The Economics Department

Dean Spears


(on leave)

Assistant ProfessorPhD, Princeton University

Dean Spears


  • Phone: 512-475-8543
  • Office: BRB 3.134D
  • Office Hours: Spring 2018 | T 8:30AM-10:30AM
  • Campus Mail Code: C3100


Dean is an economic demographer and development economist.  His research areas include:

  • the health, growth, and survival of children, especially in India
  • the environment, air pollution, and climate change
  • population dimensions of social well-being

Dean is Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Texas at Austin, is a visiting economist at the Economics and Planning Unit of the Indian Statistical Institute in Delhi, is a founding Executive Director of r.i.c.e., and is an affiliate of IZA and of the Climate Futures Initiative at Princeton University.   At UT-Austin, he is an affiliate of the Population Research Center, the South Asia Institute, and Innovations for Peace and Development.  With Diane Coffey, he is the author of the award-winning book Where India Goes: Abandoned Toilets, Stunted Development, and the Costs of Caste.







Selected publications: (for a complete list please see my c.v.)

Heat, Humidity, and Infant Mortality in the Developing World. IZA discussion paper 11717. 2018. with Michael Geruso.

Neighborhood sanitation and infant mortality.   American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. 2018. with Michael Geruso.

Impact of population growth and population ethics on climate change mitigation policy. PNAS. 2017.  with Noah Scovronick, Mark Budolfson, Francis Dennig, Marc Fleurbaey, Asher Siebert, Robert H. Socolow, and Fabian Wagner.

Health externalities of India's expansion of coal plants: Evidence from a national panel of 40,000 householdsJournal of Environmental Economics and Management. 2017. with Aashish Gupta.

Sanitation, disease externalities, and anemia: Evidence from Nepal. The Economic Journal. forthcoming.  with Diane Coffey and Michael Geruso.

Health and hunger: disease, energy needs, and the Indian calorie consumption puzzle. The Economic Journal. 2017. with Josephine Duh.

Making people happy or making happy people?: Questionnaire-experimental studies of population ethics and policy. Social Choice and Welfare. 2017.

Optimal population with exhaustible resource constraints. Journal of Population Economics. 2017. with Nicholas Lawson.

Optimal climate policy and the future of world economic development. World Bank Economic Review. 2017.  with Mark Budolfson, Francis Dennig, Marc Fleurbaey, Noah Scovronick, Asher Siebert, and Fabian Wagner.

Place and child health: The interaction of population density and sanitation behavior in developing countries. Demography. 2017. with Payal Hathi, Sabrina Haque, Lovey Pant, and Diane Coffey.

Village sanitation and child health: Effects and external validity in a randomized field experiment in rural India. Journal of Health Economics. 2016.  with Jeffrey Hammer.

Effects of Early-Life Exposure to Rural Sanitation on Childhood Cognitive Skills: Evidence from India's Total Sanitation Campaign. Journal of Human Resources. 2016. with Sneha Lamba.

Decision Costs and Price Sensitivity: Field Experimental Evidence from India. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. 2014.

Having a son promotes clean cooking fuel use in urban India. Economic Development and Cultural Change. 2014. with Avinash Kishore.

Height and cognitive achievement among Indian children. Economics & Human Biology. 2012.



Policy Research

Selected papers: (for a complete list please see my c.v.)

The Hidden Zero Problem: Effective Altruism and Barriers to Marginal Impact. forthcoming in Effective Altruism: Philosophical Issues, edited by Theron Pummer and Hilary Greaves, Oxford U. Press. with Mark Budolfson.

Nobel Laureate Bill Nordhaus' Ideas for IndiaIdeas for India. 2018.

Child height in India: Facts and interpretations from the 2015-16 NFHS-4. Economic & Political Weekly (special article section). 2018. with Diane Coffey.

Quantifying India's Climate Vulnerability. India Policy Forum. 2018. with Kevin Kuruc, Melissa LoPalo, and Mark Budolfson. [slides]

Open defecation in rural India, 2015-2016: Levels and trends in the NFHS-4. Economic & Political Weekly. 2018. with Diane Coffey.

Sanitation and religion in South Asia: What accounts for differences across countries?. Journal of Development Studies. 2018 with Sangita Vyas.

Understanding open defecation in rural India: Untouchability, pollution, and latrine pitsEconomic & Political Weekly (special article section). 2017.  with Diane Coffey, Aashish Gupta, Payal Hathi, Nikhil Srivastav, and Sangita Vyas.

An experiment with air purifiers in Delhi during winter 2015-2016.  PLoS ONE.  2016.  with Sangita Vyas and Nikhil Srivastav.

Caste and life satisfaction in rural north IndiaEconomic & Political Weekly. 2016.

Can collective action strategies motivate behavior change to reduce open defecation in rural India?. with Payal Hathi and Diane Coffey.  Waterlines.  2016.

  • winner of the Jeroen Ensink Memorial Prize for 2016

Seeing Past Ethical  Illusions:  Greene's Moral Tribes and Cooperation and Conflict in India. Economic & Political Weekly (book review). 2015.

Why sanitation matters for nutrition. chapter 3 in IFPRI Global Food Policy Report. 2015. with Lawrence Haddad.

Revealed preference for open defecation: Evidence from a new survey in rural north India. Economic & Political Weekly (special article section). 2014.  with Diane Coffey, Aashish Gupta, Payal Hathi, Nidhi Khurana, Nikhil Srivastav, and Sangita Vyas.

Are children in West Bengal shorter than children in Bangladesh? Economic & Political Weekly. 2014. with Arabinda Ghosh and Aashish Gupta.

Stunting among Children: Facts and ImplicationsEconomic & Political Weekly. 2013. with Diane Coffey, Angus Deaton, Jean Drèze, & Alessandro Tarozzi.

Open defecation and childhood stunting in India: An ecological analysis of new data from 112 districtsPLoS ONE. 2013. with Oliver Cumming and Arabinda Ghosh.


Book: Where India Goes

Where India Goes:

Abandoned Toilets, Stunted Development, and the Costs of Caste

Diane Coffey and Dean Spears. 2017.

Winner of the 2017 AIIS Joseph W. Elder Book Prize in the Indian Social Sciences

Included among Marginal Revolution's Best Non-Fiction Books of 2017

Included among The Hindu's Top 10 Non-Fiction Books of 2017

Included among LiveMint's What we read in 2017

Around the world, people live longer, better lives than in centuries past, in part because of the rapid adoption of latrines and toilets that keep faecal germs away from growing children.  India is an exception.  Compared to the rest of the world, latrine and toilet adoption in India has been very slow and open defecation remains far too common.  This is one reason why infants in India are more likely to die than in neighboring poorer countries like Bangladesh and Nepal, and are more likely to be stunted than children in sub-Saharan Africa.  Because early-life conditions have life-long consequences, when children cannot develop to their potential, economic development is stunted, too.

Where India Goes demonstrates that India's exceptional open defecation is not the result of poverty.  It is an enduring consequence of the caste system, untouchability, and ritual purity.  Coffey and Spears tell an unsanitized story of an unsanitary subject, with characters spanning the worlds of rural development policy -- from mothers and babies living in villages to local government implementers, senior government policy-makers and international development professionals.

Google Books preview (includes Foreword by Angus Deaton)

Comments on Where India Goes:

  • Marginal Revolution (Alex Tabarrok): "Where India Goes, a book about the problem of open defecation in India, is the best social science book I have read in years."
  • Stanford Social Innovation Review (Abhay Rao): "combining a data-driven approach and often poignant personal accounts... a fresh and compelling perspective that should interest not just policy makers and practitioners in sanitation, but also those working in maternal and child health, and education, and other fields"
  • The Hindu (Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta): "This is a deeply researched and thoughtfully written book about open defecation, the role of caste, and the challenges of implementing policy interventions at this scale. Beyond these questions, it also reflects on the difficult road of development beyond conference platitudes and technocratic solutions."
  • AIIS prize committee: "Praising your manuscript, which they described as 'stunningly well done,' and 'fascinating,' the members of the Publications Committee cited its dramatic ethnographic case studies and well-documented statistical arguments as being of great potential value to both policy makers and general readers..."
  • Business Standard (Rahul Jacob): "One of the most admirable and important books I've ever read"
  • The Wire (Govindan Nair): "Where India Goes is essential reading not only for policymakers and development professionals, but for anyone interested in the paradoxes of development in the early 21st century."
  • Hindustan Times (Sudhirendar Sharma): "A book that is important, timely, and easy to read."
  • The Wire (Awinash Kumar): "A path breaking and brilliant addition to the literature on child malnutrition and development policy in India."