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Six Questions with Chris Udry

David McKenzie's picture
This is the first in a potential new series of posts of short interviews with development economists. Chris Udry was one of the pioneers of doing detailed fieldwork in development as a grad student and has continued to be one of the most respected leaders in the profession. While at Yale he taught David, and advised both David and Markus, and is famous for the amount of time he puts into his grad students. Most recently he has moved from Yale to Northwestern. We thought this might be a good time for him to reflect on his approach to teaching and advising, and to share his thoughts on some of the emerging issues/trends in development economics.
  1. Let’s start with your approach to teaching development economics at the graduate level. The class when you taught David in 1999 was heavy on the agricultural household model and understanding micro development through different types of market failures. Most classes would involve in-depth discussion of one or at most two papers, with a student assigned most weeks to lead this discussion. There was a lot of discussion of the empirical methods in different papers, but no replication tasks and the only empirical work was as part of a term paper. How has your approach to teaching development changed (or not) since this time?

Try as I might, I have made little progress on changing my basic approach to teaching. The papers and topics have changed, but the essence of my graduate teaching remains the in-depth discussion of a paper or two each class. I’ve tried to expand the use of problem sets, and had a number of years of replication assignments. The first was hindered by my own inadequate energy (it’s hard making up decent questions!). I found that replication exercises required too much time and effort in data cleaning by students relative to their learning gain. Students were spending too much time cleaning, merging and recreating variables and too little time thinking about the ideas in the paper. I’ll reassess assigning replication this year, because there may now be enough well-documented replication datasets and programs available. With these as a starting point, it would be possible to get quickly into substantive issues in the context of a replication.

Weekly links September 15: the definitive what we know on Progresa, ethics of cash, a new approach to teaching economics, and more…

David McKenzie's picture
  • In the latest JEL, Parker and Todd survey the literature on Progresa/Oportunidades: some bits of interest to me included:
    • CCTs have now been used in 60+ countries;
    • over 100 papers have been published using the Progresa/Oportunidades data, with at least 787 hypotheses tested – multiple testing corrections don’t change the conclusions that the program had health and education effects, but do cast doubt on papers claiming impacts on gender issues and demographic outcomes;
    • FN 16 which notes that at the individual level, there are significant differences in 32% of the 187 characteristics on which baseline balance is tested, with the authors arguing that this is because the large sample size leads to a tendency to reject the null at conventional levels – a point that seems inconsistent with use of the same significant levels for measuring treatment effects;
    • Two decades later, we still don’t know whether Progresa led to more learning, just more years in school;
    • One of the few negative impacts is an increase in deforestation in communities which received the CCT
  • Dave Evans asks whether it matters which co-author submits a paper, and summarizes responses from several editors; he also gives a short summary of a panel on how to effectively communicate results to policymakers.

Weekly links September 8: career advice, measuring empowerment, is anyone reading, lumpy cash, and more…

David McKenzie's picture

Worker productivity and soft skills

Markus Goldstein's picture
There’s a lot of talk about soft skills and how they might help boost productivity and earnings.    Into this literature comes a neat new paper by Achyuta Adhvaryu, Namrata Kala, and Anant Nyshadham which looks at the returns to providing training on these skills for factory workers in India.   They provide a convincing case that it might make economic sense for firms to provide trainings for these skills.  

Is it possible to re-interview participants in a survey conducted by someone else?

David McKenzie's picture

I recently received an email from a researcher who was interested in trying to re-interview participants in one of my experiments to test several theories about whether that intervention had impacts on political participation and other political outcomes. I get these requests infrequently, but this is by no means the first. Another example in the last year was someone who had done in-depth qualitative interviews on participants in a different experiment of mine, and then wanted to be able to link their responses on my surveys to their responses on his. I imagine I am not alone in getting such requests, and I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all response to when this can be possible, so thought I would set out some thoughts about the issues here, and see if others can also share their thoughts/experiences.

Confidentiality and Informed Consent: typically when participants are invited to respond to a survey or participate in a study they are told i) that the purpose of the survey is X ,and will perhaps involve a baseline survey and several follow-ups; and ii) all responses they provide will be kept confidential and used for research purposes only. These factors make it hard to then hand over identifying information about respondents to another researcher.
However, I think this can be addressed via the following system:

Monthly links for August: What did you miss while we were on summer break?

David McKenzie's picture

Sometimes (increasingly often times), estimating only the ITT is not enough in a RCT

Berk Ozler's picture

"In summary, the similarities between follow-up studies with and without baseline randomization are becoming increasingly apparent as more randomized trials study the effects of sustained interventions over long periods in real world settings. What started as a randomized trial may effectively become an observational study that requires analyses that complement, but go beyond, intention-to-treat analyses. A key obstacle in the adoption of these complementary methods is a widespread reluctance to accept that overcoming the limitations of intention-to-treat analyses necessitates untestable assumptions. Embracing these more sophisticated analyses will require a new framework for both the design and conduct of randomized trials."

Weekly links July 28: overpaid teachers? Should we use p=0.005? beyond mean impacts, facilitating investment in Ethiopia, and more…

David McKenzie's picture
  • Well-known blog skeptic Jishnu Das continues to blog at Future Development, arguing that higher wages will not lead to better quality or more effective teachers in many developing countries – summarizing evidence from several countries that i) doubling teacher wages had no impact on performance; ii) temporary teachers paid less than permanent teachers do just as well; and iii) observed teacher characteristics explain little of the differences in teacher effectiveness.
  • Are we now all doomed from ever finding significance? In a paper in Nature Human Behavior, a multi-discipline list of 72 authors (including economists Colin Camerer, Ernst Fehr, Guido Imbens, David Laibson, John List and Jon Zinman) argue for redefining statistical significance for the discovery of new effects from 0.05 to using a cutoff of 0.005. They suggest results with p-values between 0.005 and 0.05 now be described as “suggestive”. They claim that for a wide range of statistical tests, this would require an increase in sample size of around 70%, but would of course reduce the incidence of false positives. Playing around with power calculations, it seems that studies that are powered at 80% for an alpha of 0.05 have about 50% power for an alpha of 0.005. It implies using a 2.81 t-stat cutoff instead of 1.96. Then of course if you want to further adjust for multiple hypothesis testing…

Biased women in the I(C)T crowd

Markus Goldstein's picture
This post is coauthored with Alaka Holla

The rigorous evidence on vocational training programs is, at best, mixed.   For example, Markus recently blogged about some work looking at long term impacts of job training in the Dominican Republic.   In that paper, the authors find no impact on overall employment, but they do find a change in the quality of employment, with more folks having jobs with health insurance (for example).