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Research

My research focus is in experimental economics and behavioral economics. I use a combination of theoretical analysis and carefully designed experiments to study how individuals make economic decisions.

I am currently studying decision-making in the context of charitable giving and the interactions between risk, uncertainty, and ambiguity.

Click here for a short description of charitable giving research and its importance.

Charitable giving research seeks to understand why individuals give to charity, and what factors influence their decision of whether and how much to donate. Charitable giving is an interesting phenomena because donors typically don't directly benefit from their donations. Unlike money spent on a typical good or service, money spent on charity usually goes towards providing others with some good or service. In the cynical world of economics, such behavior is often considered to be irrational. And yet, people choose to donate substantial amounts to all sorts of causes. (Charitable giving accounts for more than 2% of GDP in the US.)

A better understanding of the mechanisms that drive charitable giving can aid charitable organizations in their fund-raising efforts. Furthermore, insights regarding charitable giving also have meaningful implications for public policy and tax policy. To the extent public goods can be funded via voluntary contributions (i.e., donations), increasing charitable giving could allow for lower taxes and greater individual autonomy regarding which causes to support.

My current research projects are listed below. If you have any questions or comments regarding my work, please feel free to email me.

⚠️ Some of my projects are supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (DDRIG) in Economics (Award #2315706). Projects receiving support from the NSF are marked below.


Current Projects

Charitable Giving

  1. Do Matches Really Outperform Rebates? New Evidence from a Novel Experiment
    Zedekiah G. Higgs and Neslihan Uler [NSF DDRIGE Award #2315706]
    Working Paper 2023
    (Job market paper)

    Teaser: What form of subsidy is better at increasing charitable donations: rebates or matches? What does economic theory predict? In this paper we challenge the existing understanding of rebates and matches, highlighting an implicit assumption made in previous theoretical analyses and presenting new experimental evidence.

  2. How Donor Uncertainty Affects Their Response to Matches
    Zedekiah G. Higgs [NSF DDRIGE Award #2315706]
    Work in Progress

    Teaser: Why might studies observe different match-price elasticities of demand for giving across different settings? Is it a difference in subject pools? Or could it be the result of differences in the characteristics of the fundraisers used? In this paper I argue that fundraiser characteristics affect how donors respond to match subsidies. Specifically, the characteristics of a fundraiser affect donors' beliefs about the probability that their donation will actually receive a match, causing the same donor to respond to match subsidies differently depending on the setting. I present both theoretical and experimental evidence to support these claims.

Ambiguity Aversion

  1. Can Loss Aversion Explain Ambiguity Aversion? Theory and Experiments
    Zedekiah G. Higgs
    Work in Progress

    Teaser: Why do people usually dislike ambiguity? And why do those same people sometimes decide that they do like ambiguity? Why can't people just be consistent (ugh), and how do we make sense of their behavior? In this paper I propose a new model of ambiguity aversion that incorporates the insights of loss aversion to explain observed behavior. The model provides a straightforward and intuitive explanation of ambiguity aversion. To demonstrate the model's ability to capture and explain observed behavior across various settings, I parameterize the model using parameter values estimated in previous studies and provide numerical examples.


Archived Projects

Higher Education

  1. College Expenditures and Federal Aid Policy in the Market for Higher Education
    Zedekiah G. Higgs
    Archived Project 2019

    Teaser: It's straightforward that increases in federal student aid should increase the number of students attending college, all else equal. But how do schools compete for these new students? Do they invest more in education related items--like instructors, lecture halls, and computer labs--or do they instead focus on making their campuses more luxurious by investing in non-education related items--like fancier dorms, student centers, and recreation centers? To answer this question I build a computable general equilibrium (CGE) model of the market for higher education, in which private schools are assumed to be education-quality maximizers and students are assumed to vary in ability, income, and affinity for luxuriousness. I parameterize the model to closely match key characteristics of the U.S. market for higher education, and then use the parameterized model to simulate an increase in federal student aid funding. I find that a certain class of private universities shift their expenditures toward non-education related items in response to an increase in aid, despite being education-quality maximizers.


"Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it. [That's why experimental economists are so important and should be paid so much.]"

---Albert Einstein