Latest research findings
Does Africa need a rotten kin theorem? Experimental evidence from village economies
Pamela Jakiela and Owen Ozier  measure the economic impact of social pressure to share income with kin and neighbors in rural Kenyan villages. They conduct a lab experiment in which they randomly vary the observability of investment returns. Their goal is to test whether subjects reduce their income in order to keep it hidden. Jakiela and Ozier find that women adopt an investment strategy that conceals the size of their initial endowment in the experiment, although that strategy reduces their expected earnings. This effect is largest among women with relatives attending the experiment. Parameter estimates suggest that women behave as though they expect to be pressured to share four percent of their observable income with others, and substantially more when close kin can observe income directly.
The health impacts of universal health coverage: evidence from Thailand
Adam Wagstaff and Wanwiphang Manachotphong  exploit the staggered rollout of Thailand’s universal coverage (UC) scheme to estimate its impacts on whether individuals report themselves in the labor force survey (LFS) as being too ill to work. They use 86 LFS’s each with an average of 62,000 respondents, most just one month apart. They find that universal coverage reduced the likelihood of people reporting themselves to be too sick to work by -0.004 one year after UC and -0.007 three years after. The estimated health effects are much larger among people over the age of 65, and four times larger than those of the Village Fund scheme which provided free credit to rural households through a subsidized microcredit scheme and was rolled out around the same time as UC.
Universal health care and informal labor markets: the case of Thailand
It has been argued that universal health coverage may inadvertently distort labor market choices, with workers preferring informal employment over formal employment, leading to negative effects on investment and growth, as well as reduced protection against non-health risks and the income risks associated with ill health. Adam Wagstaff and Wanwiphang Manachotphong  explore this hypothesis in the context of the Thai UC scheme using LFS data. They find that UC encouraged employment especially among married women, reduced formal-sector employment among married men but not among other groups, and increased informal-sector employment especially among married women. The largest positive informal-sector employment effects are found in the agricultural sector.
Patterns and correlates of intergenerational cash transfers: evidence from China
Using the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS) 2008 pilot, Xiaoyan Lei, John Giles, Yuqing Hu, Albert Park, John Strauss and Yaohui Zhao  analyze the patterns and correlates of intergenerational transfers between elderly parents and adult children in Zhejiang and Gansu Provinces. The pilot is a unique data source from China that provides information on the direction as well as amount of transfers between parents and each of their children, and clearly distinguishes transfers between parents and children from those among other relatives or friends. The authors show that transfers flow predominantly from children to elderly parents, with transfers from children playing an important role in elderly support. Educated and married children have a higher tendency to provide transfers to their parents; and oldest sons are less likely to provide transfers than their younger brothers. In the absence of some other source of elderly support (such as a public pension or own savings), the dwindling number of children implies that the financial burden associated with supporting the elderly is likely to increase.
Does it pay to be a cadre? Estimating the returns to being a local official in rural China
Recruiting and retaining leaders and public servants at the grass-roots level in developing countries creates a potential tension between providing sufficient returns to attract talent and limiting the scope for excessive rent-seeking behavior. In China, researchers have frequently argued that village cadres, who are the lowest level of administrators in rural areas, exploit personal political status for economic gain. Much existing research, however, fails to control for unobserved dimensions of ability that are also correlated with success as entrepreneurs or in non-agricultural activities. A new paper by Jian Zhang, John Giles and Scott Rozelle  suggests a measurable return to cadre status, but the magnitudes are not large and provide only a modest incentive to participate in village-level government. The authors do not find evidence that households of village cadres earn significant rents from having a family member who is a cadre.
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.
When do donors trust recipient country systems?
The 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness sets targets for increased use by donors of recipient country systems for managing aid. The target is premised on a view that country systems are strengthened when donors trust recipients to manage aid funds, but undermined when donors manage aid through their own separate parallel systems. Stephen Knack  provides an analytical framework for understanding donors' decisions to trust or bypass country systems. He undertakes empirical tests using data from three OECD-DAC surveys designed to monitor progress toward Paris Declaration goals. Tests show that a donor's use of the recipient country's systems is positively related to: (1) the donor's share of aid provided to the recipient (a proxy for the donor's reputational stake in the country's development); (2) perceptions of corruption in the recipient country (a proxy for the trustworthiness or quality of the country's systems); and (3) public support for aid in the donor country (a proxy for the donor's risk tolerance).
New articles and books
Learning levels and gaps in Pakistan: A comparison with Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh
Jishnu Das, Priyanka Pandey and Tristan Zajonc  report on student achievement in public and private primary schools in rural Pakistan and compare the findings with those from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. In Pakistan, absolute learning is low and the largest gaps are between good and bad government schools. The gap between children with literate and illiterate mothers is huge. Tested at the end of Grade 3, a bare majority of children have mastered the K-1 mathematics curriculum and only 31% can correctly form a sentence with the word “school” in Urdu. The gap in English test-scores between government and private schools is 12 times the gap between children from rich and poor families. Data from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh suggest similar levels of learning and educational gaps.
Mines, migration and HIV/AIDS in southern Africa
Swaziland and Lesotho are the countries with the highest HIV prevalence in the world. These countries have in common another distinguishing feature: during the past century, they sent massive numbers of migrant workers into South African mines. Lucia Corno and Damien de Walque  examine whether participation in mining in a bordering country affects HIV infection rate. 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, the analysis shows 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.
Benefit-incidence analysis: Are government health expenditures more pro-rich than we think?
Authors of benefit-incidence analyses (BIA) have to impute subsidies using assumptions about the relationship between unobserved subsidies 'captured' by the household and what can be observed at the household and aggregate levels. Adam Wagstaff  shows that one of the two assumptions used in BIA studies to date will necessarily produce a more pro-rich (or less pro-poor) picture of government health spending than the other, depending on whether utilization is more pro-rich or pro-poor than fees paid to public providers. Both assumptions have their disadvantages, and the paper suggests a couple of alternatives that explicitly link fees paid to the costliness of care. It shows that in the most likely case where fees are distributed in a more pro-rich fashion than utilization, the two traditional assumptions will produce less pro-rich distributions of subsidies than the two new alternatives. Also considered are three complications that arise in BIA studies, including factoring in social health insurance.
The impact of recall periods on reported morbidity and health seeking behavior
Jishnu Das, Jeffrey Hammer and Carolina Sanchez-Paramo  followed 1,621 individuals in Delhi, India, between 2000 and 2002 using a combination of weekly and monthly-recall health questionnaires. In 2008, they augmented these data with another 8 weeks of surveys during which households were experimentally allocated to surveys with different recall periods in the second half of the survey. They show that the length of the recall period had a large impact on reported morbidity, doctor visits; time spent sick; whether at least one day of work/school was lost due to sickness and; the reported use of self-medication. The effects are more pronounced among the poor than the rich. Das et al. hypothesize that illnesses – especially among the poor – are no longer perceived as "extraordinary events" but have become part of "normal" life.
Examining the reliability of self-reported data on school participation
Many studies evaluate the impacts of Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programs on schooling using self-reports on enrollment and attendance even though there are reasons to doubt the reliability of these data. Sarah Baird and Berk Ozler  examine the extent to which school-age girls overstate their school participation. Using administrative data from a cash transfer experiment in Malawi and school attendance ledgers collected as part of the impact evaluation, they find that while all study participants overstate their enrollment and attendance rates, the extent to which this happens is significantly higher in the control group than the CCT arm. This finding implies that exclusive reliance on self-reported school participation data can lead to a serious underestimation of actual program impacts. Baird and Ozler recommend that self-reports be supplemented using alternative sources of data on school participation that are appropriate to the experiment at hand even if such efforts are likely to increase evaluation costs.
Methods of household consumption measurement through surveys: Experimental results from Tanzania
Surveys of consumption expenditure vary widely across many dimensions, including the level of reporting, the length of the reference period, and the degree of commodity detail. These variations occur both across countries and also over time within countries, with little current understanding of the implications of such changes for spatially and temporally consistent measurement of household consumption and poverty. Kathleen Beegle, Joachim de Weerdt, Jed Friedman, and John Gibson  report the results of a field experiment in Tanzania where they test eight alternative methods of measuring household consumption. They find significant differences between consumption reported by the benchmark personal diary and other diary and recall formats. Under-reporting is particularly apparent for illiterate households and for urban respondents completing household diaries; recall modules measure lower consumption than a personal diary, with larger gaps among poorer households and for households with more adult members. Variations in reporting accuracy by household characteristics are also discussed and differences in measured poverty as a result of survey design are explored.
Explaining variation in child labor statistics
Child labor statistics are critical for assessing the extent and nature of child labor activities in developing countries. In practice, widespread variation exists in how child labor is measured. Questionnaire modules vary across countries and within countries over time along several dimensions, including respondent type and the structure of the questionnaire. Little is known about the effect of these differences on child labor statistics. Andrew Dillon, Eelena Bardasi, Kathleen Beegle, and Pieter Serneels  present the results from a randomized survey experiment in Tanzania focusing on two survey design choices: different questionnaire design to classify children work and proxy response versus self-reporting. Use of a short module compared with a more detailed questionnaire has a statistically significant effect, especially on child labor force participation rates, and, to a lesser extent, on working hours. Proxy reports do not differ significantly from a child's self-report. Further analysis demonstrates that survey design choices affect the coefficient estimates of some determinants of child labor in a child labor supply equation. The results suggest that low-cost changes to questionnaire design will potentially clarify the concept of work for respondents.
Crossing the threshold: A positive analysis of IBRD graduation policy
According to World Bank policy, countries remain eligible to borrow from the IBRD until they are able to sustain long-term development without further recourse to Bank financing. Graduation from IBRD is not an automatic consequence of reaching a particular income level, but rather is supposed to be based on a determination of whether the country has reached a level of institutional development and capital-market access that enables it to sustain its own development process without recourse to Bank funding. Using panel data from 1982 to 2009, Stephen Knack, Halsey Rogers and Jac Heckelman  find that the observed correlates of Bank graduation status are generally consistent with the stated policy. Countries that are wealthier, more creditworthy, more institutionally developed, and are less vulnerable to trade, financial, and other shocks are more likely to be graduates. Predicted probabilities generated by the model conform closely to actual graduation and de-graduation experiences, and suggest that some countries may have graduated prematurely.
Research in the news
Media star Damien de Walque was interviewed by the BBC about his study showing that giving out cash can be an effective tool in combating sexually transmitted infections in rural Africa. (The segment runs from 4:03 to 7:40.)
And on the blogs
Writing on the Let’s Talk Development blog, Varun Gauri has a post on “The Law’s Majestic Equality?”. He asks whether as literary writers and academics often assume the poor do in practice get treated less well by the law.
On the Development Impact blog, there’s the usual selection of great blog posts on HD issues. On education, there’s Markus Goldstein on an experiment that dramatically raised female school enrollment in Afghanistan, David McKenzie on an experiment suggesting that “in cases where parents find it hard to monitor [school] attendance…, CCTs might operate by providing information to parents on child attendance behavior”, Felipe Barrera-Osorio on institution-dependency in supply-side interventions, and Berk Ozler on whether we’re learning enough from the One Laptop Per Child evaluations. On health, nutrition and population, there’s Owen Ozier’s post from a conference on early child development held by the Chicago Initiative for Economic Development and Early Childhood (CEDEC), and Gabriel Demombynes on the impact on child mortality (or lack thereof) of the Millennium Villages Project.
Jishnu Das’s work on Pakistan’s madrassas is picked up by Madhavi in a blog post on The Trajectory.
Adam Wagstaff has a post on Let’s Talk Development on the open access policy and the open knowledge repository, and a third post on coping with information overload using an iPad.