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Construction Workers
The Returns to Skills During the Pandemic: Experimental Evidence from Uganda
joint with Livia Alfonsi (HBS), Vittorio Bassi (USC) and Elena Spadini (USC and Dyadic)
July 2024

Abstract TThe Covid-19 pandemic represents one of the most significant labor market shocks to the world economy in recent times. We present evidence from a field experiment to understand whether and why skilled and unskilled workers were differentially impacted by the shock, in the context of a developing economy, Uganda. We leverage a panel of workers and firms, tracked from 2012 to 2022, including high frequency surveys over the pandemic. In 2013, workers were randomly assigned to receive six months of sector-specific vocational training, in one of eight high productivity sectors. We document that over the pandemic, employment and earnings margins follow V-shaped dynamics, whereby the outcomes of treated (skilled) workers are more severely impacted by lockdowns, they recover more quickly between lockdowns, and remain resilient to the shock as the economy recovers. Cumulatively over the pandemic, skilled workers spend 57% more time than controls employed in one of our good study sectors, and their total earnings are 17% higher. We explore supply- and demand-side mechanisms through which the returns to skills are maintained through the crisis. We document that skilled workers are more exposed to the shock because they are more likely to be laid off during the first lockdown as firms respond to the rapid, severe and uncertain shock by immediately laying off higher earning workers. However, skilled workers recover quickly because of their greater accumulation of sector-specific experience pre-pandemic, and the certifiability of their skills that allows them to switch employers in the same sector during the crisis. Our findings have implications for understanding the returns to skills acquired through vocational training in good economic times and times of crisis.

Race-related Research in Economics: Volume, Content and Publication Incentives
joint with Arun Advani (Warwick), Elliott Ash (ETH Zurich), Anton Boltachka (ETH Zurich)
and David Cai (LSE)

July 2024

Abstract Issues of racial justice and economic inequalities across racial and ethnic groups have risen to the top of public debate. Economists' ability to contribute to these debates is based on the body of race-related research. We study the volume and content of race-related research in economics and examine the implicit incentives to produce such work. We do so for a corpus of 225,000 economics publications from 1960 to 2020 to which we apply an algorithmic approach to classify race-related work, and construct paths to publication for 22,000 NBER and 10,000 CEPR working papers posted over the last few decades. We present three new facts. First, since 1960 less than 2% of economics publications have been race-related, with such work being balkanized into a few fields and largely absent from many others. There is an uptick in such work in the mid 1990s. Among the top-5 journals this is driven by the AER, QJE and the JPE. Econometrica and the REStud have each cumulatively published fewer than 15 race-related articles since 1960. Second, on content, while over 50% of race-related publications in the 1970s focused on Black individuals, by the 2010s this had fallen to 20%. There has been a steady decline in the share of race-related research on discrimination since the 1980s, with a rise in the share of studies on identity. Finally, irrespective of field, race-related working papers do not have worse publication outcomes compared to non race-related working papers, in terms of publication likelihood, quality of publication, publication lags and citations. Hence conditional on working papers being produced, the publications process provides little disincentive to work on race-related issues. We discuss policy implications stemming from our findings on economists' ability to contribute to debates on race and ethnicity in the economy.

Big Push Pro-poor Policies and Economic Circumstances: Reality, Perceptions and Attitudes
joint with Adnan.Q.Khan (LSE), Nicolas Cerkez (UCL) and Anam Schoaib (CERP)
May 2024

Abstract Are large and persistent changes in economic circumstances caused by big push pro-poor policies actually perceived by households, and do they result in changed attitudes or voting behaviors? We study the issue using a partial population experiment tracking 15,000 rural households in Punjab, Pakistan. Villages are randomly assigned to receive an intervention where the poor are either offered a one-time asset transfer of value $620 or an equivalent valued one-off unconditional cash transfer. Within treated villages, we randomize which of the poor receive the transfer. We track treated poor, not treated poor and not poor households over four years. The interventions cause the treated poor to have large and persistent economic gains, and lead to persistent reductions in village consumption inequality. Perceptions of poor and non poor households are shifted similarly by the interventions, but these impacts are more muted than measurable changes in economic standing and village inequality. Most impacts on perceptions -- of own standing, village inequality, and towards rich and poor classes more generally -- also fade four years post-intervention. The wedge between economic reality and perceptions means that redistributive attitudes of households remain inelastic to exposure to these interventions. Finally, although the interventions increase political participation, this does not differ by political affinity. Our results highlight that even in small close-knit village economies, the experience or demonstration of welfare enhancing big push anti-poverty policies is unlikely to alter households' perceptions of economic outcomes or for them to become advocates for such interventions.

Accelerating Birth Timing to Access Cash Transfers? Evidence from Households in Extreme Poverty
joint with Pedro Carneiro (UCL), Lucy Kraftman (IoE), Francesca Salvati (Essex)
and Molly Scott (Cabinet Office)

April 2024

Abstract There has been a sustained rise in cash transfer programs to the poor, and burgeoning interest in interventions promoting early childhood development. We draw together these trends to study whether open enrolment interventions targeting cash transfers to pregnant mothers unintentionally induce those not pregnant to accelerate birth timing in order to start receiving cash transfers. Our study context is rural Northern Nigeria, where households have high demand for liquidity because the majority reside in extreme poverty, are credit constrained, and are reliant on volatile earnings streams from agriculture. Our evidence comes from a four-year evaluation of an intervention providing high-valued unconditional cash transfers to pregnant mothers, with open enrolment into the program. We examine how this impacts pregnancy timing and birth spacing among 1700 women not pregnant at baseline. We document relatively weak distortionary impacts on pregnancy timing and birth spacing. The reasons are women retain full control over the use of cash transfers, they have available productive investment opportunities in their own businesses, and they choose to invest in those rather than transfer cash to husbands. This constellation of factors allows women to internalize the marginal benefits and marginal costs of accelerating birth timing, and so place a brake on the incentives households otherwise have to accelerate birth timing. On external validity, we draw together 45 DHS surveys to classify countries into those more or less likely to see distortionary effects on birth timing from open enrolment interventions targeting cash transfers to pregnant mothers.

Safe Spaces for Teenage Girls in a Time of Crisis
joint with Oriana Bandiera (LSE), Niklas Buehren (World Bank), Markus Goldstein (World Bank)
and Andrea Smurra (UCL)

April 2024

Abstract Adolescent girls face disadvantages across the developing world stemming from limited agency over their bodies and barriers to investing in their human capital. We study how these outcomes are shaped in times of aggregate crisis, in the context of the 2014-6 Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. This is a setting in which adolescent girls have long faced disadvantage because of a high prevalence of sexual exploitation and violence towards them. Our study is based around an evaluation of a club-based intervention for young women implemented during the epidemic. We track 2700 girls aged 12-18 from the eve of the epidemic in 2014 to just prior to when Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free in 2016. The club-based intervention provides a safe space where girls can spend time away from men, receive advice on reproductive health, vocational training and/or microfinance. During the epidemic all schools were closed. We show that without the protection of time in school, in control villages teenage girls spent more time with men, pregnancy rates rose sharply, and their school enrolment dropped post-epidemic. The provision of a safe space breaks this causal chain: it enables girls in treated villages to allocate time away from men and reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies. These effects are more pronounced where girls lose access to other available safe spaces during the epidemic, where the intervention also increases school re-enrolment rates post-epidemic. To further pin down mechanisms, we exploit a second layer of randomization of input bundles offered by clubs. This reinforces the idea that the safe space component is critical to driving outcomes for teenage girls. Our analysis has implications for school closures during health crisis in contexts where young women face sexual violence, highlighting the protective and lasting role safe spaces can provide in such times.

Legacies of Conflict: Self-efficacy and the Formation of Conditional Trust
joint with Niklas Buehren (World Bank), Markus Goldstein (World Bank) and Andrea Smurra (UCL)
September 2023

Abstract Exposure to armed conflict in early life is a traumatic experience, affecting 400 million children worldwide. We combine theory, measurement and evidence to study how psychological legacies of conflict mediate the relationship between exposure to conflict and the long-run formation of trust preferences. Our analysis is based on a sample of 4,200 women born during the Sierra Leonean civil war and surveyed 14 years later. We first introduce the notion of conditional trust in one-off anonymized exchange. We then develop a framework formalizing the link between exposure to conflict and trust. This makes precise what individuals have in mind when expressing conditional trust in others, and establishes the roles of post-traumatic growth and self-efficacy in linking conflict and trust. Taking the predictions to data, we show that exposure to conflict significantly increases self-efficacy, and through this channel, conflict leads conditional trust to rise and for outright trust of others to fall, relative to those never exposed to conflict. To further microfound how exposure to conflict translates into psychological legacies, we construct a granular typology of experiences of conflict, combining information on exposure to conflict, recall of victimization, and ages of exposure to conflict. We use this to show how direct exposure, memories and trauma, and narratives of conflict from others each distinctively shape self-efficacy. Finally, we show how our model and evidence can help reconcile heterogeneous findings across conflict scenarios, and suggests avenues for future work on the more general role of psychological legacies from traumatic shocks early in life on the long-run formation of economic preferences.

Revisions requested, Journal of Political Economy: Micro.

Families as Drivers of Inequality: Experimental Evidence from an Early Childhood Intervention
joint with Pedro Carneiro (UCL) and Francesca Salvati (Essex)
March 2023

Abstract Families shape inequality across individuals, by determining whether initial endowment differences across children are magnified or equalized through the intrahousehold allocation of resources over time. We study the link between early life circumstances, parental investments and child outcomes, over time and across multiple siblings in families in rural Northern Nigeria, where households reside in extreme poverty and sibling rivalry effects can be first order. We do so by evaluating a pre-natal intervention providing information and cash transfers to families triggered by the verified pregnancy of a target child. We track outcomes and child-specific parental inputs across older and younger siblings of the target child in 3600 families over four years. We find that unlike for the target child, stunting outcomes for older siblings do not improve, because they are too old when the intervention begins to gain from it in terms of height. We also document muted gains on height for younger siblings, and show this is because of endogenous responses to the intervention through shorter birth spacing between the target child and younger siblings, labor supply responses of mothers, and fade out of knowledge on specific peri-natal practices. However, on a raft of other outcomes such as health, nutrition and parental inputs more relevant outside the first 1000-days of life window, outcomes significantly shift forward for all siblings. Our results show parents behave as if to equalize inputs across siblings, despite differences in their physical endowments. Calculating the annualized IRR to the intervention based on this fuller set of family impacts, leads them to rise ten-fold over those based on target child outcomes alone.

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