Seminar Series – Spring 2023

A weekly seminar featuring guest speakers presenting cutting-edge research in development economics.

Please note that the series this semester will be in person. All seminars will take place from 12:30-1:45 on Thursdays in ICC 550. 

Simone Schaner, University of Southern California

Friday, February 24, 2023 from 1-2:15pm in ICC 550

Information, Intermediaries, and International Migration

Job seekers face substantial information frictions, especially in international labor markets where intermediaries match prospective migrants with overseas employers. We conducted a randomized trial in Indonesia to explore how information about intermediary quality shapes migration outcomes. Holding access to information about the return to choosing a high-quality intermediary constant, intermediary-specific quality disclosure reduces the migration rate, cutting use of low-quality providers. Workers who do migrate receive better pre-departure preparation and have improved experiences abroad, despite no change in occupation or destination. These results are not driven by changes in beliefs about average provider quality or the return to migration. Nor does selection explain improved outcomes for those who migrate with quality disclosure. Together, our findings are consistent with an increase in the option value of search: with better ability to differentiate offer quality, workers
search longer, select higher-quality intermediaries, and ultimately have better migration experiences.

Eoin McGuirk, Tufts University

February 23, 2023

Development Mismatch: Evidence from Land Use Conversions in Pastoral Africa

We study the consequences of a clash between contemporary development initiatives and traditional economic practices of groups within Africa. We examine the effect of land use conversions on conflict in territories that are traditionally occupied by pastoral ethnic groups. Agricultural land use has expanded considerably across the continent in recent years. Much of this expansion has occurred in pastoral areas, where land management systems are often based on customary tenure arrangements that facilitate transhumance, the cyclical movement of grazing animals between pastures. Transhumance allows for an efficient use of resources in dryland areas, since the availability of plant biomass for grazing can vary in patterns that are difficult to predict. Agricultural development projects may undermine this practice by expanding crop cultivation into pastoral areas and thus constraining the area of land available for animal grazing. This process is thought to be a major cause of conflict between pastoral and agricultural ethnic groups. We test this hypothesis using geocoded data on government-led agricultural development projects across Africa in the 20 year period from 1995-2014. Using a variety of identification approaches, we find that implementing agricultural projects in traditionally pastoral areas leads to more than a two-fold increase in the risk of conflict. We find no effect of agricultural projects in traditionally agricultural areas, nor do we find any difference in the effect of non-agricultural projects between both areas. Our estimated effects depend on the distribution of political power at the time a project is planned: when pastoral groups share more power, projects are less likely to incite violence. Taken together, our results indicate that ‘development mismatch’ – i.e., imposing development projects that are culturally misaligned with local communities – can be costly.

Lori Beaman, Northwestern University

March 2, 2023

The Economic Organization of Households: Evidence from Mali

Using a randomized control trial in Mali, we provide cash grants to agricultural households, varying whether the recipient of the cash grant was the male or female. We find that the identity of the recipient reshapes production activities on the plots controlled by women and men in the household, shifts expenditure across different goods, and causes changes in the allocation in productive resources between the nuclear and extended families.

Guy Grossman, University of Pennsylvania

March 16, 2023

When Refugee Presence Increases Incumbent Support through International Development

Studies of higher-income democracies find that the growing presence of refugees has generally been met with electoral backlash, with voters punishing incumbents and increasing support for far-right parties. Yet there is a dearth of studies on the political consequences of refugee-hosting in low-income countries, where the vast majority of refugees reside. Theoretically, we discuss why findings from high-income countries may not generalize to the Global South. We offer an alternative framework rooted in the context of low-income countries. We then test our framework empirically in Uganda, one of the largest and more inclusive refugee-hosting countries. Combining information on refugee settlements with four waves of national elections data, we find that an increase in refugee presence leads to a significant increase in incumbent support. Original panel data on healthcare, schools, and roads coupled with national survey data suggest that the mechanism is positive externalities of inclusive refugee-hosting and foreign humanitarian aid on local public goods.

Diana Moreira, University of California – Davis

March 23, 2023

Who benefits from Meritocracy?

Does screening applicants using exams help or hurt the chances of lower-SES candidates? Because individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds fare, on average, worse than those from richer backgrounds in standardized tests, a common concern with this “meritocratic” approach is that it might have a negative impact on the opportunities of lower-SES individuals. However, an alternative view is that, even if such applicants underperformed on exams, other (potentially more discretionary and less impersonal) selection criteria might put them at an even worse disadvantage. We investigate this question using evidence from the 1883 Pendleton Act, a landmark reform in American history which introduced competitive exams to select certain federal employees. Using newly assembled data on the socioeconomic backgrounds of government employees and a difference-in-differences strategy, we find that, although the reform increased the representation of “educated outsiders” (individuals with high education but limited connections), it reduced the share of lower-SES individuals. This decline was driven by a higher representation of the middle class, with little change in the representation of upperclass applicants. The drop in the representation of lower-SES workers was stronger among
applicants from states with more unequal access to schooling as well as in offices that relied more heavily on connections prior to the reform. These findings suggest that, although using exams could help select more qualified candidates, these improvements can come with the cost of increased elitism.

Gaurav Khanna, University of California – San Diego

March 30, 2023

Namrata Kala, MIT

April 13, 2023

Saad Gulzar, Princeton University

April 20, 2023

Sandra Sequeira, London School of Economics

April 27, 2023

Fred Finan, University of California – Berkeley

May 4, 2023