COVID-19 market disruptions and food security: Evidence from households in rural Liberia and Malawi” (with Shilpa Aggarwal, Dahyeon Jeong, Naresh Kumar, Jonathan Robinson, and Alan Spearot). PLoS ONE 17(8): e0271488. [PDF]

Abstract We use data collected from panel phone surveys to document the changes in food security of households in rural Liberia and Malawi during the market disruptions associated with the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. We use two distinct empirical approaches in our analysis: (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, in order to attempt to control for seasonality. In both countries, market activity was severely disrupted and we observe declines in expenditures. However, we find no evidence of declines in food security.

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, MIEDC 2022
Covered: World Bank Development Impact Blog

Abstract 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.

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

Abstract 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.

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

Abstract 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.

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

Abstract 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.

Going the Extra Mile: Farm Subsidies and Spatial Convergence in Agricultural Input Adoption” (with Shilpa Aggarwal, Dahyeon Jeong, Naresh Kumar, Jonathan Robinson, and Alan Spearot).

Abstract We evaluate a unique policy experiment in which the Government of Malawi randomized beneficiary selection for its Farm Input Subsidy Program. These subsidies can only be redeemed at local retailers, making travel cost-adjusted prices higher for remote farmers. Despite these costs, redemption is only marginally lower in remote areas. The subsidy eliminates the substantial remoteness-input quantity gradient that would exist in its absence. The equalizing effect on village-level input usage is modest because remote farmers are less likely to share subsidized inputs with non-beneficiaries. Our results demonstrate that subsidy programs may narrow spatial inequities in developing countries.

Works in progress

“The Dynamic Effects of Cash Transfers: Evidence from Rural Liberia and Malawi” (with Shilpa Aggarwal, Jenny Aker, Dahyeon Jeong, Naresh Kumar, Jonathan Robinson, and Alan Spearot). [AEA RCT Registry].

Abstract This paper uses bi-monthly phone surveys to study the persistence of large, unconditional cash transfers to households in rural Liberia and Malawi. In Malawi, we find sizeable immediate increases in food security and expenditures. The effect on food security diminishes to half of its initial size within 8 months but persists over 2 years, while the effect on expenditures falls to zero within a year. In Liberia, we also find an immediate increase in food security with no evidence of a decline over time, a persistent effect on non-food expenditures still present at endline, and no evidence of an effect on food expenditures at any point. We find no effect on non-agricultural income at any point in either country. In an endline conducted 18-25 months post transfer, we find improvements in asset ownership, psychological well-being, household resilience, and intimate partner violence. We also find a decline in casual labor in both countries and an increase in school enrollment, attendance, and educational spending in Liberia.

“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).