Cassandra Merritt

I am a Ph.D. candidate with the Department of Economics at University of California, Davis. As a labor economist with a focus in the economics of education -- my primary interests are oriented around the role of more granular educational units (e.g. courses) in human capital formation, the efficacy of schools & education-related interventions, and the changing landscape of work and labor markets. Many of these projects leverage rich restricted-use administrative datasets that I developed expertise with as team member of the California Education Lab, where I have contributed to a number of policy briefs related to college & career readiness and secondary math curricula.  I also have academic work characterizing the determinants of changing work in the US around the turn of the 21st century based on the changing universe of job titles cataloged by government statistical agencies over time. Prior to UC Davis, I served as a field economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I previously earned a master’s degree in economics from the University of Edinburgh and a bachelor’s degree in mathematical business economics from Hofstra University. I expect to enter the 2024-25 economics job market and graduate from UC Davis by June 2025.

Working Papers

Measuring and Predicting "New Work" in the United States:  The Role of Local Factors and Global Shocks (Co-Authored with Gueyon Kim & Giovanni Peri)

Abstract: The evolution of work is of emerging importance to advanced economies' growth. In this study, we develop a new semantic-distance-based algorithm to identify "new work," namely the new types of jobs introduced in the US. We characterize how "new work" relates to task content of jobs and skill characteristics of workers and document its geographic distribution and association with employment growth. Then, we analyze whether local factors associated in the previous literature with agglomeration economies and productivity growth as well as local exposures to global shocks---technology, trade, immigration, and population aging---predict the creation of "new work." We find local supply of college educated in 1980 as the strongest predictor of "new work." Using the historical location of 4-year colleges, a strong instrument for local college share, we find a positive and significant causal effect of local supply of human capital on "new work." 

NBER Working Paper
Russell Sage Foundation Grant (Future of Work, June 2023)

Works in Progress

How Courses Offerings Add to Human Capital: Math Curricula Expansions among California High Schools

Abstract: The roll-out of new mathematics courses across California high schools provides an opportunity to answer a fundamental question about the role of courses in education and student outcomes. Do all or some students benefit, or suffer, in the face of a broader course choice set? Schools that expand their math course programming might endogenously select into such a policy change, but among these schools the exact year that they adopt a new math course is plausibly exogenous. Hence, exploiting the within-school over-time variation in outcomes allows for causal analysis that can unpack the effects of broadening the course choice set. Event study analysis reflect a 3.5 to 5 percentage point increase in math-taking rates across an adopting school's student body, and this increase is consistent across student sub-groups defined by their predicted pathway in the absence of a course offering expansion. The results also suggest a weak effect for the general student population on California 4-year public university enrollment with an increase of 0.5 to 2 percentage points, however this estimated effect is 2 to 3 times larger in students predicted to have no math participation in 12th grade if the counterfactual world where course offerings remain unchanged. Overall, initial analysis reflects positive impacts of increased math curricular choices without evidence of negative trade-offs.

The Impact of Data Integrated Guidance Between California Public High Schools and Colleges

Abstract: The road to college has many hurdles, and the journey is an unravelling mystery for each traveller -- the right information could be crucial for post-secondary matriculation. The California College Guidance Initiative (CCGI) started rolling out data-driven guidance tools across many California school districts and charter networks from 2013 to present, and now serves as the basis for the state's Cradle-to-Career Data System initiative. A key feature of CCGI tools is integration between local school IT systems, the UC Office of the President's approved A-G course database, and California universities' application systems. California universities' admission requirements include completion of a validated A-G curriculum -- a complexity CCGI serves to alleviate. Using California Department of Education student-level K-12 data, the intent-to-treat effect of CCGI's information treatment is measured via an "event study"-esque specification. Results show weak statistically significant evidence of a 5 percentage point increase in A-G curriculum completion if the tools are available over a student's full high school tenure.


Reed, S., Hurtt, A., Kurlaender, M., Luu, J., & Merritt, C. (2023, July). Inequality in academic preparation for college [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education. 

Reed, S., Bracco, K. R., Kurlaender, M., & Merritt, C. (2023, February). Innovating high school math courses through K–12 and higher education partnerships [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education. 

Reed, S., Merritt, C., & Kurlaender, M. (2022, December). 12th-grade math: An updated look at high school math course-taking in California [Infographic]. Policy Analysis for California Education. 

Resting Papers

Investigating the Impact of Advanced Math Courses on High School and College Outcomes in California (ancestor to "How Courses Offerings Add to Human Capital")

Abstract: Coursework in high school has the potential to determine student trajectories well beyond. Math courses have been shown to affect college attendance (Dougherty, Goodman, Hill, Litke, and Page, 2017; Kim, Kim, DesJardins, and McCall, 2015; Long, Conger, and Iatarola, 2012), degree completion (Adelman, 1999, 2006; Smith, Hurwitz, and Avery, 2017), and career earnings (Rose and Betts, 2004). These benefits may have motivated inefficient sorting of students into a single traditional math pathway, resulting in: (i) disparate outcomes between student subgroups as under-prepared students are forced into ill-fitting classes, often amplifying inequities; and (ii) stagnant math readiness among the overall student population. This paper investigates the effects of introducing alternative pathways, which break away from the traditional hierarchical curriculum, embodied by Advanced Innovation Math (AIM) courses designed by six intersegmental partnerships in California (Reed, Brocco, Kurlaender, and Merritt, 2023). Inexact matching estimators are applied to an analysis dataset, derived from restricted-use student records from the California Department of Education (CDE) matched to the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) post-secondary enrollment data, to investigate the effect of AIM courses on high school and college outcomes. AIM courses increase the likelihood that students will complete course requirements for California State University or University of California eligibility by 3–10 percentage points and, in some cases, improves high school math grades. Enrollment in an AIM course can also increase the likelihood of attending college