In press:

Reliance on scientists and experts during an epidemic: evidence from the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy

Research suggests trust in experts and authorities are important correlates of compliance with public health measures during infectious disease outbreaks. Empirical evidence on the dynamics of reliance on scientists and public health authorities during the early phases of an epidemic outbreak is limited. We examine these processes during the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy by leveraging data from Twitter and two online surveys, including a survey experiment. We find that reliance on experts followed a curvilinear path. Both Twitter and survey data showed initial increases in information-seeking from expert sources in the three weeks after the detection of the first case. Consistent with these increases, knowledge about health information linked to COVID-19 and support for containment measures was widespread, and better knowledge was associated with stronger support for containment policies. Both knowledge and containment support were positively associated with trust in science and public health authorities. However, in the third week after the outbreak, we detected a slowdown in responsiveness to experts. These processes were corroborated with a survey experiment, which showed that those holding incorrect beliefs about COVID-19 gave no greater -- or even lower -- importance to information when its source was stated as coming from experts than when the source was unstated. Our results suggest weakened trust in public health authorities with prolonged exposure to the epidemic as a potential mechanism for this effect. Weakened responsiveness to expert sources may increase susceptibility to misinformation and our results call for efforts to sustain trust in adapting public health response.

With  Pietro Battiston and Ridhi Kashyap. Accepted at SSM-Population Health


  1. "Reliance on scientists and experts during an epidemic: evidence from the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy", 2020.  With  Pietro Battiston and Ridhi Kashyap. Accepted at SSM-Population Health
  2. "The Internetization of International Migration", 2020. With Pesando, L. M., Stranges, M., Kashyap, R., and Billari, F. C. Forthcoming at Population and Development Review.
  3. "Leveraging Mobile Phones to Attain Sustainable Development", 2020. With Kashyap, R., Pesando, L.M., Spinelli, S., and Billari, F.C. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [Selected Media Coverage: Yahoo Finance, Social News, Nature Podcast]
  4. "Demographic science aids in understanding the spread and fatality rates of COVID-19", 2020. With  Dowd, JB, Andriano, L, Brazel, DM,  Block, P, Ding, X, Liu, Y & MC Mills. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [Selected Media Coverage: Il post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Vanguardia, La Repubblica, Avvenire, Corriere della Sera, We Forum, Daily Mail, The Economist]
  5. "Mobile Phones, Digital Inequality and Fertility: Longitudinal Evidence from Malawi", 2020. With Billari F. and Trinitapoli J..   Demographic Research 
  6. "I’d Lie for You", with Georgia Michailidou, 2019.  European Economic Review 118 (2019): 181-192.
  7. "Firm’s protection against disasters: Are investment and insurance substitutes or complements?" with Attanasi, G., Concina, L., and Kamate, C. Theory and Decision (2018): 1-31
  8. "Lottery-and survey-based risk attitudes linked through a multichoice elicitation task", with Attanasi, G., Georgantzìs, N., and Vigani, D. Theory and Decision 84.3 (2018): 341-372.
  9. "Macroeconomic conditions and well-being: do social interactions matter?" with Colombo, E. and Stanca, L. Applied Economics 50.28 (2018): 3029-3038.
  10. "Macroeconomic conditions and health: Inspecting the transmission mechanism", with Colombo, E. and Stanca, L. Economics & Human Biology 28 (2018): 29-37.
  11. "Connecting alone: Smartphone use, quality of social interactions and well-being", with Stanca L. and Tomasuolo M. Journal of Economic Psychology 63 (2017): 17-26.
  12. "The Less Extreme, the More You Leave. Radical Islam and Willingness to Migrate", with Falco, C. World Development, Volume 88, December 2016, Pages 122-133
  13. "The Effect of Particularism on Corruption: Theory and Empirical Evidence", with Stanca, L. Journal of Economic Psychology, Volume 51, December 2015, Pages 219-235


Battiston, P., Gamba, S., Rotondi, V. (2019) "What does a young cheater look like? An innovative approach" in A. Bucciol and N. Montinari, "Dishonesty in Behavioral Economics", Elsevier.

Pesando, L., Rotondi, V. (2020: forthcoming) "Mobile technology and gender equality" in  Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Gender Equality.

New projects

Despite the volume of studies leveraging big data to explore socio-demographic phenomena, we still know little about the intersection of digital information and the social problem of intimate partner violence (IPV). This is an important knowledge gap as IPV remains a pressing public-health concern worldwide, with 35% of women having experienced IPV over their lifetime and cases rising dramatically in the wake of global crises such as the current pandemic. This study addresses the question of whether online data from Google Trends and Twitter might help reach these ``hard-to-reach” populations using Italy as a case-study. We ask the following questions: Can digital traces help predict instances of IPV in Italy? Is their predictive power weaker or stronger in the aftermath of crises such as COVID-19? Preliminary results suggest that digital data using selected keywords positively predict actual calls to helplines with their predictive power being stronger in post-crises periods.

With: Selin Koksal, Luca Maria Pesando, and Asli Ebru Sanliturk

US foreign aid restrictions, maternal and children’s health: Evidence from the "Mexico City Policy"

In this paper, we analyze the link between foreign aid for family planning services and a broad set of health outcomes. More specifically, we document the unequal health consequences of the so-called Mexico City Policy (MCP henceforth). This policy is implemented only when a Republican administration holds US presidency and restricts US funding for non-governmental organizations that provide information on or access to abortion abroad. Previous research has shown that MCP causes large disruptions in family planning services around the world, but its consequences for health outcomes remain largely underexplored. Using country-level data from 162 countries, we show that MCP is associated with higher maternal and neonatal mortality as well as HIV prevalence. These effects are stronger in countries more exposed to US aid shocks and weaker in countries in which girls' enrollment in school is higher. Furthermore, using individual-level data from 23 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, we show that under MCP women have less access to contraception, HIV testing, and in-person family planning services. Our findings highlight the importance of mitigating the harmful effects of MCP by lifting or redesigning MCP.

With: Kerim Can Kavakli

The Paradox of Parenthood and Happiness: Exploring the Role of the Brain

While both the conventional wisdom and the Second Demographic Transition theory suggest that having children is rewarding for individuals and increases their life satisfaction and happiness, the empirical literature across different disciplines has not yet found a clear answer on neither the direction nor the magnitude of the association between childbearing and happiness. Here we explore a possible mechanism that might explain the association between parenthood and happiness: the neuro-anatomical changes occurring to parental brains when transitioning into parenthood and the role played by empathy. After birth and two years afterwards women show
reduced gray matter volumes in regions subserving social cognition and in particular the amygdala, insula, precuneus, superior
temporal and medial prefrontal areas. Also fathers experience changes in their brain, although of smaller size.
These changes also affect affective domains, such as empathy and social emotions. At the same time, the literature documents that emotional distress and the perception of other people's pain activate neural structures (including the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula, and the amygdala) that are also involved in the direct experience of pain. As a result, we expect to find a negative relationship between parenting and happiness mediated by an increase in the ability to feel others' pain. We test this hypothesis by leveraging the richness of the UK Biobank Dataset including the collection of genome-wide genetic data and resting and task-based fMRI of around 100000 participants aged 40--69 years old. Through the developed world, the high level of childlessness and the decrease in family size among those having children are timely and pressing policy issues. The fact that, in many although not all industrialized societies, parents report lower levels of happiness than childless adults might possibly fuel the perception that having children is not rewarding thus reducing the desire to become parents. Understanding the reasons behind the usually observed negative correlation between parenthood and happiness is, therefore, crucial.

With: Nicola Barban, Carlo Reverberi, and Maria Sironi

Working Papers:

"Safer if Connected? Mobile Technology and Intimate Partner Violence", 2020. With Luca M. Pesando. R&R. Demography.

"Mobile Money and School Participation: Evidence from Low Income Countries", 2017. With Francesco Billari, Dondena Working Papers, Working Paper No. 10.  Conditionally Accepted. Population Research and Policy Review

"Mobile Phones and Attitudes Towards Women's Participation in Politics: Evidence from Africa", 2020. With Carlotta Varriale, Luca M. Pesando, Ridhi Kashyap, Rebecca Kirley, Colombe Ladreit, Chen Peng, Umberto Platini, and Juan Pablo Ripamonti. Submitted. This collaborative project was part of the first-year PhD course in Social Statistics held at Bocconi University within the PhD program in Public Policy and Administration (A.Y. 2018-2019). R&R. Sociology of Development

"Bombs and babies. Terrorism increases fertility in Nigeria", with Michele Rocca, 2019. R&R. Journal of African Economies

"Harnessing the Potential of Online Searches for Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on Intimate Partner Violence in Italy", 2020. With Selin Köksal, Luca M. Pesando, and Ebru Şanlıtürk. Population Center Working Papers (PSC/PARC),  University of Pennsylvania No. 1-12-2021. 

"US foreign aid restrictions, maternal and children’s health: Evidence from the "Mexico City Policy"", 2020.  With Kerim Can Kavakli Submitted. 

"Lies have long legs. Cheating, public scrutiny and loyalty in teams", 2018. With Pietro Battiston, Simona Gamba, and Matteo Rizzolli, Econometica WP, WP 67. Submitted

"Investment, Insurance and Weather Shocks: Evidence from a Lab Experiment in Cambodia", 2016. With Chiara Falco, Dough Kong, Valeria Spelta, DEMM Working Paper n 10, University of Milano. Submitted

"Overconfidence, Misjudgment, and Market Entry: Experimental Evidence from Panama", 2019. Submitted
"The Day after the Bomb: Well-being Effects of Terrorist Attacks in Europe", with Luca Stanca and Emilio Colombo, 2019. Submitted

"What exactly is public in a public good game? A lab-in-the-field experiment", 2018. With Pietro Battiston, Simona Gamba, and Matteo Rizzolli. Under revision

"Mobile money and the labor market: Evidence from developing countries", 2019. With Chiara De Gasperin, and Luca Stanca. DEMS WORKING PAPER SERIES. No. 403 – March 2019. Under revision

"Impact of Home Gardening on Production and Diet Diversification. Evidence from a Field Experiment in Ethiopia", with Jacopo Bonan and Stefano Pareglio, 2015. WP 312, DEMS University of Milan-Bicocca.