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Research Highlights 2008: Human Development and Public Services

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Human development and basic services delivery are at the core of the World Bank's strategy to improve people's lives and support sustainable development. The research program aims to deepen understanding of the factors affecting human development, measure the quality and impact of service delivery, and analyze the economic and political institutions that affect those services. This program also includes research on labor and migration, as well as on the effectiveness of aid in developing countries.


The research team continues to measure dimensions of human development such as learning, productivity, good health, vulnerability, and the quality of services1 as well as to analyze the factors associated with human development.2Especially in the context of the current global economic crisis, it is important to examine the various sources of poor human development and vulnerabilities, including income or wealth, gender, and ethnicity.3

Ongoing research focuses on how policy makers and service providers respond to performance incentives and accountability mechanisms, and how people's investment in human capital can be influenced by price incentives4  —a significant departure from studies that have typically focused on the impact of expenditures and the availability of inputs. Several studies are ongoing impact evaluations. Research has also examined the larger political context, the quality of governance and the incidence of public expenditures,5 as well as social and economic rights and the enforcement of those rights that might affect the delivery of basic services.6

One of the biggest challenges of development is how to create more and better jobs and to ensure that labor markets work better for poor and disadvantaged people. Research is examining the extent to which poor people benefit from the expansion of work opportunities, the impact of migration to take advantage of those work opportunities, as well as the impact of human capital on employment and wages.7

With increasing need to provide higher levels of aid to developing countries donors, questions about aid effectiveness are as alive as ever. Research on aid is focused on several dimensions: on measuring the quality of aid, including the predictability of aid flows and the degree to which they are fragmented among donors; the factors that affect the quality of aid on both the donor and recipient sides; and its impact on development.8


The quality of learning is higher in Pakistan's private schools

Between 2001 and 2005 primary school enrollments in Pakistan jumped by 10 percentage points. Extensive surveys of schools and households in rural Punjab, however, show that children perform significantly below curricular standards at their grade-level. But performance differs by whether children attend a public or private school. In general, while government schools are staffed by better qualified teachers (nearly half of government teachers have a university degree or higher), private schools which had multiplied in number in urban and rural areas achieve better outcomes. By the time children in private schools are in class three, they are 1.5 to 2.5 years ahead of government school students.

The results suggest that greater effort among private school teachers trumps the higher training of government school teachers. The downside of private schools is that they are not located everywhere; for girls, this is a disadvantage since girls' enrollment drops by 20 percentage points for every 500 meters that a girl has to travel to school.9

Cash transfers to women increase their bargaining power in Ecuador

Cash transfer programs have become increasingly popular as a poverty alleviation tool in developing countries-but how poor people use the income transfers influences their impact. Past evidence shows that women have different preferences over household expenditures than men, and so the gender of recipients could determine how such transfers are used.

A study of an unconditional cash transfer program to poor women in rural Ecuador found that households randomly assigned to receive the transfers have a significantly higher food share in expenditures than those randomly assigned to the control group, but that this higher food share is seen only among households that have both adult males and females, not among households that only have adult females.

The results indicate that an impact of the program is to improve women's bargaining power in mixed-adult households. The findings imply that taking into account gender effects in the design of social programs could improve the impact of such programs.10

Internal migration brings welfare gains to China's rural areas

Evidence suggests that the massive out-migration from rural China to urban areas improved the living standards of those left behind, and reduced inequality within villages. In 1987, 3 percent of working-age adults were migrants; by 2003 this had risen to 23 percent, with considerable variability across villages. A new national ID card and a program facilitating legal temporary residence in the cities had made migration easier.

Using the timing of these programs to identify the decline in the cost of migration, this study found that poorer households experienced higher consumption and income growth as the cost of migration fell. The average income per capita of poorer households rose as they supplied more labor to productive activities and acquired more land for agricultural production. Migration also facilitated the accumulation of housing wealth, consumer durables, and investments related to agricultural production, although there is little evidence of more investments in assets for non-agricultural production.11

Social health insurance vs. tax-financed health systems?mixed evidence

Many researchers agree that private health insurance can play only a supplemental role in achieving universal health insurance; they are less united on the merits of general-revenue finance and social health insurance (SHI). SHI relies on earnings-related contributions by workers; non-contributors are either not covered or are covered via revenues. Many SHI systems rely on a "purchasing" agency to contract with competing providers, while tax-financed systems rely on a directly managed provider network, a distinction that is becoming increasingly blurry.

The transition from general-revenue finance to SHI during the 1990s in central and eastern European and central Asian countries increased health spending by 5-10% and hospital admissions by 2-3%, but without any improvement in health outcomes. SHI is estimated to have increased (gross) wages by 20 percent, reduced employment by 10 percent, and increased self-employment by 17 percent.12

Public support determines the level and effectiveness of foreign aid

Public attitudes toward aid will determine whether or not donor governments can generate support from taxpayers for more aid. With weak support, aid agencies are likely to be risk averse in their choice of projects. Although OECD-Development Assistance Committee encourages bilateral donors to funnel much of their aid through multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, they are less likely to yield control over how aid is spent.

Analysis of cross-country surveys implies that, with a deep recession in donor countries, concern over personal finances will weaken support for aid-but that support is likely to remain relatively higher among people who are more interested in politics, left-of-center, more religious regardless of faith, and have more trust in government, NGOs and aid agencies. Support for aid is higher in smaller countries and countries with former colonies. More can be done to improve knowledge and opinion about aid in donor countries.13

Research Manager:  Elizabeth M. King  
Harold Alderman*
Maria Isabel Beltran**
Hai-Anh Dang**
Jishnu Das
Monica Das Gupta
Damien de Walque
Deon Filmer
Varun Gauri
John Giles
Markus Goldstein*
Harounan Kazianga**

Stuti Khemani
Stephen Knack***
Halsey Rogers
Norbert Schady
Pascale Schnitzer~
Adam Wagstaff
Waly Wane
Heng-Fu Zou****


~ Junior Professional Associate
*Joint Staff with Africa Region
** Consultant from September 2008
*** Joint staff with PREM Governance & Public Sector
**** External service



1. Das, Jishnu, and Tristan Zajonc. 2008. “India Shining and Bharat Drowning: Comparing Two Indian States to the Worldwide Distribution in Mathematics Achievement.” Policy Research Working Paper 4644, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Das, Jishnu, Jeffrey Hammer, and Kenneth Leonard. 2008. “The Quality of Medical Advice in Low-Income Countries.” Policy Research Working Paper 4501, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Das, Jishnu, and Kenneth Leonard. 2008. “Using Vignettes to Measure the Quality of Health Care.” In Are You Being Served: New Tools for Measuring Service Delivery, ed. Samia Amin, Jishnu Das, and Markus Goldstein. Washington, DC: Palgrave Macmillan/World Bank.
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Das, Jishnu, Quy-Toan Do, Jed Friedman, and David McKenzie. 2008. “Mental Health Patterns and Consequences: Results from Survey Data in Five Developing Countries.” Policy Research Working Paper 4495, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Filmer, Deon P., and Kinnon Scott. 2008. “Assessing Asset Indices.” Policy Research Working Paper 4605, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Filmer, Deon P., Jed Friedman, and Norbert Schady. 2008. “Development, Modernization, and Son Preference in Fertility Decisions.” Policy Research Working Paper 4716, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Lindelow, Magnus, and Adam Wagstaff. 2008. “Assessment of Health Facility Performance: An Introduction to Data and Measurement Issues.” In. Are You Being Served? New Tools for Measuring Service Delivery, ed. Samia Amin, Jishnu Das, and Marcus Goldstein. Washington DC: Palgrave Macmillan/World Bank.
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Wagstaff, Adam. 2008. “Measuring Financial Protection in Health.” Policy Research Working Paper 4554,World Bank, Washington, DC.

2. Dang, Hai-Anh H., and F. Halsey Rogers. 2008. “The Growing Phenomenon of Private Tutoring: Does It Deepen Human Capital, Widen Inequalities, or Waste Resources?” World Bank Research Observer 23(2): 161–200.

Das, Jishnu. 2008. “Low Income, Social Growth and Good Health: A History of Twelve Countries.” New England Journal of Medicine 358(26): 2851–51.

Das Gupta, Monica. 2008. “Can Biological Factors like Hepatitis Explain the Bulk of Gender Imbalance in China? A Review of the Evidence.” World Bank Research Observer 23(2): 201–17.

de Walque, Damien. 2008. “Do Unsafe Tetanus Toxoid Injections Play a Significant Role in the Transmission of HIV/AIDS? Evidence from Seven African Countries.” Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) 84: 122–25.

Linnemayr, Sebastian, Harold H. Alderman, and Abdoulaye Kane. 2008. “Determinants of Malnutrition in Senegal: Individual, Household, Community Variables, and Their Interaction.” Economics and Human Biology 6(2): 252–63.

Alderman, Harold H., Jere Behrman, and John Hoddinott. 2008. “Health, Nutrition and Economic Development.” In International Handbook of Development Economics, Vol.1 (Chap. 25), ed. Amitava Krishna Dutt and Jaime Ros. London: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Giles, John T., Albert Park, and Meiyan Wang. 2008. “The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Disruptions to Education, and Returns to Schooling in Urban China.” Policy Research Working Paper 4729, World Bank, Washington, DC.

King, Elizabeth M., Peter F. Orazem, and Elizabeth M. Paterno. 2008. “Promotion With and Without Learning: Effects on Student Enrollment and Dropout Behavior.” Policy Research Working Paper 4722. World Bank, Washington, DC.

3.  Filmer, Deon P. 2008. “Inequalities in Education: Effects of Gender, Poverty, Orphanhood, and Disability.” In Girls’ Education in the 21st Century Gender Equality, Empowerment, and Economic Growth, ed. Mercy Tembon and Lucia Fort. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Filmer, Deon P. 2008.  “Disability, Poverty, and Schooling in Developing Countries: Results from 14 Household Surveys.” World Bank Economic Review 22(1): 141–63.

Filmer, Deon P., Jed Friedman, and Norbert Schady. 2008. “Development, Modernization, and Son Preference in Fertility Decisions.” Policy Research Working Paper 4716, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Ferreira, Francisco H. G., and Norbert Schady. 2008. “ Aggregate Economic Shocks, Child Schooling and Child Health.” Policy Research Working Paper 4701, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Quisumbing, Agnes, Ruth Meinzen-Dick, Lucy Bassett, Michael Usnick, Lauren Pandolfelli, Cheryl Morden, and Harold H. Alderman. 2008. “Helping Women Respond to the Global Food Price Crisis.” International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC.

4Filmer, Deon P., and Norbert Schady. 2008. “Getting Girls into School: Evidence from a Scholarship Program in Cambodia.” Economic Development and Cultural Change 56(3): 581–617.

Alderman, Harold H., and Patrice Engle. 2008. “The Synergy of Nutrition and ECD Interventions in Africa.” In Africa’s Future—Africa’s Challenge: Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) in Sub-Saharan Africa, ed. Marito Garcia, Alan Pence, and Judith Evans. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Orazem, Peter F., and Elizabeth M. King. 2008. “Schooling in Developing Countries: The Roles of Supply, Demand and Government Policy (Chap.55).” In Handbook of Development Economics, ed. T.P. Schultz and J. Strauss. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers.

Eggleston, Karen, Li Ling, Meng Qingyue, Magnus Lindelow, and Adam Wagstaff. 2008. “Health Service Delivery in China: A Literature Review.” Health Economics 17(2): 149–65.

Oosterbeek, Hessel, Juan Ponce, and Norbert Schady. 2008. “ The Impact of Cash Transfers on School Enrollment: Evidence from Ecuador.” Policy Research Working Paper 4645,World Bank, Washington, DC.

Macours, Karen, Norbert Schady, and Renos Vakis. 2008. “ Cash Transfers, Behavioral Changes, and Cognitive Development in Early Childhood: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment.” Policy Research Working Paper 4759,World Bank, Washington, DC.

Linnemayr, Sebastian, and Harold H. Alderman. 2008. “ Almost Random: Evaluating a Large-Sale Randomized Nutrition Program in the Presence of Crossover.” Policy Research Working Paper 4784,World Bank, Washington, DC.

5Ban, Radu, Monica Das Gupta, and Vijayendra Rao. 2008. “ The Political Economy of Village Sanitation in South India: Capture or Poor Information?” Policy Research Working Paper 4802, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Khemani, Stuti, and Waly Wane. 2008. “Populist Fiscal Policy.” Policy Research Working Paper 4762, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Wane, Waly, and Bernard Gauthier. 2008. “Bypassing Health Providers: The Quest for Better Price and Quality of Health Care in Chad.” Policy Research Working Paper 4462, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Wane, Waly, and Andrew Dabalen. 2008. “Informal Payments and Moonlighting in Tajikistan's Health Sector.” Policy Research Working Paper 4555, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Knack, Stephen. 2008. “Sovereign Rents and the Quality of Tax Policy and Administration.” Policy Research Working Paper 4773, World Bank, Washington, DC.

6Gauri, Varun, and Daniel Brinks, eds. 2008. Courting Social Justice: Judicial Enforcement of Social and Economic Rights in the Developing World. New York: Cambridge University Press.
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Goldstein, Markus, and Christopher Udry. 2008. “The Profits of Power: Land Rights and Agricultural Investment in Ghana.” Journal of Political Economy 116(6): 981–1022.

Knack, Stephen. 2008. “Governance and Growth.” In Good Governance and Developing Countries: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. K. Kotschau, T. Marauhn. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

7de Brauw, Alan, and John T. Giles. 2008. “ Migrant Opportunity and the Educational Attainment of Youth in Rural China.” Policy Research Working Paper 4526, World Bank, Washington, DC.
de Brauw, Alan, and John T. Giles. 2008. “ Migrant Labor Markets and the Welfare of Rural Households in the Developing World: Evidence from China.” Policy Research Working Paper 4585, World Bank, Washington, DC.

Dabalen, Andrew, Talip Kilic, and Waly Wane. 2008. “ Social Transfers, Labor Supply and Poverty Reduction: The Case of Albania.” Policy Research Working Paper 4783, World Bank, Washington, DC.

de Walque, Damien. 2008. “Race, Immigration, and the U.S. Labor Market: Contrasting the Outcomes of Foreign Born and Native Blacks.” Policy Research Working Paper 4737, World Bank, Washington, DC.
Thirumurthy, Harsha, Joshua Zivin, and Markus Goldstein. 2008. “The Economic Impact of AIDS Treatment: Labor Supply in Western Kenya.” The Journal of Human Resources 43(3): 511–52.

8Heckelman, Jac, and Stephen Knack. 2008. “Foreign Aid and Market-Liberalizing Policy Reform.” Economica 75(299): 524–48.

Paxton, Pamela, and Stephen Knack. 2008. “ Individual and Country-Level Factors Affecting Support for Foreign Aid.” Policy Research Working Paper 4714,World Bank, Washington, DC.

Knack, Stephen, and Aminur Rahman. 2008. “Donor Fragmentation.” In Reinventing Foreign Aid, ed. William Easterly. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Wagstaff, Adam. 2008. “Fungibility and the Impact of Development Assistance: Evidence from Vietnam's Health Sector.” Policy Research Working Paper 4800, World Bank, Washington, DC.

9Andrabi, Tahir, Jishnu Das, Asim Ijaz Khwaja, Tara Vishwanath, Tristan Zajonc. 2008. Learning and Educational Achievements in Punjab Schools (LEAPS): Insights to Inform the Education Policy Debate.  Report 43750, World Bank, Washington, DC.    

10Schady, Norbert, and José Rosero. Forthcoming. “Are Cash Transfers Made to Women Spent Like other Sources of Income?” Economics Letters.  (Based on World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4282, July 2007)

11de Brauw, Alan, and John T. Giles. 2008. “ Migrant Labor Markets and the Welfare of Rural Households in the Developing World: Evidence from China.” Policy Research Working Paper 4585, World Bank, Washington, DC.

12.  Wagstaff, Adam, and Rodrigo Moreno-Serra. 2008. Forthcoming. “Social Health Insurance and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from Central and Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.” In Advances in Health Economics and Health Services Research, Volume 19: Health Care Financing in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, ed. Dov Chernichovsky and Kara Hanson. Bingley. UK: Emerald Group Publishing.
Wagstaff, Adam, and Rodrigo Moreno-Serra. 2008. Forthcoming. “Europe and Central Asia’s Great Post-Communist Social Health Insurance Experiment: Aggregate Impacts on Health Sector Outcomes.” Journal of Health Economics.

13Paxton, Pamela, and Stephen Knack. 2008. “ Individual and Country-Level Factors Affecting Support for Foreign Aid.” Policy Research Working Paper 4714,World Bank, Washington, DC.

Last updated: 2009-03-19

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