Latest research findings
Does India’s Employment Guarantee Scheme guarantee employment?
In 2005 India introduced an ambitious national anti-poverty program, now called the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The program aims to dramatically reduce poverty by offering up to 100 days of unskilled manual labor per year on public works projects for any rural resident paid at the stipulated minimum wage rate. Using India's National Sample Survey for 2009/10, Puja Dutta and coauthors  find considerable unmet demand for work in all states. Poorer families tend to have more demand for work on the scheme, and (despite the unmet demand) the self-targeting mechanism allows it to reach relatively poor families and backward castes. The extent of the unmet demand is greater in the poorest states – ironically where the scheme is needed most.
Weathering a storm: Survey-based perspectives on employment in China in the aftermath of the global financial crisis
Evidence from a range of different sources suggests that Chinese workers lost 20-36 million jobs because of the global financial crisis. Most of these layoffs affected migrant workers, who have typically lacked employment protection, tend to be concentrated in export-oriented sectors, and were among the easiest to dismiss when the crisis hit. Although it was severe, the employment shock was, according to John Giles and coauthors , short-lived. By mid-2009, the macroeconomic stimulus and other interventions had succeeded in boosting demand for migrant labor. By early 2010, abundant evidence pointed to scarcity in China's labor market, as labor demand was once again leading to brisk growth in wages.
Child labor, schooling, and child ability
Using data collected in rural Burkina Faso, Richard Akresh and coauthors  examine how children's cognitive abilities influence households' decisions to invest in their education. Taking into account the endogeneity of child ability measures, they find that adverse rainfall shocks (more than one standard deviation below the historic mean) in utero lead to 0.24 standard deviation lower ability z-scores, corresponding to a 38 percent enrollment drop and a 49 percent increase in child labor hours compared with their siblings. Negative education impacts are largest for in-utero shocks, smaller for shocks before age two, and negligible after age two.
Do informed citizens receive more ...or pay more? The impact of radio on the government distribution of public health benefits
Prior research has concluded that governments provide greater private benefits to better-informed individuals. Phil Keefer and Stuti Khemani  show, for the first time, that governments can also respond by exploiting informed individuals' greater willingness to pay for these benefits. Using a "natural experiment" in radio markets in northern Benin, the authors find that media access increases the likelihood that households pay for the bed nets they receive from government, rather than getting them for free. Mass media appears to change the private behavior of citizens – in this case, to invest more of their own resources on a public health good (bed nets) – but not their ability to extract greater benefits from government.
Alternative cash transfer delivery mechanisms: Impacts on routine preventative health clinic visits in Burkina Faso
Richard Akresh and coauthors  conducted a unique randomized experiment to estimate the impact of two alternative cash transfer delivery mechanisms on household demand for routine preventative health services in rural Burkina Faso. Families enrolled in the conditional cash transfer schemes were required to obtain quarterly child-growth monitoring at local health clinics for all children under five years old. There was not such a requirement in the unconditional programs. Compared with control group households, conditional cash transfers significantly increased the number of preventative health care visits during the previous year, while unconditional cash transfers did not have such an impact. For the conditional cash transfers, money given to mothers or fathers showed beneficial impacts of similar magnitude in increasing routine visits.
Mines, migration and HIV/AIDS in southern Africa
Swaziland and Lesotho have the highest HIV prevalence in the world. They also share another distinct feature: during the last century, they sent a large numbers of migrant workers to South African mines. A job in the mines means leaving for long periods away from their families and living in an area with an active sex industry. This creates potential incentives for multiple, concurrent partnerships. Using Demographic and Health Surveys, Lucia Corno and Damien de Walque  show that migrant miners ages 30-44 are 15 percentage points more likely to be HIV positive, and women whose partner is a migrant miner are 8 percentage points more likely to become infected. Miners are less likely to abstain or to use condoms, and female partners of miners are more likely to engage in extramarital sex.
Stimulating demand for AIDS prevention: lessons from the RESPECT trial
HIV-prevention strategies have yielded only limited success so far in slowing down the AIDS epidemic. Damien de Walque and coauthors  examine novel intervention strategies that use financial incentives to discourage risky sexual behaviors, especially in the Tanzanian RESPECT trial. There, participants who tested negative for sexually transmitted infections are eligible for outcome-based cash rewards. The trial was well-received in the communities, with high enrollment rates and more than 90 percent of participants viewing the incentives favorably. After one year, 57 percent of enrollees in the "low-value" reward arm stated that the cash rewards "very much" motivated sexual behavioral change, rising to 79 percent in the "high-value" reward arm. Despite its controversial nature, the authors argue for further testing of such incentive-based approaches to encouraging reductions in risky sexual behavior.
Sexual behavior-change intentions and actions in the context of a randomized trial of a conditional cash transfer for HIV
Information, education, communication and interventions based on behavioral-change communication have had success in increasing the awareness of HIV. But these strategies alone have been less successful in changing risky sexual behavior. Laura Packel and coauthors  address this issue by exploring the link between action and the intention to change behaviors. Based on an incentives-based HIV prevention trial in Tanzania, the longitudinal dataset the authors use allows the exploration of intended strategies for changing sexual behaviors and their results. The authors find that gender, intervention groups and new positive diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections can significantly predict the link between intent and action. The paper examines potential mediators of these relationships.
The law’s majestic equality? The distributive impact of litigating social and economic rights
Optimism about the use of laws, constitutions, and rights to achieve social change has never been higher among practitioners. But the academic literature is skeptical that courts can direct resources toward the poor. Using data on social and economic rights cases in five countries, Daniel Brinks and Varun Gauri  examine whether the poor are over or under-represented among the beneficiaries of litigation, relative to their share of the population. They find that the impact of courts varies considerably across the cases, but is positive and pro-poor in two of the five countries (India and South Africa), distribution-neutral in two others (Indonesia and Brazil), and sharply anti-poor in Nigeria. Overall, the results of litigation are much more positive for the poor than conventional wisdom would suggest.
Human rights as demands for communicative action
A key issue with human rights is how to allocate duties correlative to rights claims. Varun Gauri and Daniel Brinks  address the issue by taking the practices of domestic courts in several countries as a normative benchmark. Upon reviewing how courts in Colombia, India, South Africa, Indonesia, and elsewhere have allocated duties associated with socio-economic rights, the paper finds that courts urge parties to move from an adversarial to an investigative mode, impose requirements that parties argue in good faith, and structure a public forum of communication. The conclusion argues that judicial practice involves requiring respondents to engage in communicative, instead of strategic, action, and explores the implications of this understanding of human rights.
Human rights based approaches to development: concepts, evidence, and policy
Varun Gauri and Siri Gloppen  assess the benefits, risks, and limitations of human rights-based approaches to development, which can be catalogued on the basis of the institutional mechanisms they rely on: global compliance based on international and regional treaties; the policies and programming of donors and executive agencies; rights talk; and legal mobilization. The authors briefly review the politics of the first three kinds of human rights based approaches before examining constitutionally-based legal mobilization for social and economic rights in greater detail. Litigation for social and economic rights is increasing in frequency and scope in several countries, and exhibits appealing attributes, such as inclusiveness and deliberative quality. Still, there are potential problems with this form of human rights based mobilization, including middle class capture, the potential counter-majoritarianism of courts, and difficulties in compliance. The conclusion summarizes what is known, and what remains to be studied, regarding human rights based approaches to development.
Aid tying and donor fragmentation
Steve Knack and Lodewijk Smets  test two opposing hypotheses about the impact of aid fragmentation on the practice of aid tying. When a small number of donors dominate the aid market in a country, they may exploit their monopoly power by tying more aid to purchases from contractors based in their own countries. Alternatively, when donors have a larger share of the aid market, they may have stronger incentives to maximize the development impact of their aid by tying less of it. Empirical tests strongly and consistently support the latter hypothesis: higher donor aid shares are associated with less, not more, aid tying.
Multidimensional poverty analysis: Looking for a middle ground
Widespread agreement that poverty is a multifaceted phenomenon – encompassing deprivations along multiple dimensions – clashes with often vociferous disagreement about how best to measure these deprivations. Drawing on the recent literature, Francisco Ferreira and Maria Ana Lugo  propose three methodological alternatives to the false dichotomy between scalar indices of multidimensional poverty, on the one hand, and a "dashboard" approach that looks only at marginal distributions, on the other. These alternatives include simple Venn diagrams of the overlap of deprivations across dimensions, multivariate stochastic dominance analysis, and the analysis of copula functions, which capture the extent of interdependency across dimensions. Examples from the literature on both developing and developed countries are provided.
Can we trust shoestring evaluations?
Many more impact evaluations could be done, and at lower unit cost, if evaluators could avoid the need for baseline data using objective socio-economic surveys and rely instead on retrospective subjective questions on how outcomes have changed, asked post-intervention. But would the results be reliable? Martin Ravallion  tests a rapid-appraisal, "shoestring," method using subjective recall for welfare changes. The recall data were collected at the end of a full-scale evaluation of a large poor-area development program in China. Qualitative recalls of how living standards have changed are found to provide only weak and biased signals of the changes in consumption as measured from contemporaneous surveys. Importantly, the shoestring method was unable to correct for the selective placement of the program favoring poor villages. The results of this case study are not encouraging for future applications of the shoestring method, although similar tests are needed in other settings.
New articles and books
Incentivizing safe sex: a randomized trial of conditional cash transfers for HIV and sexually transmitted infection prevention in rural Tanzania
Existing prevention strategies have had a limited impact on the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Damien de Walque and coauthors  conducted a randomized control trail in Tanzania to see whether conditional cash transfers can be used to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Transfers were conditional on testing negative for a set of curable STIs. The study had three separate arms – a control arm and two treatment arms (low-value treatment and high-value treatment). Among study participants who were randomly selected for a $20 payment (high value) every 4 months if they tested negative, the results showed a 27 percent reduction in the incidence of curable STIs after one year. These findings suggest that financial incentives could be an effective prevention tool for STIs, and possibly HIV.
Effect of a cash transfer program for schooling on prevalence of HIV and herpes simplex type 2 in Malawi: a cluster randomized trial
Sarah Baird and coauthors  conducted a randomized control trial in Malawi to test the efficacy of conditional (on school attendance) and unconditional cash transfer programs to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections in young women. Eighteen months after the start of the program, women receiving cash transfers who were in school at the baseline had prevalence levels of HIV and genital herpes (HSV-2) that were half and one quarter respectively those of women in the control group. No differences were found between the conditional and unconditional transfer groups. No effects were detected on either HIV or HSV-2 among women who had already dropped out of school by the baseline.
The association between remarriage and HIV infection in 13 sub-Saharan African countries
Separated, divorced, and widowed individuals in Africa are at significantly increased risk for HIV infection. Using nationally representative data from 13 sub-Saharan African countries, Damien de Walque and Rachael Kline confirm  this finding and go further by examining those who have experienced a marital dissolution and are now remarried. Results show that remarried individuals form a large portion of the population and have a higher-than-average HIV prevalence. HIV-positive remarried individuals are at risk of transmitting the infection to their spouse, because many of the couples are serodiscordant. The large number of high-risk remarried individuals is a source of vulnerability and further infection, and should be acknowledged and taken into account by prevention strategies that rarely address this population.
Month of birth and children's health in India
Michael Lokshin and Sergiy Radyakin  use data from three waves of India National Family Health Survey to explore the relationship between the month of birth and the health outcomes of young children in India. They find that children born during the monsoon months have lower anthropometric scores compared to children born during the fall-winter months. They propose and test hypotheses that could explain such a correlation. Their results emphasize the importance of seasonal variations in environmental conditions at the time of birth in determining health outcomes of young children in India. Policy interventions that affect these conditions could effectively impact the health and achievements of these children, in a manner similar to nutrition and micronutrient supplementation programs.
The impact of immigration on child health: Experimental evidence from a migration lottery program
Steven Stillman and coauthors  use a unique survey designed by them to compare migrant children who enter New Zealand through a random ballot with children in the home country of Tonga whose families were unsuccessful participants in the same ballots. They find that migration increases height and reduces stunting of infants and toddlers, but also increases BMI and obesity among 3- to 5-year-olds. These impacts are quite large even though the average migrant household has been in New Zealand for less than one year. Additional results suggest that these impacts occur because of dietary change rather than direct income effects.
The elderly and old age support in rural China
This new book by Fang Cai and coauthors  examines projected demographic changes that will affect the economic well-being of China’s rural elderly over the next 20 years, taking into account both China’s sharp demographic transition and the continued migration of young adults to cities. The projected old age dependency ratio of 34 percent in China’s rural areas by 2030 suggests that support of the elderly is likely to be an increasing burden on China’s families.
Research in the news
Varun Gauri’s paper with Daniel Brinks  is picked up by The Economist in its Free Exchange column on “The law and the poor: Courts in emerging markets are better for the poor than many assume”. The column concludes: “The study is… a revelation: courts are more majestic than decades of received wisdom have suggested.”
Jishnu Das’s work on the quality of medical care in India is picked up in India’s MINT co-published with the Wall Street Journal in a column titled “Accountability failures mar National Rural Health Mission”. The author argues: “If this increased [government] expenditure is to yield results, the focus must shift to doctor accountability and to linking incentives to quality care and improved outcomes.”
And on the blogs
Stuti Khemani and Phil Keefer have a couple of blog posts: one on Africa Can End Poverty picked up by Evan Lieberman (Associate Professor of Politics at Princeton) on his blog; the other on Let’s Talk Development. In the first, they report their research from Benin  showing that community radio makes citizens better informed about education and health, but this translates into more private spending. It does not enable them to get make politicians deliver better resourced public services; in fact, politicians ended up charging well-informed households more for bed nets that they could have got for free. In the second post, Khemani and Keefer try to explain why they get this finding in Benin while other researchers have found radio does help citizens hold politicians accountable.
Damien de Walque has a post on Africa Can End Poverty on rewarding safe sex. De Walque summarizes the results from his recent study , but cautions: “While the results are important in showing that financial incentives can be a useful tool in preventing HIV/STI transmission, we are still at an early stage. This approach would need to be replicated elsewhere and implemented on a larger scale before it could be concluded that such conditional cash transfer programs (for which administrative and laboratory capacity requirements are significant) offer an efficient, scalable and sustainable HIV prevention strategy.”
De Walque has another post on Africa Can End Poverty, summarizing his work on HIV and migrant miners working in South Africa . De Walque urges: “Prevention efforts need to be reinforced within and around the mining sites. Wives and partners of men working in the mining sector would also benefit from being the focus of HIV prevention interventions.”
In a post on Let’s Talk Development on humanizing health systems, Adam Wagstaff addresses the charges that use of the term “health systems” risks alienating non-specialists and makes the issues seem more complex than they really are. Wagstaff also has a post on Let’s Talk Development that builds on some recent thinking on international trade, knowledge and specialization to ask whether the World Bank’s staff is under-specialized.
The Development Impact blog has its usual slew of great posts on human development. On health, there’s a post by Berk Ozler on the morning-after pill, another by Ozler on behavior change in HIV prevention, and a third on ‘transactional sex’ and HIV prevention; there’s also a post by Markus Goldstein on how financial incentives did not make hair salon owners in Lusaka sell more female condoms. On education, there’s a debate between Lant Prichett and Ozler on the merits of using of conditional cash transfers when children don’t learn anything in school, a post by Ozler on the possibility that low returns to female education may be holding down the demand for female education, and one by Goldstein on whether education really empowers young women.