Sarah Robinson

Assistant Professor of Economics

Claremont McKenna College

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I am an Assistant Professor of Economics at Claremont McKenna College. My research interests are in health economics and public economics.

Peer-Reviewed Publications

“Geographic Variation in Cesarean Sections in the United States: Trends, Correlates, and Other Interesting Facts” with Heather Royer and David Silver, Journal of Labor Economics, April 2024

☆  Featured in: NBER Bulletin on Health

Publisher’s LinkNBER Working Paper 31871

“Corporate Political Spending and State Tax Policy: Evidence from Citizens United    ” with Cailin Slattery and Alisa Tazhitdinova, Journal of Public Economics, May 2023

☆  Featured in: Wall Street Journal, Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance

Publisher’s LinkNBER Working Paper 30352

Working Papers

“One Hundred Years of U.S. State Taxation” with Alisa TazhitdinovaRevise & Resubmit, Journal of Public Economics

We analyze the evolution of U.S. state tax rates since 1910 and state tax revenues since 1942. Our analysis demonstrates that, in aggregate, state tax policies are stable in many aspects. They exhibit similar levels of tax rate variation, personal and corporate income tax progressivity, and tax change frequency and simultaneity over time. These aggregate patterns hold despite the fact that tax policies exhibit a large degree of variability both across states and within each state over time. Furthermore, state tax policy is not very persistent – the set of states with relatively high tax rates or large tax changes evolves rapidly. We do not observe a consistent relationship between state and federal tax policies, and show that the relationship between tax rates and revenues varies by tax type and over time.

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

(Job Market Paper)

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.

“Are U.S. State Tax Policies Increasingly Polarized?” with Alisa Tazhitdinova

Using data on U.S. state tax policies from 1910 to 2022, we study to what extent political polarization permeates U.S. state tax policies. Our comprehensive analysis considers a variety of tax measures and definitions of “Democratic” vs. “Republican” states. We document a small increase in tax policy polarization in recent decades, particularly for personal and corporate income, as well as cigarette taxes, and among states with stable political regimes. However, we find that current levels of polarization are not unique relative to the past. Furthermore, the timing of polarization varies widely across tax policies, and is not consistent with measures of increasing political polarization from the literature.

“What Drives Tax Policy? Political, Institutional and Economic Determinants of State Tax Policy” with Alisa Tazhitdinova

NBER Working Paper 31268

We collect detailed data on U.S. state personal income, corporate, sales, cigarette, gasoline, and alcohol taxes over the past 70 years to shed light on the determinants of state tax policies. We provide a comprehensive summary of how tax policy has changed over time, within and across states. We then use permutation analysis, variance decomposition, and machine learning techniques to show that the timing and magnitude of tax changes are not driven by economic needs, state politics, institutional rules, neighbor competition, or demographics. Altogether, these factors explain less than 20% of observed tax variation.

Work in Progress

“Employer Choice of Health Insurance Plans and Premium Sharing” (approved FSRDC project)

“Do Taxes Affect Pre-Tax Income Inequality?” with Matías Strehl Pessina and Alisa Tazhitdinova


Teaching Materials for UCSB ECON PhD Math Camp

Other Resources