Published on Development Impact

Weekly links September 17: sobering news on PhD student mental health, radio campaigns and family planning, virtual vs in-person field visits, and more…

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·       An important read for anyone working with economics PhD students. Scott Cunningham summarizes recent survey data on the incidence of depression, anxiety and suicidality among economics PhD students. It is really well written and discusses a range of evidence and possible solutions.

·       The IEA continues its new series of monthly interviews with economists in different countries by interviewing Nkechi Owoo at the University of Ghana. She talks about her work on female labor force participation, and on her approach to trying to take advantage of all the opportunities available “We have a saying that “there is more sleep after death” and my philosophy is simply that while still young, strong and eager, every opportunity must be sought and grasped with both hands.”

·       On VoxDev, Rachel Glennerster, Joanna Murray and Victor Pouliquen discuss their experiment on how a family planning radio campaign increased contraception uptake in their sample in Burkina Faso by 20%. One of the challenges of mass media interventions is typically that it is hard to randomize who accesses the content, and that people often are exposed to so much other media. They work with a sample of 3,000 rural women who have no radio in their household, and give half a solar-radio, and then work with radio stations and have 8 of the 16 radio stations randomly implement a media campaign. They find the radio alone reduces contraceptive use, but the radio plus mass media campaign increases contraceptive use, improved wellbeing, and had a marginally significant improvement on fertility. A nice last point is the quick scaling of the program, which is now on 39 radio stations in 10 local languages.

·       On Ideas for India, Adhvaryu et al. summarize their recent work on absenteeism in large Indian garment factories “10-11% of workers were absent on a typical day with nearly all absenteeism being ‘unauthorised’….when a line experiences high worker absenteeism, segmental delays become bottlenecks that ultimately impede the line’s productivity…When faced with high worker absenteeism at the line level, managers leverage informal agreements called ‘relational contracts’, to borrow workers from other line managers with the shared understanding that they will return the favour when partner lines experience worker shortages in the future.” However, they argue that not as many of these trades occur as would be optimal, suggesting the need for better ways of facilitating worker allocation across lines.

·       When will virtual field visits and meetings substitute for in-person and when won’t they after the pandemic? On the MDRC implementation research incubator blog, Erika Lewy discusses what COVID-19 adaptions to field research they would like to keep after the pandemic ends, and which ones they would be eager to dump. Some of the useful reflections include using virtual approaches to improve the efficiency and reduce the time for in-person visits, the fact that the pandemic has now caused so many partners to be much more proficient in Zoom and so the technology has improved for virtual, and discussions of which types of sites and people get left out if you rely too much on one or the other.

·       On the Ifpri blog, Melissa Hidrobo and co-authors discuss how a cash transfer program in Mali had differing impacts on the migration of men and women – it helped men to fund more of the rural-rural migration that they commonly do, whereas was a substitute to the rural-urban migration that women typically do, which is often linked to women migrating to raise money for their wedding goods.

·       What does academia know about innovation? Matt Clancy provides a set of literature summaries on New Things Under the Sun (h/t the Innovation Growth Lab newsletter).

·       Funding opportunity: IPA has a new initiative with funding for research on human trafficking. They are hosting a Zoom Q&A session about the funding call on September 27.


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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