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LTD Editors's blog

Friday round up: Syria, Piketty pushes back, Universal Health Coverage, GMOs to fight hunger, and Brazil

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Syria's economy is heading into ruin, warns a Reuters news story based on a new study by the Damascus based-Syrian Centre for Policy Research. Commissioned by the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the study estimates that there was a 40 percent contraction in GDP since the start the conflict in 2011 and two-thirds of the nation's population is estimated to be living in extreme poverty.

Thomas Piketty, author of 'Capital in the 21st Century,' has responded in detail to the FT's recent assertion that his blockbuster book used erroneous computations.

Son preference, fertility and family structure: Evidence from reproductive behavior among Nigerian women

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Strong boy-bias and its consequences for young and unborn girls have been widely documented for Asia. A new World Bank policy research working paper considers a country in Sub-Saharan Africa and finds that parental gender preferences do affect fertility behavior and shape traditional social institutions with negative effects on adult women's health and well-being. Using individual-level data for Nigeria, the paper shows that, compared to women with first-born sons, women with first-born daughters have (and desire) more children and are less likely to use contraceptives. Women with daughters among earlier-born children are also more likely to have shorter birth intervals, a behavior medically known to increase the risk of child and maternal mortality. Moreover, they are more likely to end up in a polygynous union, to be divorced, and to be head of the household. The preference for sons is also supported by child fostering patterns in which daughters are substitutes for foster girls, while the same does not hold for sons and foster boys. These results can partly explain excess female mortality among adult women in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Cash transfers and temptation goods: A review of global evidence

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Cash transfers have been demonstrated to improve education and health outcomes and alleviate poverty in various contexts. However, policy makers and others often express concern that poor households will use transfers to buy alcohol, tobacco, or other "temptation goods." The income effect of transfers will increase expenditures if alcohol and tobacco are normal goods, but this may be offset by other effects, including the substitution effect, the effect of social messaging about the appropriate use of transfers, and the effect of shifting dynamics in intra-household bargaining. The net effect is ambiguous. A new paper by David K. Evans and Anna Popova reviews 19 studies with quantitative evidence on the impact of cash transfers on temptation goods, as well as 11 studies that surveyed the number of respondents who reported they used transfers for temptation goods. Almost without exception, studies find either no significant impact or a significant negative impact of transfers on temptation goods. In the only (two, non-experimental) studies with positive significant impacts, the magnitude is small. This result is supported by data from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. A growing number of studies from a range of contexts therefore indicate that concerns about the use of cash transfers for alcohol and tobacco consumption are unfounded.

​Friday Roundup: Tackling Inequality, Ushahidi on crisis data, Technology and Africa, Gates on Sachs, and ABCDE sign up

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Ana Revenga, soon to be the head of the Bank's Poverty Global Practice, blogs on the importance of starting early when tackling inequality and also links to a new user-friendly inequality dashboard.

From his days as an MIT professor, to his stint as World Bank Chief Economist, #2 at the IMF, and head of Israel's central bank, Stan Fischer is a towering figure in economics circles. He's just been appointed by Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen to be her deputy. Read Dylan Matthew's profile of Stan here.

Urbanization as opportunity

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Urbanization deserves urgent attention from policy makers, academics, entrepreneurs, and social reformers of all stripes. Nothing else will create as many opportunities for social and economic progress. The urbanization project began roughly 1,000 years after the transition from the Pleistocene to the milder and more stable Holocene interglacial. In 2010, the urban population in developing countries stood at 2.5 billion. The most important citywide projects -- successes like New York and Shenzhen -- show even more clearly how influential human intention can be. The developing world can accommodate the urban population growth and declining urban density in many ways. One is to have a threefold increase in the average population of its existing cities and a six fold increase in their average built-out area. Another, which will leave the built-out area of existing cities unchanged, will be to develop 625 new cities of 10 million people -- 500 new cities to accommodate the net increase in the urban population and another 125 to accommodate the 1.25 billion people who will have to leave existing cities as average density falls by half.

The effect of aid on growth: Evidence from a quasi-experiment

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The literature on aid and growth has not found a convincing instrumental variable to identify the causal effects of aid. A new World Bank policy research working paper exploits an instrumental variable based on the fact that since 1987, eligibility for aid from the International Development Association (IDA) has been based partly on whether or not a country is below a certain threshold of per capita income. The paper finds evidence that other donors tend to reinforce rather than compensate for reductions in IDA aid following threshold crossings. Overall, aid as a share of gross national income (GNI) drops about 59 percent on average after countries cross the threshold. Focusing on the 35 countries that have crossed the income threshold from below between 1987 and 2010, a positive, statistically significant, and economically sizable effect of aid on growth is found. A one percentage point increase in the aid to GNI ratio from the sample mean raises annual real per capita growth in gross domestic product by approximately 0.35 percentage points. The analysis shows that the main channel through which aid promotes growth is by increasing physical investment.

Friday Roundup: Data on Maternal Mortality, Best and Worst Places to be a Mother, Rewarding Careers, and Mom Magnet

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The World Health Organization, the United Nations, and the World Bank jointly released data and a report on new maternal mortality estimates (1990-2013). Using illustrative charts, the Bank's Development Data Group demographer Emi Suzuki blogs about how the data shows meaningful progress in reducing maternal mortality.

Doing Business methodology updates

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The World Bank Group’s Doing Business project provides objective measures of business regulations and their implementation across economies worldwide and selected cities at the subnational and regional level. The first Doing Business report, published in 2003, covered five indicator sets and 133 economies. The most recent report published in late 2013 covered 11 indicator sets and 189 economies.

As with most key international indicator sets, Doing Business has come a long way since its inception in 2002/2003 and continues to be a work in progress. The report team works to improve the methodology each year and to enhance their data collection, analysis and output. 

Friday Roundup: ​Sources of Humanitarian Aid, Stolen Girls, First Thousand Days, South Sudan, and New Kaushik Basu Paper

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An April briefing paper from 'Global Humanitarian Assistance' analyzes where humanitarian aid comes from and finds that private donors contributed US$4.1 billion in 2012, representing 24% of the total international response. Over a quarter of all international humanitarian assistance came from private donors between 2008 and 2012. The role of these private donors clearly goes beyond purely financial donations. There is an acknowledged rise for example in corporate partnerships, where expertise, human resources and goods are a given.

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