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Theses Doctoral

Essays on Firms in Developing Countries

Alfaro Serrano, David

Understanding firm behavior is key to understand the process of economic development. Firm choices affect labor market outcomes and the economy’s ability to increase productivity and living standards.

In this dissertation, I study two important aspects of firm behavior: technological upgrading and exporting. In the first chapter, I analyze the role of adoption costs and technological complementarities in the process of managerial upgrading, and propose a feasible way to promote the adoption of better management practices by firms. Using a regression discontinuity strategy, I show that a subsidy to certify process standards, such as ISO 9001, increases certification probability and, additionally, induces the adoption of modern management practices that are beyond the standards’ scope. The managerial improvement is concentrated in monitoring and target-setting practices, while no change is detected in practices related to incentives for employees. These findings are consistent with a model in which process documentation, which is required by the standards, and modern management practices are complementary and suggest that subsidizing the certification of process standards is a feasible way to improve management.

While the first chapter focuses on the adoption of an already known technology, the second chapter is concerned with the capacity of R&D subsidies to induce the adoption of new technologies in companies. Despite their popularity, there is little evidence of the effect R&D subsidies on the adoption of new technologies by companies. Using a regression discontinuity strategy, I show that an R&D subsidy program in Peru was not able to induce the adoption of new products and processes by beneficiary firms. Qualitative evidence suggests that the main obstacles were not the technical challenges of developing the new technologies, but their implementation. Together with the results presented in the first chapter, these findings suggest that firms’ lack of capacity to handle complex projects might be an important barrier for the success of policy interventions to promote technological upgrading.

In the third chapter, co-authored with Judith A. Frías, David S. Kaplan, and Eric Verhoogen, we explore the impact of exports on wage premia. There is evidence showing that exporting firms pay higher average wages. However, it is still unclear whether these results are due to to changes in the wage premia or changes in workforce composition. In our study, we use employer-employee and longitudinal plant data from Mexico to address this question. We do so by decomposing plant-level average wages into a component reflecting wage premia and a component reflecting workers’ skill composition. Using the late-1994 peso devaluation interacted with initial plant size as a source of exogenous variation in exports, we find that exports have a significant positive effect on wage premia, and that the effect on wage premia accounts for essentially all of the medium-term effect of exporting on plant-average wages.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Verhoogen, Eric A.
Hjort, Jonas K.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 6, 2020