Published on Development Impact

Weekly links May 27: it’s hard to sleep when it’s hot, schooling losses in Brazil, people like randomizing, when is tradition outdated, academic statistics, and more…

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·       Yale’s Economic Growth Center has a new podcast series “Voices in Development”. Episode 1 is a discussion with Leonard Wantchekon about how his life experiences have shaped some of the research he has worked on, why his mother sent his 23-year old brother back to take 7th grade,  why there needs to be more focus on institutions rather than personalities in political economy, and the work he has been doing setting up the African School of Economics.

·       In Nature Human Behaviour, Guilherme Lichand and co-authors have a paper that looks at the impact of remote learning during the pandemic on learning and school dropouts in Sao Paulo secondary schools. There is a nice plain language summary called “behind the paper” which summarizes the design and results “The State featured in-person classes during the entire first school quarter of 2020, transitioning to remote instruction afterwards -- which allows us to compare how each student fared in remote learning relative to in-person classes under the same teachers and within the same grade…Our findings provide a pretty striking account of learning losses during the pandemic. On average, students learned only 27.5% of what they would learned with in-person instruction…Learning losses were higher for math classes, where students learned only 20% of the in-person equivalent; that figure was 40% for Portuguese.”.

·       Increasing temperatures are linked to less sleep. In One Earth, Kelton Minor and co-authors “link billions of repeated sleep measurements from sleep-tracking wristbands comprising over 7 million sleep records (n = 47,628) across 68 countries to local daily meteorological data. Controlling for individual, seasonal, and time-varying confounds, increased temperature shortens sleep primarily through delayed onset, increasing the probability of insufficient sleep….we find that adults fall asleep later, rise earlier, and sleep less during hot nights. Deviating from the results of laboratory studies that constrained adaptive behavior, we show that increases in nighttime temperature reduce time slept across the global temperature distribution, with effects increasing in magnitude as temperatures become hotter. The effect of a 1°C increase in minimum temperature among the elderly is over twice the effect observed in other age groups. Further, the effect is nearly three times as large among globally poorer individuals as it is among individuals in richer nations and is significantly larger in females as compared with males.” The paper also has a lovely graphical abstract.

·       Does workfare work? In this VoxDev interview, Patrick Premand discusses the limited impacts of a workfare (public works) employment program in Côte d’Ivoire. “During the program, results show limited impacts on the likelihood of employment, but a shift toward wage jobs, higher earnings and savings, as well as changes in work habits and behaviors. However, fifteen months after the program ended, savings stock remain higher, but there are no lasting impacts on employment or behaviors, and only limited impacts on earnings.”

·       The 2022 AEA Papers and Proceedings are now out. Among the many papers:

o   Nathan Nunn gave the AEA distinguished lecture, on the dynamics of human behavior and role of culture and tradition. He asks an important question for a lot of development policy interventions: “In many fields, but particularly in economic development, interventions that attempt to change individuals’ values, beliefs, customs, or actions are common. For example, interventions commonly target traits and behaviors like fertility, gender norms, cousin marriage, age at marriage, savings, investment, education, health take-up, technology adoption, political participation, etc.

Typically, the logic behind the need for an intervention is not made explicit. However, if one takes a step back, it is not immediately obvious why we expect an intervention to be necessary or even helpful. Do we think that individuals are not optimizing? If they are optimizing (as we typically assume in economics), then why do we want them to deviate from this behavior? Why do we think that any intervention, even if successful, will have effects that are not just temporary? After the intervention ends, won’t the participants just return to the prior equilibrium?

The dynamics of human behavior outlined here provides one way to understand one possible motivation behind such policies…. Following a change in the state of the world, individuals will tend to hold on to preexisting traditions that tend to be suited for the prior environment rather than the current one. In these cases, interventions that help to aid

the adoption of new beliefs, values, or actions, which are better matched to the contemporary environment, can improve welfare.”

o   Marina Agranov and Pietro Ortoleva have an overview paper that documents how there is now a growing body of evidence using different approaches that shows that people may have an explicit desire to randomize when making choices in which they are unsure or preferences are incomplete. They note this has implications for how we use revealed preference in linking choices with utilities, but it may also provide another reason for thinking about stochastic choice as a way of allocating scarce resources.

o   Rebecca Dizon-Ross and Seema Jayachandran have a short paper suggesting that eliciting willingness to pay using BDM can be improved by also asking WTP for small inexpensive household goods unrelated to the focal good or service. This helps reduce measurement error by capturing effects such as short-term liquidity issues, tiredness, and social desirability issues.

o   The reports at the end are always interesting reading and useful to get some benchmarking statistics too. For example:

o   Academic Year salaries from the survey of US economics departments: Mean academic year (9-month) salaries in top 15 departments are now $349,014 for Full Professors, $226,932 for Associate Professors, and $180,303 for Assistant Professors. For departments ranked 16-30, the respective salaries are $279K, $186K, and $161K, while for the mean PhD-granting institution they are $221K, $156K, and $138K. The same report also reports PhD program applications were 20,345 at N=62 universities, with 2,478 offers of admission and 778 new students enrolled. 884 PhDs were awarded from 99 institutions in 2020-21, of which one-third were to female students.

o   The editors’ reports of the different AEA journals are also there. For the AER, Esther Duflo reports 1910 papers submitted in 2021 and 123 papers published; the desk-rejection rate is 39% and acceptance rate of 5-7%, and median decision time for papers sent to referees is 77 days, 90th percentile 185 days. I appreciate the editor saying an explicit objective is to increase the number of revisions decided on without sending the revisions back to the referee. For AER Insights, Amy Finkelstein reports 777 submissions, a desk rejection rate of 37%, an acceptance rate of 5%. Reviewing times are shorter: 55 days for the median, and 88 days for the 90th percentile. For the AEJ Applied, Ben Olken reports 780 submissions, 37 papers published, 54% desk-rejection rate, acceptance rate of 5.6%. He notes a desire to be known for quick turnaround of papers, with 87% handled in 3 months, and 99% within 5 months. He discusses the changes in the policies for handling papers rejected at AER/AER Insights – authors can submit the reports and a cover letter without making a big revision, to avoid lots of time responding to comments if responses aren’t going to be determining factor for the decision. 76 papers previously sent to the AER were submitted, of which 9 were accepted.  


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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