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Policy Research Working Paper series publication roundup for the weeks of April 12 and 19

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This blog is a biweekly feature highlighting recent working papers from around the World Bank Group that were published in the World Bank’s Policy Research Working Paper Series. This entry introduces eight papers published during the weeks of April 12 and 19 on various topics, including papers related to the global vaccination campaign, economic recovery after the economic lockdown, gender-related research, and national statistics on disabilities. Here are the highlights of select findings.

The Policy Research Working Paper Series encourages the exchange of ideas on development and quickly disseminates the findings of research that is in progress.

First, we introduce three papers provide insights on the global vaccination campaign, economic recovery from the lockdown, and firms’ survival and growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. The largest global vaccination campaign in history is kicking off. How to End the COVID-19 Pandemic by March 2022 by Agarwal and Reed shows how worldwide herd immunity against COVID-19 could be achievable by March 2022. In addition, the authors calculate the vaccination needs to reach herd immunity and discuss donor financing solutions to address the funding gap, including vaccine bonds and in-kind donations. The next paper, The Economic Ripple Effects of COVID-19 by Buera and coauthors, evaluates the ripple effects of temporary lockdowns in response to the pandemic. The results demonstrate how long it takes the economy to return to normal once the shutdown is lifted. A third paper, Organizational Resources, Country Institutions, and National Culture behind Firm Survival and Growth during COVID-19 by Liu and coauthors, provides one of the first comprehensive cross-country studies on the survival and growth of private firms in developing countries considering the medium-term effects. 

  • How to End the COVID-19 Pandemic by March 2022: Figure 1 plots aggregate potential production capacity by 10 vaccine companies. In total, the reported available capacity was 8.05 billion courses—more than enough for the world’s population. Once accounting for pre-purchases by high income countries, the remaining available production capacity is 6.05 billion courses for people in low and middle income countries. According to the authors’ calculation, only another 350 million vaccine courses are needed to achieve 60% vaccination coverage (the upper-range to achieve herd immunity) of the populations in 91 countries that have been identified by the COVAX AMC as needing financial assistance to vaccinate their populations. To close the pre-purchase gap of 350 million vaccine courses, $4 billion more in grant funding for the COVAX AMC (in addition to the existing donor commitment of $6.3 billion) would be sufficient.

Figure 1. Unequal Distribution of Vaccine Pre-Purchases (Adopted by Agarwal and Reed (2021))


  • The Economic Ripple Effects of COVID-19: A quantitative simulation shows that the temporary shutdown has caused a short-lived V-shaped recession followed by a swift recovery if (i) workers on temporary layoff can be recalled by their previous employers without having to go through the frictional labor market and (ii) the government provides employment subsidies to firms during lockdown. However, the effects are heterogeneous, and young non-essential firms are disproportionately affected.
  • Organizational Resources, Country Institutions, and National Culture behind Firm Survival and Growth during COVID-19: Analyzing World Bank Enterprise Follow-up Surveys on COVID-19, covering 18,770 firms in 36 countries, the authors have documented four sets of findings: (1) During the pandemic, firms with favorable organizational resources (state ownership and affiliation with parent companies) are more likely to survive and grow; (2) Favorable ownership and parent-company affiliations help cushion the pandemic shock; (3) The relationship between firm characteristics and firm survival and growth is significantly affected by the stringency of a country’s COVID-19 policy; (4) One national culture measure—long-term orientation—plays a positive role in firm survival and growth.

Next, we present two studies investigating gender related issues. The Distribution of Effort by Friedman and coauthors explores intra-household gender differences in physical activity, a proxy for effort, among agricultural households in Malawi. This unique set of data for physical activity was collected via wearable accelerometers. Gender Violence, Enforcement, and Human Capital by Sviatschi and Trako examines the impact of providing access to justice for women on gender-based violence and investment in children by evaluating the impact of women’s justice center (WJC) programs in Peru. WJCs are specialized institutions that provide police, medical, and legal services to reduce gender-based violence.

  • The Distribution of Effort: Results reveal that women spend significantly less time at sedentary activities than men, but also spend less time on moderate-to-vigorous activity. On balance, women exert slightly higher levels of effort than men. Additionally, gender differences in effort among married partners are strongly associated with intra-household differences in bargaining power. The husband-wife effort gaps are significantly larger for marriages with a large age difference, with a difference in the number of plots owned, or whether the pair lives as part of a polygamous union.
  • Gender Violence, Enforcement, and Human Capital: The opening of WJCs reduces the incidence of gender-based violence by about 10%, as measured by domestic violence, female deaths due to aggression, and hospitalizations due to mental health.  Moreover, WJCs substantially increase human capital investments in children, raising enrollment, attendance, and test scores.

There are two papers that shed light on the need to produce disability prevalence and disability disaggregated statistics in low- and middle- income countries (LMICs). Invisible or Mainstream? by Mitra and coauthors assesses the extent to which household surveys and censuses between 2009 and 2018 have included disability questions. And Inclusive Statistics by Mitra and coauthors disaggregates human development indicators across disability status to assess the situation of persons and households with disabilities. 

  • Invisible or Mainstream?: Authors analyzed the questionnaires of household surveys and censuses in 734 data sets from 133 LMICs from 2009 to 2018. Results report that only 31 percent of the data sets have at least one disability-related question, and 15 percent of the datasets have questions that meet the international standards of functional difficulty questions.
  • Inclusive Statistics: Analyzing 24 population censuses and general household surveys for 21 countries, authors found that disability was not rare in LMICs. The median prevalence stands at 10 percent among adults aged 15 and older. Among adults, functional difficulties are significantly associated with lower educational attainment, lower employment population ratios, a higher youth idle rate and a higher share of workers in the informal sector. Households with functional difficulties are consistently more likely to be economically insecure. These findings highlight the need for further research on inequality associated with disability. 

Finally, we introduce a methodological study on remote data collection. Assessing Response Fatigue in Phone Surveys by Abay and coauthors explores substantial response fatigue in phone surveys in a developing country context.  Authors designed and implemented an experiment that randomized the placement of a survey module on women’s dietary diversity in Malawi.

  • Results suggest that some key welfare metrics such as dietary quality may be confounded by factors as simple as the placement of a survey module in a given survey instrument. Delaying the timing of a mothers’ food consumption module by 15 minutes leads to an 8-17 percent decrease in the dietary diversity score and a 28 percent decrease in the number of mothers who meet minimum dietary diversity.

The following are other interesting papers published during the past few weeks. Please check out these articles as well!

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