Danila Serra

Southern Methodist University
Department of Economics

email: dserra@smu.edu

Phone: (+1) 214-768-4298

Address: SMU, Dept. of Economics

3300 Dyer Street, Suite 301C

Umphrey Lee Center
Dallas TX 75275-0496


I am an Assistant Professor of Economics at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, TX (since August 2012). I am a member of the SMU Center for Global Health Impact, and of the Evidence in Governance and Politics (EGAP) research network. I am also a research affiliate at the Center for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), at the University of Oxford. Before joining SMU I was an Assistant Professor of Economics at Florida State University and a member of the FSU Experimental Social Science Research Group (2009-2012).


Education: PhD in Economics, University of Oxford (2009); MSc in Economics, London School of Economics (2003); BS (laurea) in Economics, Bocconi University, Milan (2001).


Research fields: Experimental Economics; Development Economics; Economics of Corruption; Gender and Economics.


Google Scholar Citations

Here is a link to the Laboratory for Research in Experimental Economics (LREE) at SMU


Check out the SMU Women in Economics Club, founded by my students!





My Research in Brief        

Field Projects  






Some of my thoughts and research on corruption have appeared in The Atlantic. Read the piece “Does corruption happen slowly or all at once?”


Other research has been featured in the New Scientist. Read the article, titled The underhand ape: Why corruption is normal”, here , or here.






Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: C:\Users\Danila\Documents\Webpage\volume.jpg





New Advances in Experimental Research on Corruption, edited with Leonard Wantchekon (Princeton University), Emerald Group Publishing, June 2012.





I paid a bribe: An experiment on information sharing and extortionary corruption”, with D. Ryvkin (FSU) and James Tremewan (U of Vienna). European Economic Review, 94: 1-22, 2017. PDF



Participatory accountability and collective action: Experimental evidence from Albania”, with A. Barr (U of Nottingham) and T. Packard (The World Bank). European Economic Review, 68: 250–269, 2014. PDF



Intermediaries in Corruption: An Experiment”, with M. Drugov (Carlos III de Madrid) and J. Hamman (FSU). Experimental Economics, 17(1): 78-99, 2014. Online advance access here



Combining top-down and bottom-up accountability: Evidence from a bribery experiment”. Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, 28(3): 569-587, August 2012. Online advance access here.



How corruptible are you? Bribery under uncertainty”, with D. Ryvkin (FSU), Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 81(2012): 466-477. Download here.



Corruption and Culture: An experimental Analysis, with A. Barr (U of Nottingham), Journal of Public Economics, 94, Issues 11-12, December 2010. Download here .



Intrinsic motivations and the non-profit health sector: Evidence from Ethiopia”, with P. Serneels (UEA) and A. Barr (U of Nottingham) Personality and Individual Differences, 51(3): 309-314. Download here.



The effects of externalities and framing on bribery in a petty corruption experiment”, with A. Barr (U of Nottingham), Experimental Economics, 12 (4): 488-503, 2009. Download here.



Empirical Determinants of Corruption: A sensitivity Analysis,” Public Choice 126 (1-2), 225-256, 2006.







Can Patients’ Reports Improve Health Providers’ Performance? Lab-Experimental Evidence from Kenya”, with I. Mbiti (U of Virginia). March  2017. PDF. Instructions of the lab-in-the-field experiment here.

Abstract: We assess the effectiveness of accountability systems relying on patient reporting in the Kenyan health sector. We evaluate patients’ willingness to file complaints on service providers, and providers’ responsiveness to the possibility of receiving such complaints. We contrast reporting systems where complaints have no direct consequences on providers, such as standard complaint boxes, and reporting systems where complaints lead to either monetary penalties or non-monetary consequences in the form of peer shaming. We employ a specially designed laboratory-in-the-field experiment involving randomly selected providers and patients from public and private health centers in Nairobi. Combining the experimental variation with non-experimental variation in provider and client characteristics such as sector of work and the existence of personal relationships between clients and providers, we find that: 1) disclosing patients’ complaints to providers’ professional peers is at least as effective as imposing monetary penalties based on patients’ complaints; 2) the possibility of retaliation against patients does not reduce the effectiveness of reporting systems relying on peer shaming; 3) associating tangible consequences with complaints slightly lowers patients’ willingness to file such complaints, mainly due to the existence of personal relationships with providers. Overall, our findings support the implementation of citizen reporting systems that leverage peer pressure and reputational concerns.



Motivating Whistleblowers” with J. Butler (LSU) and G. Spagnolo (SITE, Stockholm School of Economics). SMU working paper, February 2017. PDF.


Abstract: Law-breaking activities within an organization benefiting the firm at the expense of the general public are widespread but difficult to uncover, making whistleblowing by employees highly desirable. We investigate monetary and non-monetary incentives for whistleblowers. We test the effectiveness of financial rewards and examine whether crowding-out of non-monetary motivations is a reason for concern. We also ask whether exposure of whistleblowers to social judgment through public, e.g, media, scrutiny may act as an important deterrent to whistleblowing. Experimental results show that: i) financial rewards significantly increase the likelihood of whistleblowing and do not substantially crowd out non-monetary motivations; and ii) public scrutiny decreases (increases) whistleblowing when the public is unaware (aware) of the negative externalities generated by fraud, suggesting that whistleblowers are, at least partly, image motivated. We also found evidence of an interesting relationship between political orientation and responsiveness to public scrutiny: while left-leaning subjects react to the possibility of social judgment as expected, right-leaning people are unaffected by it.



The Industrial Organization of Corruption: Monopoly, Competition and Collusion”, with D. Ryvkin (FSU). October 2016. PDF. Experimental instructions here.


Abstract: We experimentally investigate how the introduction of competition between public officials for the provision of a given license affects extortionary corruption, i.e., the demands of harassment bribes. We examine transactions that are likely to be one-shot, such as the delivery of a driver's license, and transactions that require frequent interactions between the parties and therefore allow for reputation building, such as yearly renewals of building permits. Finally, we examine officials' ability to collude by communicating before setting their bribe demands. We find that introducing competition significantly reduces corruption both in settings characterized by one-shot and by repeated interactions between citizens and officials. While the possibility of collusion lowers the effectiveness of competition, officials are unable to sustain collusion in the long run.



Corruption, Social Judgment and Culture: An Experiment”, with T. Salmon (SMU). Revised September 2016. PDF. R&R, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.


[A previous longer draft of this paper circulated under the title: Does Social Judgment Diminish Rule Breaking?”]


Abstract: Modern societies rely on both formal and social mechanisms to enforce social norms of behavior. Formal enforcement mechanisms rely on monetary or other tangible incentives while social enforcement mechanisms rely on some form of social judgment involving informal sanctions. We experimentally investigate the extent to which social observability and the possibility of social judgment affect individuals' decisions to engage in corruption at the expense of others. We are also interested in the degree to which culture matters. We use a laboratory experiment with a sample of individuals who live in the U.S. but is also characterized by cultural heterogeneity due to the immigration of their ancestors to the U.S. We find that the possibility of social judgment reduces corruption only among individuals who identify culturally with countries characterized by low levels of corruption. Our findings suggest that the effectiveness of social enforcement mechanisms is at least partly dependent on the sociocultural norms prevailing in the target population.



Is more competition always better? An experimental study of extortionary corruption”, with D. Ryvkin (FSU). Revised October 2015. PDF. A previous draft of this paper circulated under the title: “Does competition among public officials reduce corruption? An experiment.”


Abstract: We test the effectiveness of an anti-corruption policy that is often discussed among practitioners: an increase in competition among officials providing the same good or service. In particular, we investigate whether an increase in overlapping jurisdictions reduces extortionary corruption, i.e., bribe demands for the provision of services that clients are entitled to receive. We overcome measurement and identification problems by addressing our research question in the laboratory. We conduct an extortionary bribery experiment where clients apply for a license from one of many available offices and officials can demand a bribe on top of the license fee. By manipulating the number of available offices and the size of search costs we are able to assess whether increasing competition reduces extortionary corruption. We find that, if search costs are unaffected, increasing the number of providers may actually increase corruption. In particular, our results show that increasing competition has either no effect (if search costs are high) or a positive effect (if search costs are low) on bribe demands. We compare our findings to those obtained in a standard market environment and find evidence of different search behaviors in the two settings.






Anti-corruption Policies: Lessons from the Lab”, with K. Abbink. In D. Serra and L. Wantchekon (eds.) New Advances in Experimental Research on Corruption, Research In Experimental Economics Volume 15, Bingly: Emerald Group Publishing, June 2012.



“Experimental Research on Corruption: Introduction and Overview”, with L. Wantchekon, in D. Serra and L. Wantchekon (eds.) New Advances in Experimental Research on Corruption, Research In Experimental Economics Volume 15, Bingly: Emerald Group Publishing, June 2012.



Education Outcomes, School Governance and Parents’ Demand for Accountability: Evidence from Albania”, with A. Barr (U of Nottingham) and T. Packard (World Bank), Policy Research Working Paper No. 5643, The World Bank, April 2011.



Discovering the Real World –Health Workers’ Career Choices and Early Work Experience in Ethiopia, with P. Serneels (UEA) and M. Lindelow (World Bank), The World Bank, Washington DC, June 2010.



“Studying Corruption through Experiments” in Kreutner, M. ed. Practice Meets Science: Contemporary Anti-Corruption Dialogue, Vienna: Manz, 2010.





Gender Differences in the Choice of Major: The Importance of Female Role Models” with C. Porter (Heriot-Watt). Coming SOON.

Abstract: We report results from a field experiment aimed at increasing the percentage of women majoring in economics through exposure to female role models. The experiment was conducted at a private university characterized by a heavy gender imbalance in the economics major, with about 4 male majors for every 1 female major (2011-2013 average). We randomly selected a subset of principles of economics classes in Spring 2016 to be assigned our role model treatment, which consisted in classroom visits by two female alumni that majored in economics. Principle classes at SMU are typically large and gender balanced. The role models were selected with the help of two female students currently majoring in economics; the students shortlisted female alumni on the basis of their current job and conducted (scripted) Skype interviews. Each role model visited the treatment classes between March and April 2016. Since the treatment classes were also offered and taught by the same instructors in Spring 2015, we are able to employ a difference-in-differences estimation strategy to test the effect of the role model intervention on male and female students.

We found that while the intervention had no impact one male students, it significantly increased the percentage of women planning to major in economics (survey-based). The intervention had an even stronger effect on the probability that a female student enrolled in an intermediate economics class the semester following the role models' visits. The effect of the intervention is especially large and persistent over time for female students that got an A in the principle class. For these top students, the intervention seems to have completely eliminated the gender gap in enrollment in a higher level economics class.



Corrupt Police” with K. Abbink (Monash University) and D. Ryvkin (FSU). Data analysis stage.


Abstract: We experimentally investigate rule violations within a society in the presence of honest versus corrupt law enforcement officials. In the experiment, three individuals simultaneously decide whether to commit rule violations that benefit themselves at the expenses of the other two subjects. A police officer observes rule violations within a group and decides to give tickets or demand bribes. A society is made of nine citizens and three police officers that are randomly re-matched after each round of play. We first compare violations in societies with potentially corrupt officers with violations in societies where there are no law enforcement agents. We contrast both settings to one where police officers are present but cannot engage in corruption; they can only give tickets. We then test and contrast the effectiveness of two incentive systems for police officers. The first relies on the payment of financial rewards to officers based on the crime rate observed within the society. The second relies on the payment of rewards based on the bribery rate observed within the society.




The Gender Leadership Gap: An Experiment” (working title) with P. Chakraborty (SMU). In the lab.



Does Transparency in Pay Eliminate the Gender Gap?” with T. Salmon (SMU). In the lab.



 Values Transmission: Peer and Parental Effects” (working title) with J. Butler (LSU), P. Giuliano (UCLA), E. Patacchini (Cornell) and P. Pin (Bocconi). Design stage.



Information, Aspirations and Role Models” (working title) with T. Salmon (SMU). Design stage.



Parental participation in primary schools in Angola: An experimental investigations of motivations, information sharing and collective action problems” (working title) with Pedro Vicente (Nova University of Lisbon). In the field.



Updated March 2017