Seminar Series – Spring 2022

A weekly seminar hosted jointly with the World Bank featuring guest speakers presenting cutting-edge research in development economics.

Please note that the series this semester will be held virtually on Zoom. All seminars will take place from 12:30-1:45 on Thursdays


Oeindrila Dube, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy

February 17, 2022

Measuring Religion from Behavior: Climate Shocks and Religious Adherence in Afghanistan

Religious adherence has been hard to study because it is hard to measure: self-reported data is both infrequent and incomplete.  We use anonymized “digital trace” cell phone data to create a novel measure of religious adherence in Afghanistan. The resulting measurements are highly granular in time and space.  We illustrate the power of this data by looking at the effect of economic shocks. Rising temperatures in Afghanistan are increasing the severity and frequency of droughts. Using quasi-random changes to climate, we find that our measure of adherence is sensitive to these droughts: as economic conditions worsen, people become more and more religiously observant. The effects are most pronounced in areas where droughts have the biggest economic consequences, such as croplands without access to irrigation. 


Clare Balboni, MIT Department of Economics

February 24, 2022

The origins and control of forest fires in the tropics

Pigou (1920) pointed to uncompensated damage done to surrounding woods by sparks from railway engines as the canonical example of an environmental externality. We study a modern corollary illegal tropical forest fires used for clearing land using 15 years of daily satellite data covering over 107,000 fires across Indonesia. We exploit variation in wind speed and in who owns surrounding land to generate variation in the degree to which the use of fire at a given time and place represents an externality. We find firms overuse fire relative to a case where all spread risks are internalized. However, firms appear partially sensitive to the risks of government punishment, which deters them from burning near protected forests or populated areas on particularly windy days. Counterfactuals suggest that if firms treated all surrounding land the way they treat neighboring populated areas, fires would be reduced by 80 percent.


Seema Jayachandran, Northwestern University

March 3, 2022

Money (Not) to Burn: Payments for Ecosystem Services to Reduce Crop Residue Burning

Payments for ecosystem services – and conditional cash transfers more broadly – encourage specific behaviors by rewarding participants who undertake the behaviors. However, incomplete markets and weak institutions, which are common in developing countries, can hinder program effectiveness. If compliance entails a monetary cost, then a credit-constrained household might not be able to comply. In addition, lack of trust that the payments will be made as promised can deter compliance. In both cases, upfront payments have some advantages. We use a randomized controlled trial to understand how effectively cash transfers can reduce agricultural residue burning in the north Indian state of Punjab. We randomize paying a portion of the cash transfer upfront (unconditionally). Despite lower marginal payments for compliance, farmers in PES programs that offer some of the payment upfront reduce burning by significantly more than those in a standard PES program.


Susan Athey, Stanford Graduate School of Business

March 17, 2022

Shared Decision-Making about Contraception: An Adaptive Experiment, joint with Katy Bergstrom, Vitor Hadad, Julian Jamison, Berk Ozler, Luca Parisotto, and Julius Dohbit Sama.

This talk will consider the problem of counseling women in their contraceptive choices in Cameroon. Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) are highly effective in preventing unintended pregnancies, but take-up remains low. This paper considers the implementation of two interventions that address barriers to LARC adoption, cost and information. The informational intervention consisted of a structured counseling strategy that encourages shared decision-making (SDM) using a tablet-based app that guides women through the decision process. We designed and implemented an adaptive experiment in order to learn a targeted treatment assignment policy. The learned policy targeted discounts at younger or at-risk women, while the SDM counseling approach was found to be more effective for all women. The learned policy increased LARC adoption to 39% over a baseline rate of adoption of 24%, a substantial increase. Discounts were particularly effective at increasing LARC adoption for women who had a method in mind when they began counseling. The talk will include a brief overview of adaptive experiments designed to learn targeted treatment assignment policies, and it will highlight recent developments that are relevant for bringing the theory to practice.


Muhammad Yasir Khan, University of Pittsburgh

March 24, 2022

Mission motivation and public sector performance: Experimental evidence from Pakistan

his paper studies whether public sector organizations can improve the performance of their workers by investing in employees’ mission motivation and compares its effectiveness with performance-linked incentives. In partnership with the Health Department in Pakistan, I randomize Health Workers in 710 communities into receiving mission strengthening training, performance-linked financial incentives, or both. The mission treatment improves worker performance across incentivized (home visits) and non-incentivized tasks, while financial incentives improve performance only on the incentivized task. The combined treatment is less effective at increasing home visits, relative to the standalone financial incentive treatment, due to the workers increasing effort on the non-incentivized tasks.Finally, the mission treatment improves downstream child health outcomes—there is a lower prevalence of diarrhea and higher vaccination rates. A survey of workers and a lab-in-the-field activity reveal that mission treatment activates intrinsic motivations of workers and makes them more altruistic towards their job. These results highlight that promoting an organization’s mission can be a useful alternative to providing financial incentives to improve public sector performance, especially in low-income countries.


Nicolas Ajzenman, Sao Paulo School of Economics

March 31, 2022

Immigration, Crime, and (Mis)Perceptions

This paper studies the effects of immigration on crime and crime perceptions in Chile, where the foreign-born population more than doubled in the last decade. By using individual-level victimization data, we document null effects of immigration on crime but positive and significant effects on crime-related concerns, which in turn triggered preventive behavioral responses, such as investing in home security. Our results are robust across a two-way fixed effects model and an IV strategy based on a shift-share instrument that exploits immigration inflows towards destination countries other than Chile. On mechanisms, we examine data on crime-related news on TV and in newspapers and find a disproportionate coverage of immigrant-perpetrated homicides as well as a larger effect of immigration on crime perceptions in municipalities with a stronger media presence. These effects might explain the widening gap between actual crime trends and public perceptions of crime.


Supreet Kaur, University of California Berkeley

April 7, 2022

The Social Tax: Redistributive Pressure and Labor Supply, joint with Eliana Carranza, Aletheia Donald, and Florian Grosset.

In low-income communities, redistributive transfers within kin and social networks are frequent. Such arrangements may distort labor supply—acting as a “social tax” that dampens the incentive to work. We test this hypothesis among piece-rate factory workers in Côte d’Ivoire. We enable workers to deposit earnings into blocked savings accounts over 3-9 months. We randomly vary whether the account’s existence is private or known to the worker’s network—altering the likelihood of transfer requests against saved income. We design the accounts so that workers may only deposit earnings increases, relative to baseline levels, mitigating the scope for income effects and enabling us to isolate substitution effects on labor supply. Relative to non-private accounts, the demand for private accounts is substantively higher (14% vs. 60%). The private accounts sharply increase labor supply, leading to 9.2% higher work attendance and 14.5% higher output and earnings. Because our design leaves liquid cash-on-hand unchanged, outgoing transfers do not decline, indicating no loss in redistribution. Our estimates imply an 18% social tax rate on earned income. These findings suggest that the potential welfare benefits of informal redistribution may come at an efficiency cost, depressing labor supply, and productivity.


Rohini Pande, Yale University

April 21, 2022

Updating the State: Information Acquisition Costs and Public Benefit Delivery, joint with Eric Dodge, Yusuf Neggers, and Charity Troyer Moore.

While digital technology has supported a dramatic expansion of government-to-person (G2P) payments across the developing world, bureaucratic delays in payment processing often limit their protective value. To evaluate the role of information asymmetries within the bureaucracy, we randomize access to PayDash — a mobile-phone e-management platform that lowered the cost of obtaining real-time updates on wage processing under India’s flagship workfare program. Our experiment covered over 40 million rural poor across the entirety of two large Indian states. Across administrative units responsible for program implementation within a state (district), we vary whether the principal and/or middle-level manager received PayDash. Treated districts saw an 11 percent reduction in within-district payment processing times and a 13 percent increase in in-person workdays. Observed substitutability in impacts of providing PayDash to the principal and/or middle manager and the absence of significant impacts on corruption provides an upper bound on the importance of rent-seeking behavior by middle managers in driving delays. Consistent with lower information search costs for the principal, treatment districts saw a 21 percent reduction in the use of a costly incentive mechanism  —  middle-manager transfers. Our final piece of evidence comes from heterogeneity analysis — payment processing improvements are concentrated in pre-intervention high delay areas. Middle managers in these areas were responsible for a greater number of administrative units and were more likely to underestimate payment delays at baseline.


Siwan Anderson, Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia

April 28, 2022

Harm and Harmony, joint with Chris Bidner.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) affects a third of women worldwide. It is important to understand the key drivers of IPV. We focus on the relationship between female autonomy and IPV. We first demonstrate a robust U-shaped relationship between a wife’s relative decision-making power and IPV in a very large representative sample from 45 developing countries. We argue that current household bargaining models of IPV cannot reconcile this stylized fact. We posit an alternative theoretical framework that incorporates notions from behavioral economics into the household bargaining framework. We model IPV as the unintended consequence of male violence from conflictual family interactions. The model is consistent with the patterns we observe in the data. Moreover, it makes several new policy predictions. How IPV changes from shifts in women’s outside options, will vary by who is the prevailing decision-maker in the household. In some contexts, improving women’s outside options can lead them to be doubly harmed by both increasing IPV and a worse household allocation. The magnitude of the policy change is also relevant. It is possible that for sufficiently small increases in relative bargaining power, IPV can fall, but for sufficiently large increases – it can instead increase. Policies aimed at adjusting gender-biased norms, by successfully altering women’s expectations or aspirations, can directly affect IPV, where again the ensuing effects vary by context. Moreover, short-term interventions can prove to have different impacts than long-term ones.