It is increasingly recognized that well-defined property rights are crucial for realizing the benefits of market exchange and that such rights are not exogenously given but evolve over time in response to economic and political forces. The reduction of expropriation risk and the facilitation of market transactions are the two main categories through which property rights systems affect economic outcomes. However, the mechanisms by which these two categories affect outcomes differ in important ways.
My last two blogs, Lessons on School-Based Management from a Randomized Experiment and Empowering Parents to Improve Schooling: Powerful Evidence from Rural Mexico, have focused on empowering parents to help increase accountability in schools. However, too often, decentralization programs are designed without adequately conveying the messages about their purpose to the intended audiences; or, it is done in such a way that the program is rendered useless.
Does an increase in household wealth decrease child labor in poorer households? Available literature in economics suggests that when poorer households need to make their ends meet, they tend not to dispense on child labor. And as households’ income increases, child labor declines in favor of schooling. However, if schools are few and far, and their infrastructure and teachers’ performance are deficient, there is less incentives for parents to send their children to school. Child labor would then appear as a sensible option, not only for increasing family’s current income but also for training children in skilled work. Thus, an appropriate question is: To what extent and under what conditions an increase in household wealth can either decrease or increase child labor in poor households?
So this past week I was in Ghana following up on some of the projects I am working on there with one of my colleagues. We were designing an agricultural impact evaluation with some of our counterparts, following up on the analysis of the second round of a land tenure impact evaluation and a financial literacy intervention, and exploring the possibility of some work in the rural financial sector. In no particular order, here are some of the things I learned and some things I am still wondering about:
One of the things I learned from other folks at the Bank I work with is the usefulness of doing a workshop early in the early design of an impact evaluation to bring the project and the impact evaluation team together to hammer out design. With one of my colleagues, I did one of these during my recent trip to Ethiopia and a bunch of things stuck out.
I was in a meeting the other week where we were wrestling with the issue of how to capture better labor supply in agricultural surveys. This is tough – the farms are often far from the house, tasks are often dispersed across time, with some of them being a small amount of hours – either in total or on a given day. Families can have more than one farm, weakening what household members know about how the others spend their time. One of the interesting papers that came up was a study by Elena Bardasi, Kathleen Beegle, Andrew Dllon and Pieter Serneels. Before turning to their results its worth spending a bit more time discussing what could be going on.
Two things would seem to matter (among others). First, who you ask could shape the information you get. We’ve had multiple posts in the past about imperfections in within household information. These posts have talked about income and consumption and while labor would arguably be easier to observe, it may suffer from the same strategic motives for concealment and thus be underreported when the enumerator asks someone other than the actual worker to respond on this.
co-authored with Alaka Holla
Everyone always says that great things happen when you give money to women. Children start going to school, everyone gets better health care, and husbands stop drinking as much. And we know from impact evaluations of conditional cash transfers programs that a lot of these things are true (see for example this review of the evidence by colleagues at the World Bank). But, aside from just giving them cash with conditions, how do we get money in the hands of women? Do the programs we use to increase earnings work the same for men and women? And do the same dimensions of well-being respond to these programs for men and women?
The answer is we don’t know much. And we really should know more. If we don’t know what works to address gender inequalities in the economic realm, we can’t do the right intervention (at least on purpose). This makes it impossible to economically empower women in a sustainable, meaningful way. We also don’t know what this earned income means for household welfare. While the evidence from CCTs for example might suggest that women might spend transfers differently, we don’t know whether more farm or firm profits for a woman versus a man means more clothes for the kids and regular doctor visits. We also don’t know much about the spillover effects in non-economic realms generated by interventions in the productive sectors and whether these also differ across men and women. Quasi-experimental evidence from the US for example suggests that decreases in the gender wage-gap reduce violence against women (see this paper by Anna Aizer), but some experimental evidence by Fernald and coauthors from South Africa suggests that extending credit to poor borrowers decreases depressive symptoms for men but not for women.
The English cartoonist Ashleigh Brilliant once offered the following piece of advice to strategists of all sorts who are concerned with their reputation: “To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first, and call whatever you hit the target…” With little time and fewer resources than elsewhere to battle the burning issues of poverty, insecurity and sociopolitical instability, economists and policymakers in developing countries may not be in the position to benefit from such cynical wisdom. Rather than listening to Ashleigh Brilliant, they should always keep in mind the constraints they face and the urgency of the situation in poor countries, and reflect on the maxim that recommends to “always aim before shooting.
A policy and research domain where there is a serious deficit of strategic thinking and prioritization is that of evaluation, which is traditionally defined as the systematic assessment of the worth or merit of some project, program or policy. The importance of evaluation cannot be underestimated: first, in a world where ideas compete constantly for funding, it is essential to ensure that value for money is at the core of public policy. Second, only by assessing the pertinence and efficiency of development initiatives can we get a full picture of their outcomes, and ensure accountability. Third and perhaps even more importantly, evaluation helps define the criteria for decision-making on new initiatives, and chart the course of future action. It highlights what works and what does not. It is therefore not surprising that evaluation has become a hot area of research and policy.
- Impact evaluation