Jonathan Presler

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Saint Louis University

Welcome. I am a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Sinquefield Center for Applied Economic Research at Saint Louis University. I earned my PhD in Economics from Syracuse University in 2020. As an applied microeconomist, I research at the intersection of Urban, Labor, and Public economics. My research interests include peer effects, education, homelessness, and discrimination. Common threads in my work include the application of spatial methods and use of big data, such as cell phone geolocation micro-data and large administrative datasets.

Curriculum Vitae

My CV is available for download here: Jonathan Presler CV.

Contact Info



Saint Louis University
Sinquefield Center for Applied Economic Research
Fusz Hall, Suite 358
3700 W Pine Mall Blvd
Saint Louis, MO 63108
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"You Are Who You Eat With: Academic Peer Effects from School Lunch Lines"

(2022) Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 203, 43-58.

Job Market Paper.

Abstract:  Using daily lunch transaction data from NYC public schools, I determine which students frequently stand next to one another in the lunch line. I use this 'revealed' friendship network to estimate academic peer effects in elementary school classrooms, improving on previous work by defining not only where social connections exist, but the relative strength of these connections. Equally weighting all peers in a reference group assumes that all peers are equally important and may bias estimates by underweighting important peers and overweighting unimportant peers. I find that students who eat together are important influencers of one another's academic performance, with stronger effects in math than in reading. Further exploration of the mechanisms supports my claim that these are friendship networks. I also compare the influence of friends from different periods in the school year and find that connections occurring around standardized testing dates are most influential on test scores.

Working Papers

"Who’s Affecting Who? Obesity Peer Effects in NYC Public Schools"

Under Review.

Abstract:  Obesity rates continue to climb in the US, as they have been doing for the past several decades. This phenomenon is evident in both adults and children, and the obesity epidemic has profound individual and public costs. Obesity during a child's early years are particularly problematic because obesity is difficult to reverse. This is a multi-faceted problem, and an area of growing literature focuses on the social contagion around obesity and overweight. Most of this work focuses on adolescents and college students - missing crucial early years of development. This paper focuses on obesity peer effects in New York City elementary school classrooms. Using reduced form models common in the peer effects literature, I find evidence of significant causal social effects both in BMI and exposure to overweight and obese students. Further exploration into the heterogeneity of these effects finds that elementary boys are more affected by peer weight than girls, and I find little difference by race.

"What Makes a Classmate a Peer? Examining Which Peers Matter in NYC Elementary Schools"

with William Horrace, Hyunseok Jung, and Amy Ellen Schwartz

Under Review.

Abstract:  A growing literature explores peer effects in educational outcomes (e.g., standardized test scores), but constructing student peer networks through friendship surveys or similar means may be prohibitively costly. A reasonable alternative to surveys is using shared student characteristics as a proxy for the network. In addition to being relatively inexpensive to implement, peer networks constructed from demographic data like ethnicity or gender are often strictly exogenous and constant over time, two traits that greatly simplify peer effect estimation. While researchers believe certain demographic characteristics are important for understanding peer effects, there is little evidence on the relative importance of these factors. This paper provides empirical evidence on the relative importance of peer effects by gender, ethnicity, neighborhood, bus stop, bus route, language, and country of birth for New York City elementary school classrooms. Conditional on being in the same classroom, we find that the most important student peer effects are shared bus, gender, and country of birth. In doing so, we consider identification of peer effects within the classroom setting, and tackle issues related to the 'big data' associated with large urban school systems.

"Is Discrimination Scarring? Effects of the September 11, 2001 Terror Attacks on New Entrants in the Labor Force"

Abstract:  In this paper, I look at whether new entrants to the labor force who are Americans of Middle Eastern, Afghan, or Pakistani descent faced scarring effects due to discrimination following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. I break from the difference-indifference framework common in the discrimination literature revolving around terror attacks, and I utilize an event-study model similar to those employed in the recession literature. This allows me to estimate not only initial effects due to discrimination, but also a period of recovery and the existence and duration of any scarring effects. I provide weak evidence of the existence of such scarring effects due to discrimination and discuss possible channels of these scarring effects. I conclude with potential avenues for refining the precision of my estimates in future work.

Work in Progress

"Migration and Seasonality of the Homeless in the United States: Using Big Data to Understand a Big Problem"

with David Lucas

"Project Lead the Way Program Evaluation"

with Darrin DeChane, Dillon Fuchsman, Takako Nomi, and Michael Podgursky

"CORE 42 Program Evaluation"

with Darrin DeChane, Dillon Fuchsman, Takako Nomi, and Michael Podgursky

"Geographic variation in employment opportunities for military spouses"

with Christopher Rick

"Unevenly cooked: racial inequity due to climate change"

with David Schwegman

"How do gas prices affect commuter rail uptake?"

with Christopher Rick

Conference Presentations

“The Lunch Club: Does Exposure Increase Integration in the Lunch Line?”

Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP)

March 2022

"Obesity Peer Effects in NYC Elementary Schools"

Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP)

March 2021

"You Are Who You Eat With: Evidence on Academic Peer Effects in School Lunch Lines"

Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM)

November 2019

"What Makes a Classmate a Peer? Examining Which Peers Matter in NYC Elementary Schools"

Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP)

Daniel Patrick Moynihan Summer Workshop in Education and Social Policy

March 2019

May 2019

Awards and Fellowships

Syracuse University Graduate Fellowship


Syracuse University Graduate Assistantship


Maxwell School Summer Fellowship


Travel Grant, Syracuse University


Teaching Experience

Instructor for Economic Principles, Dept. of Economics, Syracuse University

Summer 2017

Teaching Assistant, Dept. of Economics, Syracuse University

Economic Principles

Game Theory

Intermediate Microeconomics

Intermediate Mathematical Microeconomics


Teaching Assistant, Dept. of Mathematics, North Dakota State University




Michael J. Podgursky

(Post-Doctoral Supervisor)

Director, Sinquefield Center for Applied Economic Research at Saint Louis University

Chancellor’s Professor of Economics, University of Missouri

(573) 882-4574

Amy Ellen Schwartz

(Primary PhD Advisor)

Dean, Biden School

University of Delaware

(302) 831-4570

William C. Horrace

Distinguished Professor, Economics

Syracuse University

(315) 443-9061

Alfonso Flores-Lagunes

Professor of Economics

Syracuse University

(315) 443-9045

Don Dutkowsky

(Teaching Reference)

Professor, Economics

Syracuse University

(315) 443-1918