review)

We use U.S. natality data from 1989 to 2017 to investigate county-level geographic disparities in the use of C‑section among first-birth singleton mothers. We document the existence and persistence of geographic variation in C‑section across low and high- C‑section risk mothers, the degree to which this variation correlates with Medicare spending, and the sensitivity of C‑section use and infant and maternal health outcomes to C‑section risk across counties. Our key finding is that counties with high C‑section rates perform more C‑sections across the entirety of the risk distribution yet have nearly equivalent or better outcomes than counties with less intensive C‑section rates.

Work in Progress

“Employer Choice of Health Insurance Plans and Premium Sharing”
(FSRDC project approved by U.S. Census Bureau and IRS; Special Sworn Status granted)

Teaching Experience

* Average rating 1.3 (1 = highest, 5 = lowest)

— Math Camp for Economics PhD Students

Head Teaching Assistant
— Economics 10A Microeconomic Theory

Teaching Assistant
— Economics 10A Microeconomic Theory

Teaching Assistant
— Economics 134A Financial Management

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Teaching Materials

Study Guides