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HDQU Q1 2014

hd quarterly
Human Development Quarterly Update — Q1 2014

Latest research findings

Tracking (aka streaming) reduces low-scoring students' grades but has no effect on high-scoring students' grades

Robert Garlick [1] analyzes the relative academic performance of students tracked or randomly assigned to South African university dormitories. Tracked or streamed assignment creates dormitories where all students obtained similar scores on high school graduation examinations. Random assignment creates dormitories that are approximately representative of the population of students. Tracking lowers students' mean grades in their first year of university, and increases the variance or inequality of grades. This result is driven by a large negative effect of tracking on low-scoring students' grades and a near-zero effect on high-scoring students' grades. Low-scoring students are more sensitive to changes in their peer group composition and their grades suffer if they live only with low-scoring peers. In this setting, residential tracking has undesirable efficiency (lower mean) and equity (higher variance) effects. The result isolates a pure peer effect of tracking, whereas classroom tracking studies identify a combination of peer effects and differences in teacher behavior across tracked and untracked classrooms.

Women in rural Tanzania resort to transactional sex to cope with shocks, raising risk of STIs

Transactional sex is believed to be an important risk-coping mechanism for women in Sub-Saharan Africa and a leading contributor to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Damien de Walque, William H. Dow and Erick Gong [2] use data from a panel of women in rural Tanzania whose primary occupation is agriculture. They find that following a negative shock (such as food insecurity), unmarried women are about three times more likely to have been paid for sex. Regardless of marital status, after a shock women have more unprotected sex and are 36 percent more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection. These empirical findings support the claims that transactional sex is not confined to commercial sex workers and that frequently experienced shocks, such as food insecurity, may lead women to engage in transactional sex as a risk-coping behavior.

Indian women whose first-born is a girl modify their fertility behavior in life-threatening ways

Annamaria Milazzo [3] shows that excess mortality among adult women can be partly explained by strong preference for male children, the same cultural norm widely known to cause excess mortality before birth or at young ages. Using pooled individual-level data for India, Milazzo compares the age structure and anemia status of women by the sex of their first-born and uncovers several new findings. First, the share of living women with a first-born girl is a decreasing function of the women's age at the time of the survey. Second, while there are no systematic differences at the time of birth, women with a first-born girl are significantly more likely to develop anemia when young and these differences disappear for older women. Moreover, among those in the older age group, they appear to be significantly better off in terms of various predetermined characteristics. These findings are consistent with a selection effect in which maternal and adult mortality is higher for women with first-born girls, especially the poor and uneducated with limited access to health care and prenatal sex diagnostic technologies. To ensure the desired sex composition of children, these women resort to a fertility behavior medically known to increase their risk of death. The observed sex ratios for first births imply that 2.2-8.4 percent of women with first-born girls are 'missing' because of son preference between the ages of 30 and 49.

HIV counseling and testing has minimal behavioral impacts on young adults in Malawi

For young adults living in countries with AIDS epidemics, getting an HIV test may influence near-term decisions, such as when to leave school, when to marry, and when to have a first child. These behaviors, which define the transition from adolescence to adulthood, have long-term implications on well-being and directly affect a person's risk of contracting HIV. Using an experimental design embedded in a panel survey from Malawi, Kathleen Beegle, Michelle Poulin and Gil Shapira [4] assess the impact of voluntary counseling and testing of young adults for HIV on these decisions. The results show negligible intent-to-treat effect of HIV testing on behaviors. There is some suggestive evidence on differential response by wealth and by prior beliefs about one's status.

How reliable are estimates of hunger? Could be 19% or 68% depending on survey design

There is widespread interest in the number of hungry people in the world and trends in hunger. Current global counts rely on combining each country's total food balance with information on distribution patterns from household consumption expenditure surveys. Recent research has advocated for calculating hunger numbers directly from these same surveys. For either approach, embedded in this effort are a number of important details about how household surveys are designed and how these data are then used. Using a survey experiment in Tanzania, Joachim De Weerdt, Kathleen Beegle, Jed Friedman and John Gibson [5] find great fragility in hunger counts stemming from alternative survey designs. They argue that comparable and valid hunger numbers will be lacking until more effort is made to either harmonize survey designs or better understand the consequences of survey design variation.

Does testing HIV-positive lead to adoption of safer sexual practices?

An extensive multi-disciplinary literature examines the effects of learning one's HIV status on subsequent risky sexual behaviors. However, many of these studies rely on non-experimental designs, use self-reported outcome measures, or both. Sarah Baird, Erick Gong, Craig McIntosh and Berk Ozler  [6] investigate the effects of a randomly-assigned home-based HIV testing and counseling (HTC) intervention on risky sexual behaviors and schooling investments among school-age females in Malawi. They find no overall effects on HIV, Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV-2), or achievement test scores at follow-up. However, among the small group of individuals who tested positive for HIV, they find a large increase in the probability of contracting HSV-2; this effect is stronger among those surprised by their test results. Similarly, those surprised by HIV-negative test results see a significant improvement in achievement test scores, consistent with increased returns to investments in human capital. The finding of increased HSV-2 prevalence among HIV-positive individuals suggests that the conventional wisdom that those who learn they are HIV-positive will adopt safer sexual practices should be treated with caution.


New articles and books

Is India's 'right to work' employment guarantee scheme working?

In their new book ‘Right to Work?: Assessing India's Employment Guarantee Scheme in Bihar’, Puja Dutta, Rinku Murgai, Martin Ravallion and Dominique van de Walle [7] present the most comprehensive study to date of the world’s largest state-run employment guarantee scheme. India's ambitious National Rural Employment Guarantee Act creates a justiciable 'right to work' by promising up to 100 days of employment per year to all rural households whose adult members want unskilled manual work on public works projects at the stipulated minimum wage. Dutt et al. ask whether the conditions stipulated by the Act met in practice in the state of Bihar, what impact the scheme has on poverty, whether the scheme meets its potential, and how it can do better.

Youth employment in Sub-Saharan Africa

In their new book ‘Youth employment in Sub-Saharan Africa’, Deon Filmer and Louise Fox [8] argue that while the challenge of youth employment in Africa may appear daunting, Africa's vibrant youth represent an enormous opportunity, particularly now, when populations in much of the world are aging rapidly. Youth not only need jobs, but also create them. Africa's growing labor force can be an asset in the global marketplace. Realizing this brighter vision for Africa's future, however, will require a clearer understanding of how to benefit from this asset. Meeting the youth employment challenge in all its dimensions, demographic, economic, and social, and understanding the forces that created the challenge, can open potential pathways toward a better life for young people and better prospects for the countries where they live. Filmer and Fox examine the obstacles faced by households and firms in meeting the youth employment challenge, focusing primarily on productivity, in agriculture, in nonfarm household enterprises (HEs), and in the modern wage sector.

Take-home food rations conditional on school attendance have generalized nutrition benefits. School meals don't

Harounan Kazianga, Damien de Walque and Harold Alderman [9] evaluate the impact of two school feeding schemes on health outcomes of pre-school age children in Burkina Faso: school meals which provide students with lunch each school day, and take home rations which provide girls with 10 kg of cereal flour each month, conditional on 90% attendance rate. They investigate the pass through to younger siblings of the beneficiaries and find that take home rations have increased weight-for-age of boys and girls under age 5 by 0.4 standard deviations compared to a control group. In the same age range, school meals did not have any significant effect on weights of siblings. They provide suggestive evidence indicating that most of the gains are realized through intra-household food reallocation.

Too little known about impacts of civil society on development outcomes

Government failures are widespread in Africa. Symptoms include absentee teachers, leakage of public funds, monopolized trucking, and employment-restricting regulations. Can civil society do anything about these failures? Would external donor support to civil society help? Shantayanan Devarajan, Stuti Khemani and Michael Walton [10] argue that the challenge for civil society is to improve government functioning by strengthening political incentives – the underlying cause of government failure – rather than bypassing or supplanting the state. They review the available evidence on civil society interventions from this perspective. Although the current increase in political competition and extensive citizen engagement in Africa seems to create the potential for civil society influence, they find that there are large knowledge gaps regarding what works, where, and how. They conclude that donor support to civil society should take an approach of learning by doing through ongoing experimentation backed by rigorous, data-based evaluations of the mechanisms of impact.

The mixed record of demand-side health incentives in low- and middle-income countries

Demand-side financial incentive (DSF) is an emerging strategy to improve health seeking behavior and health status in many low- and middle-income countries. Saji S Gopalan, Ronald Mutasa, Jed Friedman and Ashis Das [11] provide a systematic review of studies in the field, assessing both demand- and supply-side effects. Forty one electronic data bases were searched to screen relevant experimental and quasi-experimental study designs. Out of the 64 selected papers, 28 were considered eligible for the review, covering 19 DSF initiatives across Asia, Africa and Latin America. There were three categories of initiatives, namely long-run multi-sectoral programs or LMPs (governmental); long-run health-exclusive programs (governmental); and short-run health-exclusive initiatives (both governmental and non-governmental). 

In the news
The new book ‘Youth employment in Sub-Saharan Africa’ by Deon Filmer and Louise Fox [8] was picked up in several places in the media, including Ghana’s Business News, Kenya’s The Star, and Mali’s Journal du Mali. Francophone Voice of America did a radio interview with Filmer, and Voice of America produced one video and then another.

Jishnu Das’s work on the quality of medical care in India [12] is picked up by the Toronto Star. The Star focuses on fake doctors, even though Das et al. found qualifications made less difference to the quality of care than they expected: “after controlling for provider and clinic characteristics, unqualified providers completed 3.24 percentage points fewer recommended questions and exams but were just as likely to articulate a diagnosis and provide correct treatment, compared to qualified providers.”

The Economist picks up another of Jishnu Das’s papers [13] on the over-emphasis in the top economics journals on papers about the US. The Economist argues “…the world’s poorest countries would benefit from having more economists poking around. With more published research, it would be easier for those countries to base policies on hard evidence, rather than on politicians’ whims. Economists ought to be bolder in venturing outside their comfort zone.”

The World Bank’s own news service features a video about research by Deon Filmer and Norbert Schady [14, 15] on the impacts of a $45 scholarship program in Cambodia.

And on the blogs

US and them: The geography of academic research

OVoxEUJishnu Das and Quy-Toan Do blog about their recent paper [13] on the over-emphasis in the top economics journals on papers about the US. As they put it: “In low-income-country contexts where optimal economic policy depends on local institutions, culture and geography, the relevance of US-based findings to policy is potentially limited. Country-specific research is therefore important. The strong relationship between publications and GDP that we document is troubling since it suggests that even if we agree that country-specific policies are a great idea, the knowledge base that can be drawn on for many poor countries is very thin.”

Youth employment – A fundamental challenge for African economies

On Africa Can End PovertyDeon Filmer blogs on the theme of his latest book: youth employment in Sub-Saharan Africa [8]. He argues: “There is much that governments can do to hasten a brighter future for young people, whether it is to encourage formal sector growth and make it easier for firms to do business, or to recognize, support, and nurture the large informal sector that will continue to employ the majority of youth in the near future. Beyond addressing simple unemployment—an issue that gets its fair share of coverage—Africa must address the great challenge of underemployment.”

Jishnu and Shanta talk transfers

Over on Shanta Deverajan’s new blog Future Development, Jishnu Das and Shanta have a blog conversation about cash transfers, suggesting that “when the rationale for government intervention is redistribution, the default instrument should be cash transfers”.

Becoming a man (and good at math)

On Development Impact, Berk Ozler blogs about an RCT in Chicago schools that combine remedial math tutoring with behavioral interventions involving socio-emotional learning and cognitive behavioral therapy.

More to do on measuring hunger 

On Let’s Talk Development, Kathleen Beegle, Jed Friedman, John Gibson and Joachim De Weerdt blog about their paper [5] on measuring hunger. The find that depending on the survey approach used, hunger prevalence could be as low as 19% or as high as 68%.  



  1. Garlick, R., Academic Peer Effects with Different Group Assignment Policies: Residential Tracking versus Random Assignment, 2014, Washington, DC: The World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper 6787.
  2. de Walque, D., W.H. Dow, and E. Gong, Coping with risk: the effects of shocks on reproductive health and transactional sex in rural Tanzania, 2014, Washington, DC: The World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper Series 6751.
  3. Milazzo, A., Why Are Adult Women Missing? Son Preference and Maternal Survival in India, 2014, Washington, DC: The World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper Series  6802. 
  4. Beegle, K., M. Poulin, and G. Shapira, HIV Testing, Behavior Change, and the Transition to Adulthood in Malawi, 2014, Washington, DC:  The World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper 6825.
  5. De Weerdt, J., K. Beegle, J. Friedman, and J. Gibson, The challenge of measuring hunger, 2014, Washington, DC: The World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper Series 6736.
  6. Baird, S., E. Gong, C. McIntosh, and B. Ozler, The heterogeneous effects of HIV testing, 2014, Washington, DC: The World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper 6823.
  7. Dutta, P., R. Murgai, M. Ravallion, and D. van de Walle, Right to Work?: Assessing India's Employment Guarantee Scheme in Bihar. 2014, Washington, DC: World Bank Publications.
  8. Filmer, D. and M.L. Fox, Youth employment in Sub-Saharan Africa. Africa development forum series. 2014. pages cm.
  9. Kazianga, H., D. de Walque, and H. Alderman, School feeding programs, intrahousehold allocation and the nutrition of siblings: Evidence from a randomized trial in rural Burkina Faso. Journal of Development Economics, 2014. 106: p. 15-34.
  10. Devarajan, S., S. Khemani, and M. Walton, Can Civil Society Overcome Government Failure in Africa? World Bank Research Observer, 2014. 29(1): p. 20-47.
  11. Gopalan, S.S., R. Mutasa, J. Friedman, and A. Das, Health sector demand-side financial incentives in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review on demand- and supply-side effects. Social Science & Medicine, 2014. 100: p. 72-83.
  12. Das, J., A. Holla, V. Das, M. Mohanan, D. Tabak, and B. Chan, In Urban And Rural India, A Standardized Patient Study Showed Low Levels Of Provider Training And Huge Quality Gaps. Health Affairs 2012. 31(12): p. 2774-2784.
  13. Das, J., Q. Toan-Do, K. Shaines, and S. Srinivasan , U.S. and Them: The Geography of Academic Research. Journal of Development Economics, 2013. 105: p. 12-130.
  14. Filmer, D. and N. Schady, Does More Cash in Conditional Cash Transfer Programs Always Lead to Larger Impacts on School Attendance? Journal of Development Economics, 2011. 96 (1): p. 150-57.
  15. Filmer, D. and N. Schady, Getting girls into school: Evidence from a scholarship program in Cambodia. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 2008. 56(3): p. 581-617.

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