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Research Highlights 2007: Human Development and Public Services

In China increased family wealth may result in the elderly and their adult children choosing to live in separate but proximate dwellings
A conditional cash transfer program in Ecuador improved cognitive development in children Community monitoring doesn’t always improve the quality of public services
Too many small donors and increasing aid fragmentation weakens the effectiveness of aid

Human development and the delivery of basic services are at the core of the World Bank’s strategy to improve people’s lives and support economic development. The research program aims to deepen understanding of the factors affecting human development, improve the analysis of service delivery and related political and economic institutions, and examine the effectiveness of aid in developing countries. A new research theme pertains to work, migration, and labor markets.


The research team continues to develop measures of harder-to-quantify dimensions of human development such as learning, productivity, good health, and vulnerability—as well as to analyze the association between human development and sources of inequalities, such as income or wealth, gender, and ethnicity.

Ongoing evaluative research focuses on how policy makers and service providers respond to performance incentives and accountability mechanisms—a significant departure from studies that have typically focused on the impact of expenditures and the availability of inputs. Research has also been looking at the larger political context, including social and economic rights and the enforcement of those rights that might affect the delivery of basic services.

One of the biggest challenges in developing countries is how to create more and better jobs and to ensure that labor markets work better for poor and disadvantaged people. New research examines the extent to which poor people benefit from the expansion of work opportunities, the impact on the households of workers who migrate to take advantage of those work opportunities, and the demand for social protection.

With increased aid to developing countries and a growing number of donors, questions about aid effectiveness are as alive as ever. Research on aid is focused on two dimensions: first, on measuring the quality of aid, including the predictability of aid flows and the degree to which they are fragmented among donors; and second, on the factors that affect the quality of aid on both the donor and recipient sides.


In China increased family wealth may result in the elderly and their adult children choosing to live in separate but proximate dwellings

In China over a 100 million people have left their villages to work in cities and coastal areas. Observers have raised the concern that these new labor market opportunities are straining family-based support mechanisms for the elderly, but new research suggests that young adults in rural areas continue to support their elderly parents. Specifically, when parents are in poor health, the probability that an adult male child will migrate to take a job elsewhere falls.

Willingness to care for parents is not necessarily reflected in coresidency. This is evident when information about the health status of nonresident parents and the existence of siblings is included in an analysis of migration decisions. Because many surveys are household based and lack information on nonresident family members, the possible negative consequences of declining coresidency may be overstated.[9]

A conditional cash transfer program in Ecuador improved cognitive development in children

Cognitive development in early childhood is an important predictor of success throughout life—yet remarkably little is known about the best ways to improve it. In Ecuador, by the time a child enters primary school, the average child in the poorest quartile has cognitive development levels (using tests of vocabulary) more than two standard deviations below those of the average child in the least poor quartile, and these disparities increase with the child’s age.[10]

A cash transfer program to women to improve the health and cognitive development of children resulted in dramatic improvements in child health and development for the poorest children—on average, approximately 0.25 standard deviations higher than those in the control group—but not among children in somewhat better-off households. The improvement in children’s cognitive development appears to have resulted from better nutrition and more preventive health care.[11]

Community monitoring doesn’t always improve the quality of public services

In Uganda, citizen perceptions of the quality of medical care in public clinics were compiled in “citizen report cards” and discussed in community meetings.[12] In the treatment communities, both provider attendance and quality of service measures (including waiting time and quality of care) improved—and ultimately, the immunization rate increased and child mortality rates dropped.

In another study, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), village monitoring through public report cards on education indicators—how many children in school are able to read and how many remain illiterate—did not produce a significant improvement in community participation in public schools or on teacher effort and learning outcomes in public schools in the treatment villages.[13]

These mixed findings suggest that significant barriers to collective action within communities may affect their ability to extract accountability from public providers and that a stronger intervention may be necessary. For example, in Uganda the nongovernmental organization (NGO) that facilitated the intervention played a much more active role in pressuring public providers to improve performance than the respective NGO in India.

Too many small donors and increasing aid fragmentation weakens the effectiveness of aid

Aid-recipient countries must deal with an ever-growing array of donors and NGOs as both the level of funding from each donor and the number of donors rises. A study finds that donor fragmentation is negatively related to an index of bureaucratic quality from the International Country Risk Guide for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the most aid-intensive region.[14] This negative relationship suggests that a donor with a small share of the aid level in a country is less likely to be concerned about the sustainability of today’s investment projects and about the mutual consistency of projects within and across sectors.

In contrast, aid from multilateral agencies is positively associated with bureaucratic quality. This is perhaps because multilateral donors are less constrained by commercial or security objectives or by the need to contrive tangible results for legislators and taxpayers skeptical of aid’s effectiveness. A single donor with a large share of aid projects has an interest in maintaining the quality of the government administration and is less likely to drain the few high-quality managers away from the countries’ public sector to run them.



 9. Giles, John, and Ren Mu. 2007. "Elderly Parent Health and the Migration Decisions of Adult Children: Evidence from Rural China." Demography 44(2): 265–88.

 10. Paxson, Christina, and Norbert Schady. 2007. "Cognitive Development among Young Children in Ecuador: The Roles of Wealth, Health, and Parenting." Journal of Human Resources 42(1): 49–84.

 11. Paxson, Christina, and Norbert Schady. 2007. "Does Money Matter? The Effects of Cash Transfers on Child Health and Development in Rural Ecuador." Policy Research Working Paper 4226, World Bank, Washington, DC.

 12. Bjorkman, Martina, and Jakob Svensson. 2007. "Power to the People: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment of a Community-Based Monitoring Project in Uganda." Policy Research Working Paper 4268, World Bank, Washington, DC.

 13. Banerjee, Abhijit, Rukmini Banerji, Esther Duflo, Rachel Glennerster, Dan Keniston, Stuti Khemani, and Marc Shotland. 2007. "Can Information Campaigns Raise Awareness and Local Participation in Primary Education?" Economic and Political Weekly 42(15): 1365–72.

 14. Knack, Stephen, and Aminur Rahman. 2007. "Donor Fragmentation and Bureaucratic Quality in Aid Recipients." Journal of Development Economics 83(1): 176–97.

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