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. I will be joining Claremont McKenna College as an Assistant Professor of Economics in Fall 2023.

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.


“Corporate Political Spending and State Tax Policy: Evidence from Citizens United” with Cailin Slattery and Alisa Tazhitdinova. Journal of Public Economics, May 2023, Vol. 221, 104859.
[Publisher’s Link]  [NBER Working Paper 30352]

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

Working Papers

“Geographic Variation in C-Sections in the United States: Trends, Correlates and Other Interesting Facts” with Heather Royer and David SilverRevise & Resubmit, Journal of Labor Economics

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.

“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.

“What Drives Tax Policy? Political and Economic Determinants of State Tax Policy” with Alisa TazhitdinovaNBER 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)

“One Hundred Years of Taxation” with Alisa Tazhitdinova


Teaching Materials

Study Guides