PhD Candidate, Yale University

Ph.D. 2015 (expected), Yale F&ES
M.E.Sc. 2009 (Environmental Economics), Yale F&ES
BA 2004, Summa Cum Laude, University of California, Davis

Research Interests:  energy and environmental economics, urban economics, urbanization, applied econometrics, satellite remote sensing


[1] Suburbs or Skyscrapers? The effect of China’s land leasing market on housing decentralization (Job Market Paper)

Over the past 30 years, China’s process of rapid urban growth has been heavily influenced by government intervention. A key policy instrument to emerge during this period has been the urban land leasing system, which was introduced as a vehicle for generating municipal revenues through the up-front sale of land use rights to private developers. By providing a mechanism for rapid infrastructure investment through the development of agricultural land, the leasing policy created the potential for substantial shifts in urban form. This paper examines the impact of China’s leasing market on housing decentralization during the period 1990-2000, making use of exogenous variation that arises from an pilot phase in the implementation of the policy. I address potential bias in the selection of treated cities with a semi-parametric difference-in-differences estimator. I find that the land leasing policy had a substantial impact on decentralization in cities that received early exposure through the pilot, resulting in a 19.1% decline in housing constructed in urban core areas and a simultaneous 26.2% increase in housing constructed in peripheral urban zones.

[2] How have stringent farmland protection regulations shaped China’s cities? Evidence from a natural experiment using satellite observations.

During the 1990’s, the Chinese government developed a series of to halt the encroachment of rapidly urban expansion into fertile agricultural lands used for staple grain production. These include the Basic Farmland Protection Regulation in 1994 and key changes to the Land Administration Law in 1998. Many are concerned that the regulations have resulted in land market distortions around the country’s most productive urban centers, but large numbers of illegal transactions create challenges for evaluation of the policy using official statistics.  The current paper estimates the effect of the policy using a rich set of satellite observations of agricultural and urban activities on more than 1 million parcels of land before and after the regulatory change, making use of a no net loss rule that provides an arbitrary discontinuity in requirements across provinces. I find that the farmland controls reduced agricultural-urban land conversion by approximately 45% during the period 2000-2005, resulting in a 10 percentage point decline in urban land development in the average city and inducing leapfrog development. This study reveals the costs of farmland protection and demonstrates the utility of satellite data for large-scale policy evaluation.

[3] A vintages model of energy use in China’s residential buildings sector

This paper presents new findings on patterns of China’s residential buildings stock using observations of the distribution of housing size and construction vintages for a sample of 100 cities.  These data reveal an extraordinary process of urban expansion that is concentrated in cities of less than 2 Million inhabitants.  I find that as of the year 2000, 53% of the housing stock in China’s cities was less than 10 years old and only 1.9% was greater than 50 years old.  Roughly 40% of new constructed floor space was built within 5km of an urban center during the 1990’s. I utilize a vintages model to examine the implications of rapid replacement rates on changes in the energy efficiency in the aggregate stock. I estimate housing size gradients for 100 Chinese cities and find that a modest rate of housing decentralization is associated with a 19% increase heating and cooling loads urban areas.


Karen Seto
Professor, F&ES
Yale University
195 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT, 06511
Tel: 203 432-9784
Robert Mendelsohn
Yale University
195 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT, 06511
Tel: 203 432-5128
Kenneth Gillingham
Assistant Professor
Yale University
195 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT, 06511
Tel: 203 436-5465
William Nordhaus
Professor, Economics
Yale University
28 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
Tel: 203-432-3598