Weekly links February 24: it’s harder to be a slacker, pensions and fertility, adaptive poverty measurement, men should smile more, and more….


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·       Part of the classic discussion about high fertility rates in developing countries is the idea that one reason for having children is to have someone to support you in old age. On VoxDev, Pauline Rossi then sees what happens to fertility in Namibia when social pensions get extended to more of the population. “before the reform in 1992, people disadvantaged by the pension system had just above six children whereas people advantaged by the system had just below five children. After the extension, fertility decreased everywhere, and especially for populations that used to lag behind. The convergence in fertility rates starts precisely when the reform is announced and is completed within a decade.”

·       On Economists Writing Every Day, Michael Makowsky writes “I think the single most under-considered development in labor economics has been the revolution in the real-time measurement of labor output over last decade…A lot of ink has been spilled agonizing over why “no one wants to work” in fast food establishments for $15-$20 an hour, without appreciation for how much those jobs have been transformed by operations monitoring and management. Simply put, there’s no hiding on the line anymore. You’re either producing or you’re not and everyone knows…My suspicion is that this will eventually come out as a mutually beneficial gain, on average, for all parties. Workers will be monitored and measured more tightly, which will make work less pleasant, but they will be paid more and work less. I suspect many of us would actually prefer to work 40% harder for half the hours and make double the pay. There will be people who lose in the transition, however. Every workplace has a slacker who floats from job to job, doing far less than the bare minimum, riding the wave of uncertainty that keeps their unemployment at least temporarily intact. For many occupations that strategy will cease to be viable.”

·       On Let’s Talk Development, Tim Ohlenburg and co-authors discuss how shorter and adaptive surveys could be used for poverty targeting. “knowing if a household is well-off and thus ineligible, or vice versa, should become quickly obvious. In an approach we call early stopping, we ask the most salient questions first, and deploy quantile regression after each question to create a prediction interval that indicates plausible consumption values based on the answers collected so far. The interview ends when the PMT’s eligibility threshold falls outside the range of plausible values, at which point the current predicted value is logged as the consumption estimate. Figure 2 illustrates a sample household that requires 12 questions to become certain enough that its consumption level is low enough to establish eligibility.” – So if the sole purpose of a survey is to determine eligibility for social programs, not everyone needs to get asked the full batch of questions.

·       On VoxEU, Susan Athey  Dean Karlan,  Emil Palikot, and Yuan Yuan summarize their experiment which varied profile pictures on the peer lending platform Kiva and relate it to the broader debate on fairness vs efficiency in digital marketplaces – and the advice to men is to smile more! “we estimate that smiling increases the amount of cash collected per day by approximately $8…33% of profiles classified as male are also smiling, compared to 77% of profiles classified as female”

·       The World Bank’s Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) program is taking applications from current graduate students for summer internships – applications due March 1.


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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