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Research Highlights 2010: Human Development and Public Services

Themes  | Highlights | Team | Notes | Current Research Program | 2010 Publications  

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Human development and public service delivery are at the core of the World Bank’s strategy to improve people’s lives and support sustainable development. This research program spans education, health, social protection and labor, as well as governance issues affecting service delivery, and the effectiveness of development assistance.


This research program continues to cover the full gamut of human development—education, health, labor markets, and social protection. It examines the performance of these sectors in terms of levels and inequalities in access, use, quality, and outcomes. It also examines the impacts of measures to improve performance aimed at households (such as conditional cash transfer and health insurance programs); service providers (including payment systems, legal institutions, and community monitoring mechanisms); policy makers and politicians; and donors (including factors affecting aid and aid’s impact on outcomes).



The human and policy consequences of the global financial crisis

The global economic crisis has affected development thinking. Will the events of the past two years lead to major shifts in thinking about development economics, and should they? This research shows how these questions are relevant to several key domains of development thinking, including the market-state balance, macroeconomic management, globalization, development financing, and public spending.[1]

China’s labor market showed considerable flexibility in the wake of the financial crisis. The initial impact of the financial crisis on off-farm employment among China’s rural labor force was substantial. Estimates suggest 49 million workers were laid-off between October 2008 and April 2009, but that half of them were re-hired in off-farm work by April 2009. By August 2009, less than 2 percent of the rural labor force was unemployed due to the crisis.[2]

Supplementary feeding programs protect infants and young children from malnutrition. The 1997 Indonesia crisis has much to teach us about measures aimed at protecting the nutritional status of infants and young children from adverse effects of a crisis. Supplemental
feeding programs improved the nutritional status of children aged 12-24 months, and helped avoid problems of severe malnutrition among young children.[3]

The quality and consequences of aid

Donors differ in the quality of their aid.
A new study presents an overall aid-quality index and four coherently defined sub-indexes on aid selectivity, alignment, harmonization, and specialization. Compared with earlier indicators used in donor rankings, this indicator set is more comprehensive and representative of the range of donor practices addressed in the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, thereby improving the validity, reliability, and robustness of rankings.[4]

Foreign aid workers win hearts and minds in the aftermath of Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake. Winning “hearts and minds” in the Muslim world is an acknowledged aim of U.S. foreign policy, and increasingly bilateral foreign aid serves as a vehicle toward this end. This study examined the effect of aid from international organizations and on-the-ground presence of foreigners following the 2005 earthquake in Northern Pakistan on local attitudes. Four years after the earthquake, humanitarian assistance by foreigners and foreign organizations has left a lasting positive imprint on population attitudes.[5]

Demography, migration and their economic consequences

Missing girls equals missing brides, which has implications for China’s marriage “market.”
Fertility decline has fueled a sharp increase in the proportion of “missing girls” in China. As a result, an increasing share of males will fail to marry, and will face old age without the support normally provided by wives and children. A new study argues that unmarried males will likely be concentrated in the poorer provinces, which will have low fiscal ability to provide social protection to their citizens.[6]

China's rural elderly may not be able to count on support from adult children. Support from the family continues to be an important source of support for the rural elderly in China, particularly those over 70 years of age. Decline in likelihood of co-residence with, or in close proximity to, adult children raises the possibility that China’s rural elderly will receive less support in income and in-kind care. Although financial transfers look similar for elderly households with and without migrant children, the predicted variance for the latter group is higher suggesting a greater risk of poverty.[7]

Political and legal aspects of service delivery

How decentralization can lead to vote-buying. A recent trend in decentralization in several large and diverse countries is the creation of local jurisdictions below the regional level—municipalities, towns, and villages—almost exclusively financed by grants from both regional and national governments. The concern is that such grants-financed decentralization enables politicians to target benefits to pivotal voters and organized interest groups in exchange for political support. Decentralization, in this model, is subject to political capture, facilitating vote-buying, patronage, or pork-barrel projects, at the expense providing broad public goods.[8]

Why poor voters may demand infrastructure spending yet not get it. A puzzle in the political economy of infrastructure in India is the coexistence of relatively low shares of capital spending in public budgets alongside evidence of large demand for village infrastructure from poor voters. This pattern may emerge when infrastructure projects are being used for political rent-seeking, while spending on employment and welfare transfers are the preferred vehicles to win votes for re-election.[9]

Dispute resolvers in customary law systems need to justify their decisions publicly. When informal dispute resolvers, such as village chiefs or paralegals, mediate or arbitrate disputes, justifications for their decisions are typically absent. Case studies from Sierra Leone suggest more elaboration on the legal and moral basis of judicial and quasi-judicial decisions might help increase voluntary compliance, stabilize expectations, and manage diverse values and moral concepts.[10]

Despite greater use of contract teachers, India’s courts are unsympathetic to their demands. Since the early 1990s, the Indian government has increasingly employed contract workers to perform state functions, including teaching. A look at all relevant cases in the Indian Supreme Court and four High Courts over the past 30 years finds that the judiciary has increasingly become less sympathetic to contract teachers’ demands. Instead the court could use judicial review to engage the government and guide the creation of a labor policy that achieves a better school system for students and teachers.[11]

Risk and vulnerability in health

Access to antiretroviral therapy may increase risky sexual behaviors
. A study in Mozambique finds that risky sexual behaviors increased in response to the perceived changes in risk associated with better access to antiretroviral therapy (ART). Furthermore, men and women respond differently to the perceived changes in risk: risky behaviors increase for men who believe, wrongly, that AIDS can be cured, while risky behaviors increase for women who believe, correctly, that ART can treat AIDS but cannot cure it.[12]

Health shocks are different. Health shocks are more common than most other shocks and more concentrated among the poor. They also tend to be more idiosyncratic than non-health shocks, and are more costly, leading to high medical expenses and sizeable income losses. Health shocks also stand out from other shocks in the number of coping strategies they trigger, and in terms of households saying they were forced to cut back consumption and saw their family's well-being affected “a lot.”[13]


Adam Wagstaff, Research Manager

Harold Alderman
Jishnu Das
Deon Filmer
Monica Das Gupta
Damien de Walque
Varun Gauri

John Giles

Stuti Khemani

Stephen Knack

Halsey Rogers

Waly Wane


1.Rogers, F. Halsey. 2010. “The Global Financial Crisis and Development Thinking.” Policy Research Working Paper 5353, World Bank, Washington, DC. 
2.Huang, Jikun, Huayong Zhi, Zhurong Huang, Scott Rozelle, and John T. Giles. 2010. “The Impact of the Global Financial Crisis on Off-Farm Employment and Earnings in Rural China.” Policy Research Working Paper 5439, World Bank, Washington, DC. 
3.Giles, John T., and Elan Satriawan. 2010. “Protecting Child Nutritional Status in the Aftermath of a Financial Crisis: Evidence from Indonesia.” Policy Research Working Paper 5471, World Bank, Washington, DC. 
4.Knack, Steve, F. Halsey Rogers, and Nicholas Eubank. 2010. “Aid Quality and Donor Rankings.” Policy Research Working Paper 5290, World Bank, Washington, DC.  
5.Andrabi, Tahir, and Jishnu Das. 2010. “In Aid We Trust: Hearts and Minds and the Pakistan Earthquake of 2005.” Policy Research Working Paper 5440, World Bank, Washington, DC. 
6.Das Gupta, Monica, Avraham Ebenstein, and Ethan Sharygin. 2010. “China’s Marriage Market and Upcoming Challenges for Elderly Men.” Policy Research Working Paper 5351, World Bank, Washington, DC. 
7.Das Gupta, Monica, Avraham Ebenstein, and Ethan Sharygin. 2010. “China’s Marriage Market and Upcoming Challenges for Elderly Men.” Policy Research Working Paper 5351, World Bank, Washington, DC.
8.Khemani, Stuti. 2010. “Political Capture of Decentralization: Vote-Buying through Grants-Financed Local Jurisdictions.” Policy Research Working Paper 5350, World Bank, Washington, DC. 
9.Khemani, Stuti. 2010. “Political Economy of Infrastructure Spending in India.” Policy Research Working Paper 5423, World Bank, Washington, DC.  
10.Gauri, Varun. 2010. “The Publicity Defect of Customary Law.” Policy Research Working Paper 5349, World Bank, Washington, DC.  
11.Robinson, Nick, and Varun Gauri. 2010. “Education, Labor Rights, and Incentives: Contract Teacher Cases in the Indian Courts.” Policy Research Working Paper 5365, World Bank, Washington, DC. Walque, Damien, Harounan Kazianga, and Mead Over. 2010. “Antiretroviral Therapy Awareness and Risky Sexual Behaviors: Evidence from Mozambique.” Policy Research Working Paper 5486, World Bank, Washington, DC.  
13.Wagstaff, Adam, and Magnus Lindelow. 2010. “Are Health Shocks Different? Evidence from a Multi-Shock Survey in Laos.” Policy Research Working Paper 5335, World Bank, Washington, DC.  











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