Spring 2017

IFPRI’s Applied Microeconomics & Development Seminar Series provides a forum for researchers to present top-quality applied microeconomics and development work. Seminars are held on the first and third Thursdays of each month at IFPRI’s Washington DC office, located at 2033 K St. NW.

February 2
Speaker: Gaurav Khanna, Postdoctoral Fellow at Center for Global Development
12:00-1:15 pm
Conference Room 7AB
Large-scale Education Reform in General Equilibrium: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from India
The economic consequences of large-scale government investments in education depend on the general equilibrium (GE) effects in both the labor market and the education sector. I develop a novel general equilibrium model and derive sufficient statistics that capture the economic consequences of a massive countrywide schooling initiative implemented by the Indian government. I provide unbiased estimates of the sufficient statistics using a Regression Discontinuity design. The earnings returns to a year of education are 13.4%. The general equilibrium labor market effects are substantial: they depress the returns to skill and dampen the increase in economic benefits. These GE effects have distributional consequences across cohorts and skill groups, where as a result of the policy unskilled workers are better off and skilled workers are worse off. In the education sector, more private schools enter these markets negating concerns of crowd-out. These results indicate that researchers and policymakers need to consider the GE effects when scaling up micro-interventions.

February 16
Speaker: Samuel Bazzi, Assistant Professor at Boston University
12:00-1:15 pm
Conference Room 7AB
Local Government Proliferation, Diversity, and Conflict
The redrawing of administrative boundaries and creation of new local governments are pervasive features of decentralization across the world. This redistricting process constitutes a dramatic shift in the locus of politics and often causes substantial changes in two widely debated sources of conflict: diversity and contestable public resources. Using new geospatial data on violence and the plausibly exogenous timing of district creation in Indonesia, we show that allowing for redistricting along group lines can reduce conflict. However, these reductions are undone and even reversed if the newly defined electorates are ethnically polarized, particularly in areas that receive an entirely new seat of government. We link changes in the salience of group cleavages to the violent contestation of political control by identifying new cycles of electoral violence and ethnic favoritism. Our findings illustrate some unintended consequences of redistricting in diverse settings and offer novel insight into the instrumental role of diversity in shaping conflict.

March 2
Speaker: S Anukriti, Assistant Professor at Boston College
12:00-1:15 pm
Conference Room 7AB
Dowry: Household Responses to Expected Marriage Payments
Dowry is a ubiquitous feature of South Asian marriage markets. However, empirical research on dowry has been limited by the lack of data. We utilize retrospective information on gifts exchanged at the time of marriage for 39,544 marriages during 1960-2008 to describe dowry trends in contemporary rural India. Average real net dowry has been remarkably stable over time; although there is considerable heterogeneity across castes, religions, and states. Additionally, we examine the impact of dowry expectations on households’ financial and childbearing decisions and on investments in children. Parents increase savings and fathers work more in anticipation of future marriage payments for their daughters. However, dowry has no impact on fertility and sex-selection. The effects on expenditure on children’s education are inconclusive.

March 16
Speaker: Brian Dillon, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington
12:00-1:15 pm
Conference Room 7AB
Selling Crops Early to Pay for School: A Large-Scale Natural Experiment in Malawi
In 2010, primary school in Malawi began in September, three months earlier than in 2009 and four months earlier than in the preceding 15 years. I test whether this change forced poor households to sell crops early, before output prices reach their peak. Difference-in-difference specifications show that the cumulative value of crop sales made before September was significantly higher in 2010 than in 2009. The effect is limited to households with school-aged children, is increasing in the number of school-aged children, and is only present for households in poverty. Households that financed school costs by selling crops missed out on an expected 25% increase in crop prices over the last quarter of the year, for an effective annual financing cost of over 100%. These findings demonstrate an important channel by which liquidity constraints exacerbate the negative effects of intra-annual price volatility. They also suggest that policies to raise investment by offering farmers commitment opportunities at harvest are most likely to be welfare-enhancing if they are optional, rather than universal. In this case, forcing expenditures to occur closer to harvest undercut the expected returns that some households would have enjoyed if they had delayed crop sales to take advantage of seasonal price increases.
View the presentation here.

April 6
Speaker: Benjamin Crost, Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois
12:00-1:15 pm
Conference Room 7AB
Export Crops and Civil Conflict
Many experts consider a move towards high-value export crops, such as fruits and vegetables, as an important opportunity for economic growth and poverty reduction, but little is known about the effects of export crops in fragile and conflict-affected countries. We exploit movements in world market prices combined with geographic variation in crop intensity to show that increases in the value of two major export crops — bananas and sugar — caused increases in conflict violence and insurgent-controlled territory in the Philippines. Our results are consistent with a mechanism in which insurgents fund their operations by extorting large agricultural export firms.

May 4
Speaker: Marshall Burke, Assistant Professor at Stanford University
12:00-1:15 pm
Conference Room 7AB
Measuring economic well-being from space
Most developing countries collect little or no data on local-level economic wellbeing, which makes it difficulty to evaluate development interventions and to target assistance to those most in need. Here we demonstrate how new high-resolution satellite imagery can be used to measure both smallholder agricultural productivity and asset wealth at a granular level. For the agricultural productivity measurements, using multiple seasons of data from Kenya, we show that plot-level satellite-based estimates of productivity are roughly as accurate as traditional survey based measures. For the wealth measurements, we use data from five African countries and show how a neural network can be trained to identify features that can explain up to 75% of the variation in local-level economic outcomes. Both approaches are inexpensive and scalable, and together could accelerate efforts to understand and improve economic well-being in poor regions.

May 18
Speaker: Ariel BenYishay, Assistant Professor at the College of William and Mary
12:00-1:15 pm
Conference Room 7AB
Child Mortality and the Quantity-Quality Tradeoff
This paper explores the fertility and education responses to a large-scale measles vaccination program that saved the lives of nearly 500,000 children per year over the past decade and a half. We causally identify these responses using quasi-experimental variation in the timing of the program across countries and differences across mothers and older children in the age composition of the young children in their families. We find quite mixed effects: while mothers’ fertility decreases when their already born children are more likely to survive, the older siblings of these children complete fewer years of schooling. These results are consistent with replacement models of fertility as well as with rising shadow costs for older siblings’ time. Taken together, they indicate that falling child mortality across sub-Saharan Africa may lead to uneven gains across children; the complex mix of changes in investment may yield slower overall gains than those supposed based on observations of newly born cohorts.
View the presentation here.

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