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Essays in Economic History and Applied Microeconomics


Huang, Yifei (2016) Essays in Economic History and Applied Microeconomics. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z9B8563S.


This thesis consists of three papers studying institutions that assess human capital and performance.

The first two chapters study the Chinese Civil Service Examination in 19th century Jiangnan. Chapter 1 investigates how much intergenerational mobility did the exam system actually induce. Results show that although nominally every male was allowed to participate, in any given generation, effective competition mostly took place among individuals with enough resources. Substantial advantages were enjoyed by families with established tradition of education investment and exam success. Multigenerational analysis reveals a much higher level of elite persistence than what could be captured in analyzing only two adjacent generations.

In Chapter 2, I track a sample of provincial graduates’ further progress in the national exams and their official career attainment about 20 years after they passed the provincial exam, with a focus on the role played by family background. I find that the competition in the national exam resembles a meritocratic competition when family background is measured only by the father's status. However, when family background is measured by the highest status achieved by immediate paternal ancestors going back three generations, the family background remains significant in predicting national exam success, after controlling for proxy measures of competence. On official career attainment, I find that provincial graduates whose fathers held higher offices were significantly more likely to obtain higher offices themselves. Fathers' office prominence were especially crucial for achieving positions beyond entry-level appointments. These results thus cast serious doubt on the thesis that the imperial civil service was meritocratic. Considering the historical and institutional background, I suggest that nepotism and use of office purchase were likely to lie behind the importance of fathers' office holding to provincial graduates' career paths.

Chapter 3 is a joint work with Matt Shum and Xi Wu. We examine strategic behavior in "360-degree" performance appraisal systems, in which an employee is evaluated by her supervisor, subordinate(s), peers (colleagues) and himself/herself. Using proprietary data from a mid-sized Chinese accounting firm, we find that employees manipulate their ratings to peers: they grant better ratings to their less qualified peers while giving poorer ratings to their more qualified peers, compared with evaluations from employees who are not peers. In addition, this manipulation is mostly done by employees who themselves are less qualified. Altogether, this implies that more-qualified employees "lose" from the 360-degree evaluation scheme, and we show that their promotion chances would be (slightly) higher under the traditional "top-down" scheme in which their performance ratings is based only on the appraisal of their superiors. We discuss implications for improving a 360-degree performance appraisal system.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Chinese Imperial Civil Service Examination, Social Mobility, Meritocracy, Multigenerational, 360-degree Performance Appraisal, Strategic Behavior
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Social Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Rosenthal, Jean-Laurent
Thesis Committee:
  • Rosenthal, Jean-Laurent (chair)
  • Shum, Matthew S.
  • Hoffman, Philip T.
  • Snowberg, Erik
  • Ewens, Michael J.
Defense Date:5 May 2016
Non-Caltech Author Email:yhuang.econ (AT)
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Beijing Erudition Digital Technology Research Center Research FellowshipUNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05282016-033538551
Persistent URL:
Huang, Yifei0000-0003-3500-1663
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:9809
Deposited By: Yifei Huang
Deposited On:04 Jun 2016 00:41
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 00:13

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