Michael Mueller-Smith is a Post-Doctoral Scholar completing a two-year fellowship at the Population Studies Center sponsored by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). His research centers on the economics of crime, discrimination and public assistance programs. Mueller-Smith was selected as a co-winner of the honorable mention for the 2015 Upjohn Institute Dissertation Award for labor economics in recognition of his work regarding employment-related issues.

His work, “Essays in the Economics of Crime and Discrimination,” focuses on the effects that legal and social systems have on the economic behavior and well-being of two potentially marginalized populations: criminal offenders and sexual minorities. He explores the criminal and labor market impacts of incarceration, the relationship between discrimination and concealment of minority status and the effects that legal recognition of same-sex unions has on employment and childbearing activity.

Mueller-Smith earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 2015 and in 2017 he will be joining the University of Michigan Department of Economics as an Assistant Professor.


This dissertation studies marginalized populations in the United States and Western countries, with a broad focus on how legal and social institutions affect individual economic outcomes and wellbeing. The first chapter examines the impacts of incarceration on criminal defendants in Houston, Texas, documenting patterns of worsening criminality, diminished earnings and social detachment after exposure to the prison system. The second chapter develops a framework to consider the interplay between discrimination and concealment of minority status in the context of sexual orientation and shows empirical evidence from the United States on the large magnitudes of concealment costs. The third chapter considers the role of legal recognition of unions in shaping the labor market activity and childbearing decisions of same-sex couples in Sweden, implicitly providing insight into some of the constraints imposed on same-sex couples by widespread exclusion from the institution of marriage throughout the world. Together these essays highlight how public institutions and social systems influence lifecycle outcomes in the population, particularly among minority and other vulnerable groups.