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Policy Research Working Paper Series Publication roundup for the weeks of February 15 and 22

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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 six papers published during the weeks of February 15 and 22 on various topics, including the Indian caste system, women’s empowerment and domestic violence, and poverty and inequality. Here are the highlights of select findings.

First, we introduce two papers related to the caste system in Indian society. Caste-based identity still has a significant effect on citizens’ access to political and economic opportunities in India. Who Is in Justice? by Bhupatiraju and coauthors examines representation along caste, religious, and gender lines in the high court of Bihar, one of India’s poorest states. The authors used a novel dataset of more than one million cases filed at the high court and, with a machine-learning model, assigned caste status based on the surnames found. A Division of Laborers by Cassan, Keniston, and Kleineberg investigates whether caste identity still affects a person’s occupational choices in today’s society, as historically, each Indian caste was linked to a single occupation. 

  • Who Is in Justice?: The results confirm that the courts are not representative of the Bihari population. Muslims, women, and scheduled castes are consistently underrepresented among lawyers, judges, and petitioners, even in comparison to the other state institutions (Table 1). Of the 84 judges observed over the 11-year period, there were no scheduled tribe (ST) judges and very few other minority judges. In this paper, the authors further conducted statistical tests on whether there was “matching” between petitioners, lawyers, and judges based on social identity. 

Table 1: Representation of specific groups from different datasets

Table 1: Representation of specific groups from different datasets

Source: Bhupatiraju et al. (2021) 
Note: SC indicates Scheduled Caste. ST indicates Scheduled Tribe. The included datasets are the judicial data, Socio-economic Caste Census (SECC) for Bihar, farmers’ database from the Bihar Cooperative Department, a database from the Bihar state government, and a database of all judges at the Patna High Court.

  • A Division of Laborers: It shows that caste members are greatly overrepresented in their traditional occupations. The average person is more than three times as likely to enter their traditional occupation as they are any other. The authors further examine the effect of such caste-based occupational choices on the aggregate economy. However, the impact on overall economic efficiency was very small. People can learn vocational skills from their fathers and gain access to their caste networks if they work in traditional occupations. These positive spillovers will be muted if they choose vocations unrelated to their caste.

The media has reported rising domestic violence, particularly against women and children, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can Youth Empowerment Programs Reduce Violence against Girls during the COVID-19 Pandemic? by Gulesci, Beccar, and Ubfal shows that a youth-empowerment program in Bolivia has reduced the prevalence of violence against girls during the COVID-19 lockdown. This finding suggests that multifaceted youth-empowerment programs can be one way to curtail the rise in gender-based violence during high-risk periods, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It Takes Two (To Make Things Right) by Bussolo, Sarma, and Williams looks into the women’s agency in household decision-making and assesses its effect on children’s health outcomes and partners’ domestic violence. A husband and wife can take important household decisions jointly or individually, and they can acknowledge or deny the spouse’s role in the decision-making process. This decision-making process might affect households’ well-being.   

  •   Can Youth Empowerment Programs Reduce Violence against Girls during the COVID-19 Pandemic?: The youth-empowerment program in Bolivia significantly reduced violence experienced by girls. The prevalence of violence reported by girls fell by 10 percentage points (50% reduction). Boys experienced no significant reductions in violence. Both girls’ improved bargaining power within households and reduced income-related stress may explain the decrease of violence toward girls.  

  • It Takes Two (To Make Things Right): With data from six South Asian countries, the authors find that women’s agency is positively correlated with better health outcomes for themselves and their children. For instance, the likelihood of girls being vaccinated is 3.7 percent higher for couples with spousal agreement than for couples in which women have no decision-making role. In addition, women taking power and women with spousal agreement in decision-making are less likely to experience all measures of domestic violence than women who do not participate in decision-making.

Lastly, we introduce two papers related to poverty and inequality studies. A Global View of Poverty, Gender, and Household Composition by Munoz-Boudet and coauthors presents the patterns of poverty by demographics—age, sex, and household membership structure—using data from 91 countries. These in-depth examinations of the poverty profile are a key input for informed policies and programs on poverty reduction. In recent years, however, many governments have increased their attention to subjective well-being measures, such as happiness measures, to better understand the risk of social unrest and identify policy areas to reduce well-being inequality. Happy but Unequal by Burger, Hendriks, and Ianchovichina examines Columbian subjective well-being.  

  •   A Global View of Poverty, Gender, and Household Composition: Household-level poverty is influenced by the composition of members by age and sex. Children and those who are more likely to care for children—young adult women—are significantly more likely to reside in poor households. The paper also sheds light on the importance of poverty analysis along the life cycle. It shows that the presence of children increases the likelihood that men and women are living in poverty. 

  • Happy but Unequal: Quantile regressions reveal substantial differences in the policy domains that matter to those at the bottom and the top of the well-being distribution of Columbia. Standard-of-living improvements, housing affordability, and civic engagement matter more to the happiest top 20 percent of the distribution. By contrast, having education, a job, sufficient income, economic security, and digital connectivity is much more strongly associated with the well-being of the bottom 20 percent of the distribution. In the paper, authors further examined spatial differences in perceived welfare between urban and rural areas in Columbia. 

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

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



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