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Berk Ozler's blog

Weekly Links, April 7: Unpaywall, good and fake news from Malawi, doing research in conflict zones, and more...

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  • Just this week, I provided a journalist with a bunch of citations, most of which she could not access. Perhaps, no more? LSE Impact Blog discusses the Unpaywall: "The extension is called Unpaywall, and it’s powered by an open index of more than ten million legally-uploaded, open access resources. Reports from our pre-release are great: “Unpaywall found a full-text copy 53% of the time,” reports librarian, Lydia Thorne. Fisheries researcher Lachlan Fetterplace used Unpaywall to find “about 60% of the articles I tested. This one is a great tool and I suspect it will only get better.” And indeed it has! We’re now getting full-text on 85% of 2016’s most-covered research papers."  

Should I stay or should I go? Marriage markets and household consumption

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“We propose a model of the household with consumption, production and revealed preference conditions for stability on the marriage market. We define marital instability in terms of the consumption gains to remarrying another individual in the same marriage market, and to being single. We find that a 1 percentage point increase in the wife’s estimated consumption gains from remarriage is significantly associated with a 0.6 percentage point increase in divorce probability in the next three years.”

A pre-analysis plan is the only way to take your p-value at face-value

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Andrew Gelman has a post from last week that discusses the value of preregistration of studies as being akin to the value of random sampling and RCTs that allow you to make inferences without relying on untestable assumptions. His argument, which is nicely described in this paper, is that we don’t need to assume nefarious practices by study authors, such as specification searching, selective reporting, etc. to worry about the p-value reported in the paper we’re reading being correct.

Fact checking universal basic income: can we transfer our way out of poverty?

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New York Times published an article last week, titled “The Future of Not Working.” In it, Annie Lowrie discusses the universal basic income experiments in Kenya by GiveDirectly: no surprise there: you can look forward to more pieces in other popular outlets very soon, as soon as they return from the same villages visited by the Times.

Do Cash Transfers Have Sustained Effects on Human Capital Accumulation?

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Cash transfers are great – lots of people are telling you that on a continuous basis. However, it is an open question as to whether such programs can improve the wellbeing of their beneficiaries well after the cessation of support. As cash transfer programs continue to grow as major vehicles for social protection, it is increasingly important to understand if these programs break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, or whether the benefits simply evaporate when the money runs out…

Power Calculation Software for Randomized Saturation Experiments

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One of the things I get asked when people are designing experiments – when they are either interested in or worried about spillover effects – is how to divvy up the clusters into treatment and control and what share of individuals within treatment clusters to assign within-cluster controls. The answer seems straightforward – it may look intuitive to assign a third to each group and I have seen a few designs that have done this, but it turns out that it’s a bit more complicated than that. There was no software that I am aware of that helped you with such power calculations, until now...

CCTs for Pees: Cash Transfers Halloween Edition

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Subsidies to increase utilization are used in all sorts of fields and I have read more than my fair share of CCT papers. However, until last week, I had not come across a scheme that paid people to purchase their urine. Given that I am traveling and the fact that I am missing Halloween, I thought I’d share (I hope it’s not TMI)…
Here is the abstract of an article by Tilley and Günther (2016), published in Sustainability:
In the developing world, having access to a toilet does not necessarily imply use: infrequent or non-use limits the desired health outcomes of improved sanitation. We examine the sanitation situation in a rural part of South Africa where recipients of novel, waterless “urine-diverting dry toilets” are not regularly using them. In order to determine if small, conditional cash transfers (CCT) could motivate families to use their toilets more, we paid for urine via different incentive-based interventions: two were based on volumetric pricing and the third was a flat-rate payment (irrespective of volume). A flat-rate payment (approx. €1) resulted in the highest rates of regular (weekly) participation at 59%. The low volumetric payment (approx. €0.05/L) led to regular participation rates of only 12% and no increase in toilet use. The high volumetric payment (approx. €0.1/L) resulted in lower rates of regular participation (35%), but increased the average urine production per household per day by 74%. As a first example of conditional cash transfers being used in the sanitation sector, we show that they are an accepted and effective tool for increasing toilet use, while putting small cash payments in the hands of poor, largely unemployed populations in rural South Africa.”
 

Did Peru’s CCT program halve its stunting rate?

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On September 30, the Guardian ran several articles (see here, here, and an editorial here) linking the halving of Peru’s stunting rate (from 28 to 14% between mid-2000s and 2015) to its CCT program Juntos. Of course, it is great to hear that the share of stunted children in Peru declined dramatically over a short period. However, as I know that while CCT programs (conditional or not) have been successful in improving various outcomes including child health, the effect sizes are never this dramatic, I was curious to see whether the decline was part of a secular trend in Peru or actually could be attributed primarily to Juntos

Weekly Links: Capabilities and Skills, More on RDD, Elite capture, Real-time price tracking in South Sudan, and more...

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  • Heckman turned one of his lectures from last year into an NBER WP titled "Capabilities and Skills." Looks really interesting - here's a quote from the abstract: "We address measurement problems common to both the economics of human development and the capability approach. The economics of human development analyzes the dynamics of preference formation, but is silent about which preferences should be used to evaluate alternative policies. This is both a strength and a limitation of the approach."

  • Advances in Econometrics has a special issue on Regression Discontinuity Design, including many papers by prominent statisticians and econometricians in the field and edited by Cattaneo and Escanciano.

  • Do poor people want more redistributive programs and less public goods? Latest issue of the Journal of the European Economic Association has a paper by Bursztyn that challenges elite capture as the explanation for low levels of investment in public education. Here is the abstract: "A large literature has emphasized elite capture of democratic institutions as the explanation for the low levels of spending on public education in many low-income democracies. This paper provides an alternative to that longstanding hypothesis. Motivated by new cross-country facts and evidence from Brazilian municipalities, we hypothesize that many democratic developing countries might invest less in public education spending because poor decisive voters prefer the government to allocate resources elsewhere. One possible explanation is that low-income voters could instead favor redistributive programs that increase their incomes in the short run, such as cash transfers. To test for this possibility, we design and implement an experimental survey and an incentivized choice experiment in Brazil. The findings from both interventions support our hypothesis."

  • My brilliant former research assistant Utz Pape has a blog post titled: "What did we learn from real-time tracking of market prices in South Sudan?" Read it if you're into innovative use of technology in development.

  • Private Enterprise Development in Low-Income Countries (PEDL), a joint research initiative of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and the Department For International Development (DFID), is offering a competitive research grants scheme for projects related to the behaviour of firms in Low-Income Countries (LICs) that aim to better understand what determines the strength of market forces driving efficiency in these countries. Round 21 of their new Exploratory Research Grants is now open:

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