Where is the development economics research happening? The geographical distribution of NEUDC research


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Yesterday I posted a round-up of the research presented at NEUDC, a major conference on development economics. Although most economic research aspires to uncover principles relevant across multiple contexts, empirical research happens at a place and time. I mapped out the distribution of research presented at NEUDC, fully recognizing that this makes no claim to be representative of the profession as a whole.

Below, I charted the number of studies per country (for all countries that had at least two studies). If a study used data from multiple countries (up to four), I counted each of them. If a study used a data set that spans 30 countries, I didn’t use it.

As you can see, there is a LOT of research from India, and a fair amount from Kenya and Mexico.

Beyond those in the chart, there was one study presented each with data from Argentina, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Guatemala, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyz Republic, Liberia, Malaysia, Nepal, Nicaragua, South Sudan, and Sri Lanka.

As you can imagine from the chart above – but I made a chart so you don't HAVE to imagine – there’s no clear link between income per capita and research concentration.

Why do you think we observe so much more research happening in India, Kenya, and Mexico? At a casual glance, with both India and Mexico, many papers seem to draw on existing data, so the availability of administrative data may play a role. In Kenya, there seems to be a higher proportion of experiments. Of course, Kenya was an early adopter of impact evaluations with the work of Michael Kremer and subsequently many others. 

What other factors might play a role?


David Evans

Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development

Join the Conversation

Annette Brown
November 09, 2017

Very interesting! These findings are consistent with what we find in 3ie's impact evaluation repository, which is not all economics, but is all development. See numbers reported in our blog post below. I can't seem to copy in picture of the heat map, but there is one in the post. Full-length article coming soon.
"The top 10 countries are India (390), China (281), Mexico (247), Kenya (233), Bangladesh (197), South Africa 194), Brazil (193), Uganda (173), Pakistan (105), and Peru (105). For some countries, the number of impact evaluations has more than doubled from what we found in IER 2012. These include Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Malawi and Mozambique. We also found impact evaluations for a few countries that did not have any in IER 2012. These are Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Somalia and Yemen. Meanwhile, ​​we continue to notice a lack of impact evaluations in regions like Central Asia and Central Africa." http://blogs.3ieimpact.org/is-impact-evaluation-still-on-the-rise/
We explore the geography of development impact evaluations further, based on an earlier version of the IER, in this open access article: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/19439342.2015.1034156
Why does China feature more prominently in development impact evaluations than in development economics? There is a large number of public health studies conducted in China.
The population hypothesis is relevant generally, but does not explain the geographic distribution of impact evaluations of peacebuilding interventions. http://www.3ieimpact.org/en/publications/3ie-evidence-gap-map-report-se… We found in the peacebuilding evidence gap map that Liberia has the most studies. I call that the "Blattman effect" :-)

David Evans
November 09, 2017

Very cool findings, Annette! Thank you for sharing. I look forward to the full article as well!

November 09, 2017

Hello Dr. Evans,
Can you also please share the breakup of the studies, by methodology? Even a broad RCT-Non RCT breakup would do.

David Evans
November 09, 2017

I'm afraid I don't have those data; I recorded the countries while doing the summaries. I tried to mark RCTs, so you could sum up an RCT / non-RCT, but it's possibly that I didn't catch every one. (And then there's the question of how to categorize lab experiments and lab-in-the-field experiments.) 
I will say that I was quite struck while summarizing the work at how many non-RCT papers there were: Lots of interesting historical analysis, event studies, panel data analysis, descriptive work, and more. 

November 09, 2017

Population size could be one factor. When you talk about India, each of its separate states are equal to or larger than the population size of many of the other countries on the list. It would also be interesting to see the breakdown of states where research is conducted in India. I'm sure you will find that some states are easier to do work (data accessibility, relative political/civil stability, etc). But I once thought the same thing about the amount of research that is done in India. I've come to the conclusion that since a large percentage of the world's population and a large percentage of the world's poor lives in India, its probably not too harmful to have so much research concentrated there. This of course disregards issues of external validity and generalizability, but I think population size could be a good justification.

David Evans
November 09, 2017

Yes, very good point on population. 

November 09, 2017

Thanks Dave. In answer to your question, one factor is the English language. Particularly in Africa, but perhaps also in India.

Gonzalo Hernandez
November 10, 2017

Another explanation is the institutionalization of Evaluation systems. Mexico, by law, has an M&E system since 2001, including an independent evaluation unit @coneval The system increases the demand for evaluations, including impact evaluations.

Subha Mani
November 09, 2017

Thanks David, very accurate. I would have guessed India and Kenya in general to take spots 1 and 2. As you mentioned Michael Kremer's work drew people to work in Kenya. I think similarly Banerjee and Duflo's work attracted a lot of young scholars to work in India.
At least for India, I can think of a number of reasons for why we see this:
1) Bigger sample size for less money. Exchange rate works in your favor if you are coming with grant money from the developed world.
2) Easy to travel.
3) No major language barriers. English is the medium of communication in all big cities.
4) Lots of good NGOs to collaborate with.
5) In the last 10 years, several Indians with US PhDs have gone back making it feasible for you to collaborate with some of them.
6) Funding opportunities that were made available by IGC-India Central also incentivized people to work on India.
7) Presence of JPAL and IPA.
8) Presence of World Bank and IFPRI.
9) Funding opportunities from 3ie for India.
10) Last but not the least, India's rich cultural and socioeconomic diversity.

November 09, 2017

Yet only a handful of studies where an author is based in the country being studied.

Daniel Chachu
November 09, 2017

Hi Dave, many thanks for the summary from NEUDC. The explanations given on the reason for the country concentrations for development economics research seem plausible. I am particularly struck by the stretch India provides for the next on the league chart, Kenya. Besides the reasons given, could it also reflect (maybe to a limited extent) the increasing number of Development Economists associated with India?

Gouranga Das
November 12, 2017

Several probable reasons are context-specific:
1) For India and Mexico, the interest is due to their emerging country status. For India, the political transition and policy experiments by the government open vistas for research on several policy impact studies. Also, heterogeneity across regions and populace opens lots of diverse issues of development economics to explore.
2) For Mexico, the Trump effects, viz., border effects due to NAFTA factor and other development outcomes due to US policy drives lots of works
3) For Kenya, it's an emerging African nation with M-PESA kind of experience which makes her a special case to research upon.
In general, these nations ave loads of growth and development problems which could give insights and hence papers are written on such countries' problems.