Working papers

Reducing Intimate Partner Violence: Evidence from a Multifaceted Female Empowerment Program in Urban Liberia” (with Naresh Kumar). [AEA RCT Registry].
Job Market Paper.
Presented: NEUDC 2021, PacDev 2022 (scheduled), MIEDC 2022 (scheduled)
Covered: World Bank Development Impact Blog


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a global public health challenge associated with adverse health effects and economic costs to both survivors and society, but there is limited evidence on how it can be effectively prevented or reduced. Designing and evaluating interventions targeted at IPV is challenging because the underlying factors of IPV are so intertwined that it can be explained only by a variety of sociocultural factors in addition to personal and interpersonal elements. This paper evaluates a randomized controlled trial of a multifaceted female empowerment program in Monrovia, Liberia, where the baseline IPV prevalence is particularly high. The program intervention includes intensive psychosocial therapy and vocational skills training throughout a full year. About 12 months after program completion, we find the program significantly reduced the proportion of women who experienced emotional, physical, and sexual IPV by 10-26 percentage points (from control bases of 24-62 percent). While there are multiple pathways through which IPV could be impacted, one channel is that the business training was highly effective: labor supply increased by 37 percent and expenditure by 49 percent. While one focus of the program is psychological empowerment, we find positive but statistically insignificant effects on distress and happiness indices. We also find improvements in social norms around IPV: perceived justifiability of IPV reduced by 0.3 standard deviations.

Did COVID-19 Market Disruptions Disrupt Food Security? Evidence from Households in Rural Liberia and Malawi” (with Shilpa Aggarwal, Dahyeon Jeong, Naresh Kumar, Jonathan Robinson, and Alan Spearot). Submitted.

We use data collected from panel phone surveys to quantify the effect of market disruptions due to COVID-19 lockdowns on food security of households in rural Liberia and Malawi. We estimate effects using two distinct empirical approaches: (a) an event study around the date of the lockdowns (March to July 2020), and (b) a difference-in-differences analysis comparing the lockdown period in 2020 to the same months in 2021, which helps us control for any seasonal effects. In both countries, market activity was severely disrupted and we observe declines in expenditures. However, we find no evidence of declines in food security.

Private but Misunderstood? Evidence on Measuring Intimate Partner Violence via Self-Interviewing in Rural Liberia and Malawi” (with Shilpa Aggarwal, Dahyeon Jeong, Naresh Kumar, Jonathan Robinson, and Alan Spearot). Submitted.
Presented: IPA-GPRL Methods & Measurement Conference 2021

Women may under-report intimate partner violence (IPV) in surveys due to a variety of social and psychological factors. We conduct a measurement experiment in rural Liberia and Malawi in which women were asked IPV questions via either self-interviewing (SI), which does not require interaction with an enumerator, or face-to-face interviewing (FTFI) with an enumerator. We find that about a third of women incorrectly answer basic screening questions, and that SI generates placebo effects on innocuous questions. Because the probability of responding “yes” to any specific IPV question is less than 50%, and that IPV is typically reported as an index (reporting yes to at least one question in a category of violence), such misunderstanding will tend to increase IPV reporting. In Malawi, we find that SI dramatically increases reported IPV, with the incidence of any type of IPV increasing by 13 percentage points on a base of 20%; in Liberia, we find an insignificant and modest increase of 3 percentage points on a base of 39%. Our results suggest SI may spuriously increase reported IPV rates.

Exhaustive or Exhausting? Evidence on Respondent Fatigue in Long Surveys” (with Shilpa Aggarwal, Dahyeon Jeong, Naresh Kumar, Jonathan Robinson, and Alan Spearot). Submitted.
Presented: IPA-GPRL Methods & Measurement Conference 2021

Living standards measurement surveys require sustained attention for several hours. We quantify survey fatigue by randomizing the order of questions in in-person surveys (lasting 2.5 hours on average) fielded in an evaluation of cash transfers in rural Liberia and Malawi. An additional hour of survey time increases the probability that a respondent skips a question by 10-64%. Because skips are more common, the total monetary value of aggregated categories such as assets or expenditures declines as the survey goes on, and this effect is sizeable for some categories: for example, an extra hour of survey time lowers food expenditures by 25%. Evidence from a similar experiment within high-frequency phone surveys shows that the results are not driven by the respondents deliberately choosing to skip questions in order to hasten the end of the survey, suggesting that cognitive burden is the key driver of survey fatigue.

The Impact of Digital Credit in Developing Economies: A Review of Recent Evidence” (with Joshua Blumenstock and Jonathan Robinson).

In recent years, a new generation of “digital credit” products have transformed the consumer lending landscape in many low- and middle-income countries. Offering short-term, high-interest loans via mobile phones or other digital platforms, these products have become wildly popular. This article reviews the small but emerging evidence on the welfare impacts of digital credit. These studies document very high rates of takeup – well in excess of traditional microcredit – despite the fact that customers often do not understand the terms of their loans. Overall, there is little evidence that access to credit has consistent positive impacts on borrower welfare, though two impact evaluations document positive effects on resilience and subjective well-being, respectively. No study finds statistically significant negative impacts of digital credit.

Works in progress

“The Enduring Effects of Cash Transfers on Household Food Security in Rural Liberia and Malawi” (with Shilpa Aggarwal, Jenny Aker, Dahyeon Jeong, Naresh Kumar, Jonathan Robinson, and Alan Spearot). [AEA RCT Registry].


Do the beneficial impacts of cash transfers last? We evaluate a program to provide cash transfers of \$250, \$500 or \$750, with universal targeting within 600 villages in Liberia and Malawi. We utilize bi-monthly phone surveys to estimate the time-varying effects of the transfers, focusing primarily on food security. In Malawi, food security improves by 0.5 standard deviations immediately post-disbursement, but then attenuates to about 0.1 standard deviations; however, this increases persists for over 2 years post-disbursement. In Liberia, we find an immediate increase of about 0.25 standard deviations, and no evidence of a decline for the first year after disbursement. These results are supported by an in-person endline survey conducted 1.5-2 years after disbursement, which shows improvements in assets, psycho-social well-being, household resilience, and intimate partner violence. However, we find no effect on food expenditures or on measured non-agricultural income; we conjecture that lasting effects are attributable to increased home production or the accumulation of food stocks.

“Going the Extra Mile: Remoteness, Input Adoption, and the Role of Subsidies” (with Shilpa Aggarwal, Dahyeon Jeong, Naresh Kumar, Jonathan Robinson, and Alan Spearot).

Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa typically use much less than the recommended amounts of productivity-enhancing inputs like fertilizer, and this usage (and productivity) gap is even greater for those located in remote areas. We study the effect of agricultural input subsidies on input usage, and on the input usage-remoteness gradient using a unique policy experiment: the randomization of the Malawi Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP). The subsidy is worth approximately 75% of the cost of inputs (roughly $50), but requires farmers to travel to input retailers to redeem the coupon, such that the delivered price of subsidized inputs is increasing with remoteness. We find that the subsidy increased fertilizer use on average, but only modestly (due to high levels of input usage in the control group), and we find no lasting impact of the program. We find no remoteness gradient in take-up of subsidized fertilizer - in this context, travel costs have no deterring effect on subsidy take-up, a result which may be attributable to the size of the subsidy. While remoteness is associated with a decline in fertilizer usage for non-beneficiaries, the gap is completely eliminated for beneficiaries. Our results suggest that subsidy programs like FISP may have a role to play in narrowing spatial inequities in developing countries.

“Remoteness and Input Market Access in Rural Malawi” (with Shilpa Aggarwal, Dahyeon Jeong, Rolly Kapoor, Naresh Kumar, Jonathan Robinson, and Alan Spearot).

“Understanding Factors for Adoption of Modern Contraceptives: An Experiment with Private-sector Health Providers in Liberia” (with Rolly Kapoor and Naresh Kumar).

“Property Tax Compliance under Low Fiscal Capacity: An Experiment with the Liberia Revenue Authority” (with Oyebola Okunogbe).