Faculty & Research

Joseph S. Vavra

Assistant Professor of Economics

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5807 South Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637

Joseph Vavra, Assistant Professor of Economics, studies macroeconomics and monetary economics, labor, and computational economics. In his recent research he argues that monetary policy is less effective during volatile recessions. He also has work studying how durable consumption responds to stimulus, and how prices respond to exchange rate movements.

Vavra holds multiple degrees (Ph.D., M.Phil., M.A.) all in economics from Yale University. Additionally, he earned a B.A. (magna cum laude) in math, mathematical economic analysis, and statistics from Rice University.

In addition to Vavra’s teaching fellow and research assistant positions, he has experience working as an intern at the White House Council of Economic Advisors. His interests outside of economics include scuba diving, food, and travel.


2014 - 2015 Course Schedule

Number Name Quarter
33040 Macroeconomics 2015 (Winter)
33650 Workshop in Macro and International Economics 2015 (Winter)
33949 Applied Macroeconomics: Heterogeneity and Macro 2015 (Winter)

Other Interests

Food, scuba diving, snowboarding


Research Activities

My research interests are in empirical macroeconomics, business cycles and monetary policy, with a particular focus on the implications of microdata for aggregate phenomenon and on whether the same policies may have different effects if engaged during different phases of the business cycle.

REVISION: House Prices, Local Demand, and Retail Prices
Date Posted: Apr  30, 2015
We use detailed micro data to document a causal response of local retail price to changes in house prices, with elasticities of 15%-20% across housing booms and busts. Notably, these price responses are largest in zip codes with many homeowners, and non-existent in zip codes with mostly renters. We provide evidence that these retail price responses are driven by changes in markups rather than by changes in local costs. We then argue that markups rise with house prices, particularly in high homeownership locations, because greater housing wealth reduces homeowners’ demand elasticity, and firms raise markups in response. Consistent with this explanation, shopping data confirms that house price changes have opposite effects on the price sensitivity of homeowners and renters. Our evidence has implications for monetary, labor, and urban economics, and suggests a new source of markup variation in business cycle models.

New: Regional Redistribution Through the U.S. Mortgage Market
Date Posted: Feb  28, 2015
An integrated tax and transfer system together with factor mobility can help mitigate local shocks within monetary and fiscal unions. In this paper we explore the role of a new mechanism that may also be central to determining the welfare effects of regional shocks. The degree to which households can use borrowing to smooth location-specific risks depends crucially on the interest rate and how it varies with local economic conditions. In the U.S., the bulk of borrowing occurs through the mortgage market and is heavily influenced by the presence of government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs). We empirically establish that despite large spatial variation in predictable default risk, there is essentially no spatial variation in GSE mortgage rates, conditional on borrower observables. In contrast, we show that the private market does set interest rates based in part on regional risk factors and postulate that the lack of regional variation in GSE mortgage rates is likely driven by political ...