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What’s the latest in development economics research? A round-up of 140+ papers from NEUDC 2017

David Evans's picture

Did you miss this year’s Northeast Universities Development Consortium conference, or NEUDC? I did, unfortunately!

NEUDC is a large development economics conference, with more than 160 papers on the program, so it’s a nice way to get a sense of new research in the field.
Thankfully, since NEUDC posts submitted papers, I was able to mostly catch up. I went through 147 of the papers and summarized them below, by topic. If a paper you loved or presented isn’t in the rundown, feel free to add a brief summary in the comments. (Why 147 instead of 160? I skipped a few macro papers and the papers that weren’t posted.)

These links should take you to your topic of interest: Agriculture, cash transfers and asset transfers, credit and insurance, crime, conflict, violence, and war, culture, norms, and corruption, education, elections and political economy, firms, governance, bureaucracy, and social capital, health (including WASH), jobs (including public works), marriage, methodology, migration, mobile phones and mobile money, poverty, inequality, and shocks, psychology, taxes, and traffic.


  • Increased agricultural productivity in the 1920s and 30s had long-run impacts on industrialization and modern living standards in Italy. (Carillo)
  • Increased agricultural productivity in India during the Green Revolution reduced the flow to workers to the manufacturing and service sectors, and increased conflict. “No evidence that the Green Revolution increased national incomes.” (Moscona)
  • Both cash transfers and input packages increased agricultural productivity in Malawi. Intensive extension may outperform group extension only over time. (Ambler, de Brauw, and Godlonton) #RCT
  • Access to markets has a sizeable impact on chemical fertilizer adoption in Tanzania: “The standard deviation of travel cost-adjusted fertilizer prices is 15% of the mean, and that 20% of the villages face prices that are 30% higher than the lowest-cost village.” (Aggarwal et al.)
  • Farmers in Ghana “are willing to pay just over 2 Ghanaian cedis [just under 50 cents U.S.] monthly on average for…a newly introduced digital nutrition-sensitive agricultural information service in Ghana.” Variations in framing don’t affect willingness to pay. (Hidrobo et al.) #RCT
  • For agricultural extension, which method works best, farmer field days or farmer-led demonstration plots? In Malawi, demonstration plots increase take-up of new methods, but not field days. (Maertens & Michelson) #RCT
  • In India, “households who gain access to improved rural road infrastructure diversify their crop portfolio – they begin to cultivate higher return, non-cereal hybrid crops… Households subsequently enter into the sales of farm output.” (Shamdasani)
Cash transfers and asset transfers
  • Cash transfers actually increased child labor in Zambia and Malawi, despite improving child welfare on a host of other measures. (de Hoop, Groppo, and Handa) #RCT
  • What do cash transfers conditional on school enrollment do for 18-year-olds? Little to nothing in Brazil. (Machado, Pinho Neto, and Szerman)
  • Nationwide, unconditional cash transfers in Iran led to no apparent reduction impact on labor supply, with increases for service sector workers (Salehi-Isfahani and Mostafavi-Dehzooei) #FixedEffects
  • A large, one-time cash transfer in Kenya didn’t increase informal taxation (by local leaders) but did slightly increase formal taxation (Walker)
  • “An unexpected [adverse health or job] shock [among cash transfer beneficiaries in Mexico] reduces labor supply, food security, mental health, and healthful behavior, but it does not affect parenting, cognition, risk and time preferences, and expectations and aspirations about children’s educational attainment.” (Angelucci et al.)
  • An asset transfer program in Zambia “significantly increased resilience among participant households, with beneficiaries 44% less likely than control households to fall into poverty. The program both increased the mean and decreased the variance in household assets (Phadera et al.)
  • We’ve seen that a program targeting the ultra-poor in Bangladesh increased consumption after four years. (Goldstein blogged on it.) New measures suggest that “program participants are made better off not only through higher average household welfare, but through a fall in period-to-period variation, suggestive of a greater ability to smooth welfare over time.” (Collins)
  • Livestock transfers and training to households in Zambia had the result that “decisions made jointly by men and women increased by 17% across all household activities, with statistically significant declines in independent decision making by men.” (Kafle, Michelson, & Winter-Nelson)
Credit and Insurance
  • “Excess rainfall shocks cause lower concurrent loan repayment, lower credit scores, and more frequent denial of subsequent loan applications” in Colombia, but “productivity, income and repayment behavior recover faster from these shocks than farmers’ credit histories.” (de Roux)
  • “Large experimental changes in contract terms (interest rates and minimum payments) have small effects on defaults both in the short and long-term (27 months)” in Mexico. (Castellanos et al.) #RCT
  • Microfinance clients with a more flexible contract option have higher repayment rates and business sales. (Barboni & Agarwal) #RCT
  • Government-supported self-help groups in India offered low-interest loans, which led informal lenders to reduce their own rates: Good for landless households. (Hoffman et al.) #RCT
  • “Providing timely access to credit [in Kenya] allows farmers to purchase at lower prices and sell at higher prices, increasing farm profits and generating a return on investment of 28%.” Varying loan density across locations shows that the general equilibrium effects really matter. (Burke, Bergquist, & Miguel) #RCT
  • “Microfinance membership improves food security during the hungry season [in Bangladesh], especially for the poorest households who struggle to survive at the margin of 1 and 2 meals a day. Microfinance membership also reduces the probability of short-term migration for work during [seasonal famine], but is ineffective in reducing the incidence of advance sale of labor at low wages.” (Berg & Emran) #IV
  • In Pakistan, “deposit volatility and liquidity cost” from a Sharia levy lead to reduced lending rates, unchanged loan amounts and total investment, and redirected investment from “fixed assets toward working capital.” (Choudhury & Limodio)
  • In India, a 2002 legal reform “allowed secured creditors to seize and liquidate the defaulter’s assets.” As a result, “firms increased employment, reduced their capital investments, and substituted secured formal credit with trade credit.” (Alok, Chaurey, & Nukala)
  • “A regulatory reform in Ghana that made it impossible to buy insurance on credit” led to consumers “purchasing contracts with less coverage; average claims and losses fell by 46% and 22% respectively, leading to a 12% increase in insurance company profits.” (Annan)
Crime, conflict, violence, and war
  • “Using data from several conflict settings – Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan – … the onset of harvest usually leads to a statistically significant reduction in the share of monthly insurgent attacks.” (Guardado and Pennings)
  • “Elections at the local level significantly reduce the pass between positive shocks to natural resource rents and civil conflict” in Nigeria. (Fetzer & Kyburz)
  • “When controlling for regional unobservables and time trends…World Bank project aid has no conflict-increasing effect.” Phew! (Gehring, Kaplan, & Wong)
  • “Construction of the fence [649 miles along the US-Mexico border] caused at least 3,000 additional deaths in the border region” (Laughlin)
  • People in Sub-Saharan Africa who were exposed to armed conflict between ages 6-10 are most accepting of domestic violence – data from 600,000+ survey respondents (La Mattina & Shemyakina)
  • In Peru, “exposing children to illegal labor markets” made them “30% more likely to be incarcerated for violent and drug-related crimes as adults.” Cash transfers mitigate. (Sviatschi)
  • After media reduced coverage of crime in Mexico, people reported less fear of crime but took just as much action to avoid being victims. (Ramírez-Álvarez)
  • “Higher intensity of defection messages” on the radio in DR Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Uganda led “to a decrease in both fatalities and the number of events involving violence against civilians and clashes,” mostly through “an increase in returnees from the armed group” (Armand, Atwell, & Gomes).
  • Cash transfers reduce intimate partner violence (IPV), but after transfers ended in Bangladesh, IPV was at comparison group levels. Behavior change communication has more enduring effects. (Roy et al.)
  • Alcohol regulation affects alcohol consumption in India, and “men who are legally allowed to drink are significantly more likely to commit violence against their partners.” Also, “smoking and drinking are complements.” (Luca, Owens, & Sharma)
  • Using a list experiment to report intimate-partner violence increases the “report of violent episodes among more educated women…enough to reverse the negative education gradient identified.” (Agüero & Frisancho)
  • Introducing unilateral, no-fault divorce in Mexico led to a “significant decrease in the probability of sexual, emotional and economic” intimate partner violence, “driven by couples who continue to remain married after the reform.” (García-Ramos)
  • “Women exposed to the [Nigerian civil] war [from 1967 to 1970] in their growing years exhibit reduced adult stature, increased likelihood of being overweight, earlier age at first birth, and lower educational attainment” BUT “exposure to a primary education program mitigates impacts of war exposure on education.” (Akresh et al.)
  • Does food aid cause conflict? Earlier research suggested yes, but Christian and Barrett give evidence that it may just be a spurious trend.
  • In the U.S., “having a draft-age son [during the conscription-era wars – WW1, WW2, Korean War, and Vietnam War] reduces legislator support for pro-conscription bills by 10-17%. Legislators with draft-age sons are also more likely to win reelection, suggesting that support for conscription is punished by voters.” (McGuirk, Hilger, & Miller)
Culture, norms, and corruption
  • “We find robust, direct evidence that civilians respond to insurgent predation by providing intelligence to security forces in Afghanistan.” (Wright & Zakharov)
  • “By decreasing bribes, our intervention [in the Kyrgyz Republic] reduces the average cost for firms and the price they charge to consumers. Revenues from patents increase significantly.” (Amodio et al.) #RCT
  • “Randomized anti-corruption audits [in Brazil] lead to higher economic activity and a reallocation of resources across firms…. Anti-corruption audits improve the performance of firms directly involved in corruption, reduce within firm misallocation of capital and labor, and allow firms to expand to new markets.” (Colonneli & Prem)
  • “Being a political supporter of the party in power increases the probability of having a public sector job by 10.5 percentage points (a 47% increase).” (Colonneli, Teso, & Prem)
  • “Decades after the closing of the frontier, counties with longer historical frontier experience exhibit more prevalent individualism and opposition to redistribution and regulation.” (Bazzi, Fiszbein, & Gebresilasse) #IV
  • “Between 1660–1788, individuals in imperial China were persecuted if they were suspected of holding subversive attitudes towards the state.” 250 years later, that translated into reduced trust, political participation, and education. (Xue & Koyama)
  • “Societies whose ancestors jointly practiced irrigation agriculture have stronger collectivist norms today.” Buggle documents “a negative effect of traditional irrigation agriculture on contemporary innovativeness of countries, cities, and migrants.” #IV
  • * “In auspicious dragon years [in Malaysia], Chinese birth rates rise 13.8 percent, while Malay birth rates fall by 1.8 percent… Pressure on resources was an important factor that drives these spillovers.” (Beam & Shrestha)
  • Indian men were randomly assigned to mixed-caste or same-caste cricket teams. “Collaborative contact increases post-league cross-caste friendships, whereas adversarial contact reduces them…. Collaborative contact…reduces caste bias in a voting exercise by up to 33%.” (Lowe) #RCT
  • “An incentive-compatible choice experiment in which 179 elected county councilors in rural Kenya chose among alternative water infrastructure projects reveals substantial home favoritism…. Politicians value each person served in their home village more than twice as much as each person served outside their home village.” (Hoffmann et al.)
  • Increased compulsory education in Turkey led to reduced “perpetration of child physical abuse by mothers who were physically abused by their own family during childhood” (Erten & Keskin) #RD
  • Participation in an after-school program for 10-16 year olds in El Salvador reduced school absenteeism and increased grades. “Mixing students with different propensities for violence was better than segregating them.” (Dinarte)
  • “The gender gap in math performance substantially increases when students are quasi-randomly assigned to teachers with stronger stereotypes” in Italy. “The effect is driven by lower performance of female students.” (Carlana)
  • Giving standardized test scores back to schools “through user-friendly reports” as diagnostic feedback led to gains between 0.28 and 0.38 standard deviations in math and reading in Argentina. (de Hoyos, Ganimian, & Holland
  • In Chile, teachers can be recognized for excellence by voluntarily signing up and then passing a series of assessments. Having a peer get the award almost doubles your likelihood of applying. (Berlinski & Ramos)
  • Teacher coaching versus teacher training? In South Africa, coaching larger and more cost-effective gains. (Cilliers & Taylor)
  • “Enrolling in a selective college” in India “leads to improvements in females’ exam scores with no effect on males’ scores. Marginally admitted females in selective colleges become less overconfident and less risk averse as compared to their counterparts in the less selective colleges.” (Dasgupta et al.) #RD
  • A tale of two merit scholarship programs in Malawi: A “standard” scholarship went to top performers regardless of baseline performance. A “relative” scholarship went to biggest improvers. “The Standard program significantly decreased test scores and motivation to study, especially for those least likely to win the scholarship. By contrast, we find no evidence for test score impacts among those in the Relative scholarship program.” (Berry, Kim, & Son)
  • Kenya’s 2008 abolition of tuition for public secondary school led to a rapid increase in students continuing from primary to secondary. “Post-primary education in Kenya delays childbirth and related behaviors, and shifts employment away from agriculture towards skilled work.” (Brudevold-Newman)
  • “Students who have the opportunity to attend a better” middle school in Mexico “experience improvements in language scores as measured through standardized tests, but have a lower GPA and are less likely to obtain their middle school certificate.” (Fabregas) #RD
  • The establishment of “elite public colleges [in India] led to an increase in educational attainment, driven by children staying in school longer. These gains in attainment correspond with a larger role played by private schools as more for-profit schools enter regions with new elite colleges, and students switch from public to private schools.” (Jagnani & Khanna)
  • The introduction of free primary education in Kenya in 2003 “is associated with increases in educational attainment and increased use of formal financial services, particularly through mobile banking.” Also, “increases in employment rates and incomes but limited improvements in effective numeracy, retirement planning, and subjective financial well-being.” (Ajayi & Ross)
  • Public subsidies to private schools in Pakistan “increased school enrollment by 30 percentage points in treated communities, for both boys and girls.” “The program increased test scores by 0.67 standard deviations in treated communities.” (Barrera-Osorio et al.)
  • Outsourcing public education to private schools in Liberia: “After one academic year, students in outsourced schools scored .18σ higher in English and mathematics than those in control schools. Private providers had higher expenditure per student than control schools… Analysis suggests that at least half of the learning gains were due to better management.” (Romero, Sandefur, & Sandholtz)
  • In Brazil between 1995 and 2014, “a large educational expansion took place…and wages of primary educated workers increased while wages of more educated workers declined, bringing forth reductions in poverty and inequality” (Jaume)
  • “Access to public preschool leads to higher maternal employment [for mothers of] of age-eligible children, but access to private preschool does not.” (Halim, Johnson, & Perova)
  • “For girls who perceive themselves to be of low ability, being assigned a female math teacher causes large gains in…students’ perceived ability, aspirations, investment, and academic performance… We see no effects of teacher-student gender match on children who do not perceive themselves to be of low math ability.” (Eble & Hu)
Elections and Political Economy
  • “Text messages intended to mobilize voters” in Kenya “boosted participation but also decreased trust in electoral institutions after the election, a decrease that was stronger in areas that experienced election-related violence, and for individuals on the losing side of the election.” Why? Promises about quick-tallying, electronic voting failed to materialize. (Marx, Pons, & Suri)
  • Domestic electoral observers in Mozambique reduced ballot box stuffing, but international observers had no clear impact. (Leeffers & Vicente) #RCT
  • “For each additional lower-level seat won by a woman” in India, “there is a 30 percent increase in the number of female candidates in subsequent national legislature elections, and women receive a disproportionately favorable increase in the vote share.” (Brown, Mansour, & O’Connell)
  • “A voter awareness campaign which emphasized the responsibilities of local leaders in implementing a nation-wide public employment program…led to exit by the worse performing incumbents, substitution by incumbent family members and entry by challengers from traditionally disadvantaged groups.” (Banerjee et al.) #RCT
  • Providing the same “information on economic conditions and terrorism” to voters in Turkey led voters to diverge “further in their vote choice, leading to countervailing effects and a significant increase in ideological polarization.” (Baysan)
  • What is the economic impact of political dynasties? “Using night-time luminosity as a measure of local economic activity, … constituencies where dynasts narrowly win grow 6.5pp slower per year (~0.2 std dev) compared to constituencies where dynasts narrowly lose.” (George & Ponattu)
  • “Entrepreneurs reduce their firm size in anticipation of local expansions of export manufacturing industries.” Why? In the case of “announcements of automotive plant expansions” in Mexico, it’s because entrepreneurs would rather have a job than run a business. (Koelle) #EventStudy
  • Management training for small manufacturers in Vietnam increased business survival from 52% to 69%. “Higher business performance was due to sustainably improved management skill and change in entrepreneurial mindset.” (Higuchi, Nam, & Sonobe) #RCT
  • Shenoy derives “a test for the key assumption behind a broad set of methods for estimating production functions: that the firm’s choice of intermediate inputs depends only on its observed choices of other inputs and on unobserved productivity.” Assumption fails among manufacturers and farmers in Chile, Colombia, and Thailand.
  • “Many developing country entrepreneurs face family pressure to share income,” a “kinship tax… My data reveal high kinship tax rates for a third of entrepreneurs” in one county in eastern Kenya. (Squires)
  • Do firms misallocate factors of production? Evidence from the U.S. suggests that it might be measurement error, overstating differences between the U.S. and India (and potentially other low- or middle-income countries). (Rotemberg & White)
  • When firms pay “a small monetary incentive for making a job application,” it “enables an employer to attract more talented applicants… The application incentive has an internal rate of return of 11 percent [BUT] local firm managers underestimate these positive impacts.” (Abebe, Caria, & Ortiz-Ospina) #RCT
  • “For ten months in a row, treated workers received monthly performance based relative rank information either in private (i.e. only their own ranks) or in public (i.e. ranks of all public treatment workers)… Private Treatment workers below median (pre-intervention) productivity increased their productivity by at least two percentage points… Public Treatment workers...above [the median] clearly decreased their performance by one and a half percentage points” in Bangladesh. (Ashraf)
  • In Mexico, “even if commissions increase for all products, sales agents decrease effort on the sales of some goods.” A new compensation scheme that rewards agents for sales with high price-cost margin led to “weekly average price increases 9% under the new contract with no effect on quantity sold.” (Palacios)
  • “Export-induced demand in Bangladesh increases not only formal employment but also casual, unpaid, and self-employment… Trade triggers an immediate increase in both formal and casual employment, as well as a longer-run increase in self-employment.” (Goutam et al.)
  • “85% of entrepreneurs [in urban Thailand] hold a second job because they are skill-constrained, and therefore would not specialize in business ownership if the credit constraint is relaxed.” (Yindok)
Governance, Bureaucracy, and Social Capital
  • In many bureaucracies, promotion is based on seniority. In India, “older entering officers” are therefore “capped from reaching the senior-most positions before they retire.” These officers are less effective, more likely to be suspended, and states with more of them grow more slowly. Raising retirement age weakens all of these effects. (Bertrand et al.)
  • “A simple procedural reform on the celerity of civil and commercial adjudication in Senegal [led to] a large reduction in the length of the pre-trial stage of 35-46 days.” (Kondylis & Stein) #EventStudy
  • When bureaucrats in India “were given access to an internet and mobile-based management and monitoring platform for wage payments associated with a workfare program,” it reduced “payment processing time by up to 21 percent,” despite not making any new information available – just making it easier to access. (Dodge et al.)
  • Does the “current seniority of links established at the entry-level job have an effect on informal promotions and performance of civil servants”? In Pakistan, “a one rank increase in the current seniority of the potential entry-level job link leads to a 18% increase in the probability of informal promotions.” (Aman-Rana)
  • In the context of local development projects, a 6-day training in social accountability improved short-run project quality, whereas in “a longer-term follow-up, we find that combining training and information on project quality led to significant increases in household assets. These results are concentrated in areas that were more corrupt, as reported by local officials.” (Fiala & Premand) #RCT
  • A public goods game among farmer clubs in Malawi showed that “democratically run clubs, in particular those with close social ties, contribute more than clubs with leader driven decision-making.” (Nourani, Maertens, & Michelson) #LabInField
  • In Manila (Philippines), “informal sharing networks provide 25% of total access” to piped water. “Compared to current prices, the optimal policy features a low marginal price and high fixed fee, increases shared connections, and ensures nearly universal access to the piped water network.” (Violette)
Health (including WASH)
  • Across Sub-Saharan Africa, insecticide-treated bed nets reduced child mortality but (surprisingly) increased fertility despite more contraception, due to higher fecundity and…more sex. (Wilde et al.)
  • “A novel mobile phone app designed to increase agents’ intrinsic returns to effort… leads to a 24% increase in performance as measured by the main job task (home visits)” in India. The effect is driven by those most intrinsically motivated from the outset. (Lee) #RCT
  • Children born of child marriages in Bangladesh “are more likely to be stunted,” driven by “increases in severe stunting.” (Ramnarine) #RainfallIV
  • Want to reduce infant mortality? Try disseminating modern, high-yielding seed varieties. Effects are biggest for boys; data from 36 countries. (Barnwal et al.)
  • A 10% increase in GDP at the time of a child’s birth = small, precisely estimated, positive effect on children’s height-for-age (Aiyar and Cummins)
  • Two of three different school-based nutrition interventions in India improved at least some health measures, but none increased learning. (Berry et al.)
  • “Each additional [private pharmacy-adjacent doctor’s office in Mexico] is associated with a 14% increase in private pharmacy sales of stronger types of penicillin, consistent with misaligned financial incentives in prescribing behavior.” (Rubli)
  • A social recognition intervention “to improve record keeping in health clinics…improved performance in the higher-capacity, better-performing state, but had no effect in the lower-capacity state.” (Gauri et al.) #RCT
  • “More convenient enrollment [in public health insurance for informal sector workers in Nicaragua” dramatically increased enrollment by 24 percentage points, roughly equivalent in magnitude to a 6-month subsidy worth approximately $100.” (Fitzpatrick & Thornton)
  • “A nearly comprehensive embargo imposed by India on Nepal in 1989 led to a close to 30 percent decrease in reported live births the month after it began. Adult survivors of exposure have more education and earn 30% higher monthly income compared to unexposed cohorts.” (Chakravarty, Parey, & Wright) #RD
  • “Increases in [piped water service outages in Zambia] are associated with increased incidence of diarrheal disease, upper respiratory infections, typhoid fever and measles.” Also, reduced financial transactions and more time for young girls doing chores. (Ashraf et al.)
  • “Tightening the environmental standard on lead in the United States” led to “improvement in air quality in the US” but at the cost of increased “infant health risks” in Mexico. (Tanaka & Teshima)
  • Using children born from twin fathers or mothers in China, Maystadt & Migali identify “a strong and persistent intergenerational elasticity between mothers and children” but not so much with fathers.
  • Using machine learning to identify the best instruments for longitudinal data from the Philippines: “Mother’s health causally transmits to child health from birth through childhood and into adolescence… The transmission of height increases rather than diminishes as the child ages.” (Bevis & Villa)
  • Men in urban Ghana “are 11 percentage points more likely to work in weeks when another adult in the household unexpectedly misses work for the entire week due to illness… Women do not on average work more when another worker falls ill.” (Heath, Mansuri, & Rijkers)
  • “Women’s control of substantial household resources [in India] improves their and their children’s health,” using a new estimation method called Mismeasurement Robust LATE (Calvi, Lewbel, & Tommasi)
  • “Treating maternal depression [in rural Pakistan] increased women’s empowerment, particularly control over spending, both in the short-run and” 6 years after the intervention. Also after 6 years, the treatment increases “time- and monetary-intensive parental investment with monetary investment particularly favoring female children.” (Baranov et al.)
  • “Female condoms have marginally lower efficacy and higher unit cost than male condoms, but offer lower discomfort and stigma especially to men.” In Mozambique, “free access to and information about female condoms” led to “strong take-up among women with low household bargaining power.” (Cassidy et al.)
  • “Small lottery incentives in the form of mobile airtime” lead to “a sizeable, positive impact…on medication adherence among HIV-positive youth in Uganda.” This is driven by those who had a “flexible target” (a goal anchored on improvement from current practice) rather than a “fixed target” (the clinical recommendation for adherence). (Huang & Linnemayr)
  • Keeping public spaces clean helps drainage infrastructure to work and avoid flooding. A non-monetary “social contract” intervention in Senegal increased perceptions of cleanliness and reduced vulnerability to flooding. (Fernandez et al.) #RCT
Jobs (including public works)
  • How much does noise pollution matter? “An increase of 10 dB (from the noise level of a dishwasher to a vacuum cleaner) decreases worker productivity by approximately 5%... Individuals’ willingness to pay for quiet is not affected by the wage structure, suggesting participants neglect the productivity effects of noise.” (Dean) #RCT
  • Cash or training with cash and mentoring? For adolescent young women in Nairobi (Kenya), both affected income in the short run but with effects dissipating by the second year. (Brudevold-Newman et al.) #RCT
  • “Relative to control workers, vocationally trained (VT) and firm-trained (FT) workers [in Uganda] increase employment rates by 24% and 15% respectively, and total earnings returns for VT workers are near double those for FT workers (40% vs. 22%).” (Alfonsi et al.) #RCT – See Markus Goldstein’s blog post on this paper.
  • “Participants [in labor market interventions] do a poor job of estimating their own counterfactual (probabilistic) outcomes. However…participants are quite good at estimating average treatment impacts on the population once behavioral biases are taken into account.” (Brudevold-Newman et al.)
  • “A year after the end of [a public works program in Côte d’Ivoire], there are no lasting impacts on the level or composition of employment, although positive impacts are observed on earnings through higher productivity in non-agricultural self-employment.” (Bertrand et al.)
  • A workfare program in India: “women in recipient districts were less likely to feel suicidal… Women in high-intensity program districts were also less likely to report low self-esteem. Men, on the other hand, did not experience significant changes in their mental health.” (Balakrishnan & Tsaneva)
  • Making a detailed job-search plan in South Africa led to an “increase [in] the number of job applications submitted (15%) but not the time spent searching… Job seekers in the plan-making group diversify their search strategy and use more formal search channels. This greater search efficiency and effectiveness translate into more job offers (30%) and employment (26%). (Abel et al.) #RCT
  • Last-semester university students in Colombia who receive job offers “become less present biased, perceive less liquidity constraints, start saving more and donate more to others.” But once they start their jobs, “performance in cognitive tasks becomes differentially worse.” (Franco & Mahadevan)
  • Providing placement officers at vocational training institutes in India with better information about candidates’ preferences “leads to substantial improvement in job choices made by candidates and subsequent employment outcomes for up to six months after initial placement.” (Banerjee & Chiplunkar) #RCT
  • “Average real net dowry has been remarkably stable [in India between 1960 and 2008]; although there is considerable heterogeneity across castes, religions, and states… Parents increase savings and fathers work more in anticipation of future marriage payments for their daughters. However, dowry has no impact on fertility and sex-selection.” (Anukriti, Kwon, & Prakash)
  • “Between 1945-1975, the proportion of marriages with dowry increased from 35-40% to nearly 90%. Over the same period, median real dowry more than doubled, but decreased after 1975 in real terms and as a fraction of household income.” (Chiplunkar & Weaver)
  • I hope the two papers above communicated at the conference, since something seems funky about the real value of dowries across the studies.
  • In Cameroon, “one additional year of private, Christian education decreases [the probability of a woman being in a polygynous union] by 30 percentage points, [but] one additional year of public education increases it by 7 percentage points.” (André & Dupraz)
  • “In the presence of strategic interactions, reduced form estimates of direct effects are biased.” By strategic interactions, the paper means the size of spillovers depend on own treatment status and own treatment status depends on treatment status of neighbors. Acemoglu, García-Jimeno, & O’Keefe-O’Donovan update direct and spillover estimates for deworming in Kenya. (There are still direct and spillover effects; this just uncovers heterogeneity.)
  • There were lots of papers with methodological contributions, but I’ve generally grouped them based on their sectoral results .
  • “High-caste Indians abroad are willing to pay more to return to India and reap the labor and non-labor benefits of high-caste status…entirely driven by men.” Data from “indentured Indians in Fiji in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries.” (Persaud)
  • What role do return migrants play in expanding exports? In former Yugoslavia, “the elasticity of exports to return migration is between 0.1 and 0.25 in industries where migrants were employed during their stay in Germany… This effect is over ten times stronger for migrant workers in white collar occupations” (Bahar et al.)
  • “Indian students enrolled in engineering schools to gain employment in the rapidly growing US IT industry via the H-1B visa program. Those who could not join the US workforce, due to the H-1B cap, remained in India, enabling the growth of an Indian IT sector. Those who returned with acquired human capital and technology after the expiration of their H-1Bs also contributed to the growing tech-workforce in India. The increase in IT sector productivity allowed India to eventually surpass the US in software exports.” (Khanna & Morales)
  • “Areas that received more migrants [as a result of the partition of India in 1947] have higher average yields, are more likely to take up high yielding varieties (HYV) of seeds, and are more likely to use agricultural technologies.” (Bharadwaj & Mirza)
  • “Enrollment and graduation in nursing programs [in the Philippines] increased in response to demand from abroad for nurses. The increase in nursing enrollment and graduation during the period was much larger than the increase in nurse migration.” (Abarcar & Theoharides)
  • In the U.S., “the early decline” in fertility may have been driven by migration: “Fertility was lower in counties characterized by higher outward migration, especially migration towards the western frontier.” (Fogli & Marcassa)
  • “A cap on total migration to the US decreases migration not only to the US but also within Mexico as well, causes migration to the US to decrease by more than what was required by the policy, and decreases average welfare per household-year.” (Rojas Valdes, Lawell, & Taylor)
  • A ratings program for agencies that recruit workers in Sri Lanka for international work “increased foreign demand for high quality agencies and reduced it for low quality agencies.” Further, “migrants are differentially less likely to make complaints against high-quality agencies after the program and these agencies are considerably less likely to exit the market.” (Fernando & Singh)
  • In response to the Great Recession, poor migrant households in Vietnam reduced domestic migration (by 50%) but increased international migration (by 20%). On net, more households were reunified, increasing fertility. (Gröger)
Mobile phones and mobile money
  • Distribution a paper directory of mobile phone numbers of agricultural enterprises to households in Tanzania led to “27% of recipients [using] the directory to locate and call a new business.” (Dillon, Aker, & Blumenstock) #RCT
  • Training in how to sign up for mobile banking accounts in Bangladesh increased remittances. “Migrant workers exposed to the treatment were more likely to be in garment work, saved more, and were less likely to be poor and savings.” (Lee et al.) #RCT
  • “After a village-level aggregate shock [in Tanzania] it is only users of mobile money who are able to prevent a drop in their consumption.” (Riley)
Poverty, inequality, and shocks
  • Using a new measure and new data: “Mobility in India has remained static over the last four decades. Significant gains by the lowest caste groups have been almost exactly offset by mobility losses among Muslims.” (Asher, Novosad, & Rafkin)
  • Across Africa, which inequality is the worst? “Spatial inequality ranks highest, followed by ethnic inequality, gender inequality, and, lastly, religious inequality. Inequality of opportunities has generally been falling between 1990 and 2015, particularly in child height (stunting).” (Tetteh-Baah, Harttgen, & Guenther)
  • Among farm workers in Indonesia, “nominal wages only decline when negative productivity shocks are preceded by a positive shock.” (Hensel)
  • Across Latin America, “large rainfall variations (both wet and dry) negatively affect cities’ labor market outcomes. The impact of droughts is four to six times larger than the impact of wet spells, and mainly affect informal workers.” (Desbureaux & Rodella)
  • An experiment with mobile money in Kenya demonstrates “strong evidence of present bias.” (Balakrishnan, Haushofer, & Jakiela) #LabInTheField
  • In Pakistan, liquidity constraints lead participants in an experiment to appear present-biased. (Cassidy)
  • A policy in India that “improved the tax authority’s information about buyer-seller interactions… had a large and significant effect on tax collections from wholesale firms relative to retail firms, … with almost the entire increase being driven by changes in the behavior of the biggest taxpaying firms.” (Mittal & Mahajan)
  • A value-added tax policy reform in China led to “greater incentives of the provincial governments to block the domestic flow of non-local goods to local intermediaries for indirect exporting.” The value of total exports grew more slowly as a result. (Bai & Liu)
  • “A corporate income tax cut and deferral during the Great Recession in Vietnam” led to a “large increase in profits” for foreign-owned firms “in the two years after the policy ended” but that then dissipated. No evidence of change in profits for domestic-owned firms. (Pham)
  • “A minimum tax scheme [in Guatemala] in which some firms can be exempted depending on their reported gross margin” led to “strong firm responses, most of which seem in accordance with evasion behavior. Upper-bounds for average reported profits are estimated to be between 42% and 91% of actual firms’ profits.” (Alejos)
  • Passenger railway traffic in India “leads to substantial revenue losses for firms in rail using industries. For each new line of Duronto service passing through a district, local factory revenue falls by 1.9 percent.” (Firth)
  •  A bus rapid transit system in Colombia “caused large increases in welfare and output that were more than worth the costs, the gains accrued disproportionately to high-skilled workers… Allowing for increased building densities in treated locations would have led to higher welfare gains, underscoring the benefits to cities pursuing a unified transit and land use policy.” (Tsivanidis)
  • Randomizing commuters in India into two policies -- penalizing “peak hour departure times” and charging “a flat fee for driving through a small area, … designed to induce a detour with longer trip duration” lead to changes in commuter behavior, but “commuters are relatively schedule inflexible, and cannot easily ‘self-insure’ against congestion by changing departure times.” (Kreindler) #RCT


Submitted by Bobbi Gray on

David Evans, thank you so much for putting these short summaries together of the latest research. This is fantastic!

Submitted by Charlie Robertson on

Yes - this is really time saving. Is there a link to similar summaries from previous years ?

Submitted by Pratik on

Very useful economic research report. There are many reputed organizations like Art of Living foundation doing noteworthy work in the field of development in rural areas.

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