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Joan Monras

Research Advisor
Macro Analysis and Economic Geography

Profiles: Google Scholar | Personal website

Working Papers
Industrialization without Innovation

Working paper | with Bustos, Castro-Vincenzi, and Ponticelli | October 2022


Labor-saving technologies in agriculture can foster structural transformation by releasing workers who find jobs in manufacturing. The traditional view is that factor reallocation towards manufacturing generates innovation and productivity growth. We document, instead, that regions more exposed to a large and exogenous increase in agricultural productivity in Brazil industrialized but experienced lower manufacturing productivity growth. Workers released from agriculture were mostly unskilled and primarily moved to the least skill-intensive manufacturing industries. This paper explores the various mechanisms that can account for the observed manufacturing productivity decline. Changes in worker composition and lower incentives to innovate within manufacturing play prominent roles.

Understanding the Effects of Granting Work Permits to Undocumented Immigrants

Working paper | with Elias and Vázquez-Grenno | July 2022


We study the legalization of 600,000 non-EU immigrants by the unexpectedly elected Spanish government following the terrorist attacks of 2004. By comparing non-EU to EU immigrants we estimate that the policy did not lead to magnet effects. We then show immigrant formal employment increased, while that of natives was not affected. However, there was a decrease in informal employment of both native and immigrant low-skilled workers. We document that tax revenues increased by more than 4,000 euros per legalized immigrant – with no evidence of increased public expenditures. We display evidence that the policy increased labor market opportunities for immigrants.

Local Public Goods and Spatial Distribution of Economic Activity

Working paper | with Guillouzouic and Henry | April 2021


Using French data, we provide: a) causal evidence that a drop in local public goods provision decreases private sector activity, and b) evidence consistent with monopsony power of the public sector in local labor markets. We introduce a public sector with these two key characteristics in an otherwise standard spatial equilibrium model, and show that it delivers the main stylized facts established in our data, in particular, that the share of the public sector relative to the private is independent of the productivity of the city. We emphasize the tradeoffs between allowing governments to freely choose local public employment and wages (as in most of the US public sector), versus imposing rules that constrain public sector pay with some indexation to the local cost of living (as in many European countries). We show that wage indexation limits monopsony power – leading to a larger public sector – and is optimal if the indexation is sufficiently strong.

The Regional Impact of Economic Shocks: Why Immigration Is Different from Import Competition

Working paper | with Albert | December 2020


Prior literature has documented large and persistent employment effects in regions exposed to import competition, but non-lasting effects in locations receiving large immigrant waves. Import competition and immigration are comparable to the extent that imports are thought of as the labor embedded in imported goods. We explain this puzzle by arguing that a fundamental difference between trade and immigration is that whereas immigrants systematically enter metropolitan areas with high housing prices, import competition affects all kinds of local labor markets. We argue that when the share of expenditures on housing is decreasing in income, internal migration is more responsive to local shocks in high-price locations. We provide evidence that, irrespective of the local shock, internal migration is indeed more responsive in high than in low housing price locations. Hence, conflicting findings in the literature reflect differences between the average local labor markets receiving each shock, rather than systematic differences in how local labor markets absorb those different shocks.

Economic Shocks and Internal Migration

Working paper | February 2015


Previous literature shows that internal migration rates are strongly procyclical. This would seem to imply that geographic relocation does not help mitigate negative local economic shocks during recessions. This paper shows that this is not the case. I document that net in-migration rates decreased in areas more affected by the Great Recession. Using various IV strategies that rely on the importance of the construction sector and the indebtedness of households before the crisis, I conclude that internal migration might help to alleviate up to one third of the effects of the crisis on wages in the most affected locations. This is due to a disproportionate decrease in in-migration into those locations rather than an increase in outmigration. More generally, I show that differences in population growth rates across locations are mainly explained by differences in in-migration rates rather than in out-migration rates. I introduce a model to guide the empirical analysis and to quantify the spill-over effects caused by internal migration

Labor Market Stability and Fertility Decisions

2023-36 | with Polo-Muro and Vazquez-Grenno | November 2023


This paper studies how fertility decisions respond to an improvement in job stability using variation from the large and unexpected regularization of undocumented immigrants in Spain implemented during the first half of 2005. This policy change improved substantially the labor market opportunities of affected men and women, many of which left the informality of house keeping service sectors toward more formal, stable, and higher paying jobs in larger firms (Elias et al., 2023). In this paper, we estimate the effects of the regularization on fertility rates using two alternative difference-in-differences strategies that compare fertility behavior of “eligible” and “non-eligible” candidate women to obtain the legal status, both on aggregate and at the local level. Our findings suggests that gaining work permits leads to a significant increase in women fertility. Our preferred estimates indicate that the regularization increased fertility rates among affected women by around 5 points, which is a 10 percent increase.

The Effect of Second-Generation Rent Controls: New Evidence from Catalonia

2023-28 | with Montalvo | September 2023


Catalonia enacted a second-generation rental cap policy that affected only some municipalities and, within those, only units with prices above their “reference” price. We show that, as intended, the policy led to a reduction in rental prices, but with price increases at the bottom and price declines at the top of the distribution. The policy also affected supply, with exit at the top which is not compensated by entry at the bottom. We show that a model with quality differences in rental units rationalizes the empirical facts and allows us to compute the welfare consequences of the policy.

Floating Population: Migration With(Out) Family and the Spatial Distribution of Economic Activity

2023-26 | with Imbert, Seror, and Zylberberg | August 2023


This paper argues that migrants’ decision to bring their dependent family members shapes their consumption behavior, their choice of destination, and their sensitivity to migration barriers. We document that in China: (i) rural migrants disproportionately move to expensive cities; (ii) in these cities they live without their family and in poorer housing conditions; and (iii) they remit more, especially when living without their family. We then develop a quantitative general equilibrium spatial model in which migrant households choose whether, how (with or without their family), and where to migrate. We estimate the model using plausibly exogenous variation in wages, housing prices, and exposure to family migration costs. We use the model to estimate migration costs and relate them to migration policy. We find that hukou policies protect workers in large, expensive, and high income cities at the expense of rural households, who use remittances to overcome some of these costs.

Published Articles (Refereed Journals and Volumes)
Immigration and Spatial Equilibrium: The Role of Expenditures in the Country of Origin

American Economic Review 112(11), November 2022, 3,763-3,802 | with Albert


We document that international migrants concentrate more in expensive cities—the more so, the lower the prices in their origin countries are—and consume less locally than comparable natives. We rationalize this empirical evidence by introducing a quantitative spatial equilibrium model, in which a part of immigrants’ income goes toward consumption in their origin countries. Using counterfactual simulations, we show that, due to this novel consumption channel, immigrants move economic activity toward expensive, high-productivity locations. This leads to a more efficient spatial allocation of labor and, as a result, increases the aggregate output and welfare of natives.

Local Adjustment to Immigrant-Driven Labor Supply Shocks

Journal of Human Capital 15(1), Spring 2021, 204-235


When comparing high- to low-immigrant locations, a large literature documents small effects of immigration on labor market outcomes over 10-year horizons. The literature also documents short-run negative effects of immigrant-driven labor supply shocks, at least for some groups of native workers. Taken together, these results suggest that there are mechanisms in place that help local economies recover from the short-run effects of immigrant shocks. This paper introduces a small-open-city spatial equilibrium model that allows, with simple reduced-form estimates of the effects of immigrant shocks on the outcomes of interest, the local adjustment to be decomposed through various channels.

Immigration and Wage Dynamics: Evidence from the Mexican Peso Crisis

Journal of Political Economy 128(8), August 2020, 3,017-3,089


How does the US labor market absorb low-skilled immigration? In the short run, high-immigration locations see their low-skilled labor force increase, native low-skilled wages decrease, and the relative price of rentals increase. Internal relocation dissipates this shock spatially. In the long run, the only lasting consequences are (a) worse labor market conditions for low-skilled natives who entered the labor force in high-immigration years, and (b) lower housing prices in high-immigrant locations, when immigrant workers disproportionately enter the construction sector and lower construction costs. I use a quantitative dynamic spatial equilibrium many-region model to obtain the policy-relevant counterfactuals.

How Segregated Is Urban Consumption?

Journal of Political Economy 127(4), August 2019, 1,684-1,738 | with Davis, Dingel, and Morales


We provide measures of ethnic and racial segregation in urban consumption. Using Yelp reviews, we estimate how spatial and social frictions influence restaurant visits within New York City. Transit time plays a first-order role in consumption choices, so consumption segregation partly reflects residential segregation. Social frictions also affect restaurant choices: individuals are less likely to visit venues in neighborhoods demographically different from their own. While spatial and social frictions jointly produce significant levels of consumption segregation, we find that restaurant consumption is only about half as segregated as residences. Consumption segregation owes more to social than spatial frictions.

Minimum Wages and Spatial Equilibrium: Theory and Evidence

Journal of Labor Economics 37(3), July 2019, 853-904


This paper introduces a spatial equilibrium model that relates earnings, employment, and internal migration responses to minimum wage increases. Population moves to or away from regions that increase minimum wages depending on the labor demand elasticity and on the financing of unemployment benefits. The empirical evidence shows that increases in minimum wages lead to increases in wages and decreases in employment among the low skilled. The labor demand elasticity is estimated to be around 1, which in the model is in line with the migration responses observed in the data. Low-skilled workers tend to leave regions that increase minimum wages.

The Labor Market Consequences of Refugee Supply Shocks

Economic Policy 32(91), July 2017, 361-413 | with Borjas


The continuing inflow of hundreds of thousands of refugees into many European countries has ignited much political controversy and raised questions that require a fuller understanding of the determinants and consequences of refugee supply shocks. This paper revisits four historical refugee shocks to document their labour market impact. Specifically, we examine: The influx of Marielitos into Miami in 1980; the influx of French repatriates and Algerian nationals into France at the end of the Algerian Independence War in 1962; the influx of Jewish émigrés into Israel after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s; and the exodus of refugees from the former Yugoslavia during the long series of Balkan wars between 1991 and 2001. We use a common empirical approach, derived from factor demand theory, and publicly available data to measure the impact of these shocks. Despite the differences in the political forces that motivated the various flows, and in economic conditions across receiving countries, the evidence reveals a common thread that confirms key insights of the canonical model of a competitive labour market: Exogenous supply shocks adversely affect the labour market opportunities of competing natives in the receiving countries, and often have a favorable impact on complementary workers. In short, refugee flows can have large distributional consequences.

FRBSF Publications