Published on Development Impact

A roundup of some new work on labor

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Last week I was at the GLM-LIC/IZA research conference and there was a pretty diverse and interesting group of papers – some fairly finished, and some still at the idea stage.   Note that almost every paper here had co-authors, but I’ve left them out unless they also presented – the links will give you more information.  Now, fasten your seat belts as we whizz through 2.5 days of papers in 15 minutes.         

To start things off, Supreet Kaur talked about a paper entitled:  "The Morale Effects of Pay Inequality".   It turns out (in a setting with no dynamic incentives), when you introduce obvious pay disparity, workers lower their productivity.   But, when you can observe your coworkers’ output, and you know you are less productive, you have no productivity effects from pay disparity.

Emanuela Galasso talked about a string of work she is doing on public works programs in Malawi.   Their work seems to indicate that in their initial incarnation, these programs weren’t doing much meaningful for consumption or production.  But, variants on flexibility, duration and ability to store money (via mobile money) seems to support consumption but not necessarily consumption smoothing.

Simone Schaner talked about some work entitled: "Work(ing) for Women: Can Entitlement Reform Address Social Constraints to Labor Force Participation?"   She talked about some really interesting early results suggesting that a personal bank account, plus some help using it and direct deposit of benefit payments help women overcome their husband’s resistance to them working.  

Dave Donaldson talked about some fascinating work in progress that is using cellphone data from Rwanda to look at how well labor markets respond to production shocks.  

Brian Dillon also talked about work in progress – tackling the seasonal patterns of labor usage across countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  They’re looking at when and how markets may (or may not) clear and the preliminary results suggest quite a lot of diversity across the continent.  
Admasu Shiferaw laid out some work in progress looking at the effects of mandatory pension contributions for formal firms in Ethiopia on employment and wages. 
Vellore Arthi presented a paper on a survey experiment in Tanzania.   The goal of the work is to measure labor on fields and they conduct a four-arm experiment that (among other things) compares weekly measures to seasonal recall.   The seasonal recall gives us far higher labor levels.   Look for a blog post on this in the coming weeks. 
Matthew Sharp and Kezia Lilenstein presented work in progress on modeling labor markets in sub-Saharan Africa.   They’re looking at (among other things) segmentation and labor force participation across four countries.  
Frances Teal presented work looking at the demand for labor among firms in Ghana.   He laid out a range of fascinating data, including some on the growth in the number of small firms (and their workers) going back to the 1960s.   One of the key points he made was that using binary notions of segementation didn’t make sense – there is a lot of variation in real output and real capital per worker.  
Vijaya Ramachandran presented some work in progress looking at labor cost in Africa relative to the income level of countries.   One striking fact (from the work so far) is that labor costs are cheaper in some countries – Ethiopia is cheaper than Bangladesh.   And so is DRC.   However, many African countries have high labor costs relative to their levels of GDP.   I am looking forward to more from this fascinating project.  
Taryn Dinkelman laid out some research on understanding how capital accumulation can lead to structural change.   This project is using the ban on Malawian mining emigration to track how their remittances shifted investment and employment patterns, with interesting results on shifts out of agricultural work and investments in housing and schooling.  
Carlos Vargas-Silva presented work on the effects of conflict on education in Burundi.  One key result: the effects were different for children of internally displaced folks versus those who ended up in refugee camps.  

Catia Batista told us about a string of experiments around mobile money in Mozambique.   This includes the introduction of the product, where they find that people who got mobile money were more willing to remit and remit more with mobile money.   They also find that folks exposed to mobile money were not more willing to save more overall, but more willing to save via mobile money.
Kate Vyborny presented the design of a potentially super interesting experiment on the effect of transport and job search help on increasing female labor force participation in Pakistan.
Simon Franklin talked about work looking at improving information (signaling to employers) vs transport in helping youth find jobs in Ethiopia.   Both groups are more likely to switch into permanent jobs (but no significant effect on overall employment levels).   The effects are stronger for less educated workers, women and inactive job seekers.
I presented some work in progress comparing a non-cognitive skills based business training with more of a standard approach for enterprises in Togo.  Early results look good for the former for women, but we still have one more round of surveys to go. 
Chris Woodruff presented work in progress looking at managerial training for mid to low level supervisors in garment factories in Bangladesh.   The early results aren’t promising and it will be interesting to see why.
Vittorio Bassi presented some work on signaling soft skills to potential employers in Uganda.  More information on soft skills led to increased hiring and training provision by firms, with the results coming from higher ability managers hiring low skill workers and training them.   Higher ability workers end up back in education and with higher reservation wages    
Jose Galdo talked about child labor and fair trade in Ethiopia with a cool measurement experiment built in:  Do you ask child labor questions to children or their parents?   It turns out parents can significantly underreport -- primarily for girls, and it varies by season.   Female headed households underreport labor more relative to their kids.  On the effects of fair trade via propensity score matching: more labor for kids (incomes up) but it doesn’t interfere with schooling. 
Frederic Aubery presented some work in progress on skill acquisition and the returns to apprenticeship in Senegal.   Results so far seem to suggest that males who select into apprenticeship lack general skills.   Afterwards, conditional on education and skills they earn more.

Damir Esenaliev talked about indexing job quality in Kyrgyzstan.   Better jobs (measured by not only relative income and hours, but interestingness, autonomy, formality, and stability) are correlated with higher life satisfaction for wage workers but not the self employed

In a tag team presentation, Krishna Kumar, Shanthi Nataraj and Minhaj Mahmud talked about a range of work looking at formal versus informal employment in Bangladesh.    A couple (among many) takeaways: 1) workers aren’t locked into informality – there’s lots of transitions between job type (e.g. self-employment or wage work) and dimensions of formality (e.g. contract), and 2) they’re doing a choice experiment to look at different dimensions of formality.    Early results suggest workers would sacrifice a fair amount of salary for longer term contracts.               

Sam Asher presented a range of work looking at the cost of remoteness in India.   The work on roads has been covered here before, but there are some newer results on administrative distance.   Here they use a border discontinuity and find that being farther from administrative centers means less paved roads and secondary schools, but not primary schools, electrification, and medical centers.

Brian McCaig talked about some fascinating work looking at the effects of trade on employment structure in Vietnam.   A reduction in US tariffs lead to a reduction in informal household businesses in sectors that were affected.  It looks like folks moved to higher productivity jobs.   


Markus Goldstein

Lead Economist, Africa Gender Innovation Lab and Chief Economists Office

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