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We conducted a field experiment to measure the effect of exposure to newspapers on political behavior and opinion. Before the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial election, we randomly assigned individuals to a Washington Post free subscription treatment, a Washington Times free subscription treatment, or a control treatment. We find no effect of either paper on political knowledge, stated opinions, or turnout in post-election survey and voter data. However, receiving either paper led to more support for the Democratic candidate, suggesting that media slant mattered less in this case than media exposure. Some evidence from voting records also suggests that receiving either paper led to increased 2006 voter turnout.
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December 01, 2009
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In the context of widespread efforts to reduce school fees, an increasing share of the costs of schooling come in the form of school materials and opportunity costs. We evaluate the impact of an educational intervention in which a Kenyan non-governmental organization distributes school uniforms to children in poor communities. The NGO used a lottery to determine who would receive uniforms. We use winning the lottery as an instrumental variable to identify the impact of receiving a uniform. We find that giving a school uniform reduces school absenteeism by 44% for the average student, and 62% for students who did not previously own a uniform. The program also raised test scores for recipients by 0.25 standard deviations in the year after inception.
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November 01, 2009
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Information asymmetries are important in theory but difficult to identify in practice. We estimate the presence and importance of hidden information and hidden action problems in a consumer credit market using a new field experiment methodology. We randomized 58,000 direct mail offers to former clients of a major South African lender along three dimensions: (i) an initial “offer interest rate” featured on a direct mail solicitation; (ii) a “contract interest rate” that was revealed only after a borrower agreed to the initial offer rate; and (ii) a dynamic repayment incentive that was also a surprise and extended preferential pricing on future loans to borrowers who remained in good standing. These three randomizations, combined with complete knowledge of the lender's information set, permit identification of specific types of private information problems. Our setup distinguishes hidden information effects from selection on the offer rate (via unobservable risk and anticipated effort),...
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November 01, 2009
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I elicit causal effects of spousal observability and communication on financial choices of married individuals in the Philippines. When choices are private, men put money into their personal accounts. When choices are observable, men commit money to consumption for their own benefit. When required to communicate, men put money into their wives' account. These strong treatment effects on men, but not women, appear related more to control than to gender: men whose wives control household savings respond more strongly to the treatment and women whose husbands control savings exhibit the same response. Changes in information and communication interact with underlying control to produce mutable gender-specific outcomes.
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September 01, 2009
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Until recently rigorous impact evaluations have been rare in the area of finance and private sector development. One reason for this is the perception that many policies and projects in this area lend themselves less to formal evaluations. However, a vanguard of new impact evaluations on areas as diverse as fostering microenterprise growth, microfinance, rainfall insurance, and regulatory reform demonstrates that in many circumstances serious evaluation is possible. The purpose of this paper is to synthesize and distil the policy and implementation lessons emerging from these studies, use them to demonstrate the feasibility of impact evaluations in a broader array of topics, and thereby help prompt new impact evaluations for projects going forward.
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August 01, 2009
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Several microfinance organizations have begun using a management tool, developed by Assessing the Impact of Microenterprise Services (AIMS) at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to assess impact. This tool recommends comparing veteran members to new members of a microcredit program, and attributes any difference to the impact of the program. The tool introduces a potential source of bias into estimates of impact by not instructing organizations to include program dropouts in their calculations. This paper uses data from a longitudinal study in Peru of Mibanco borrowers and non-borrowers to quantify some, but not all, of the biases in the cross-sectional approach. In these data, not including dropouts overestimates the impact of the credit program. Furthermore, we find that the sample composition shifted over the two years (i.e., the characteristics of those who join), introducing further bias into a cross-sectional impact assessment. Note that the “reestima...
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August 01, 2009
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In this study, we evaluate how well various systems for identifying and targeting assistance to the poorest of the poor actually identify the poorest. Firstly, we consider the methods used to identify households eligible for participation in assistance programs administered by the Indian government. Secondly, we evaluate Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRAs) as a mechanism to identify exceptionally poor households. Finally, we investigate whether additional verification of information gathered in PRAs improves targeting. For each method of targeting, we examine whether the households identified by that process are more disadvantaged according to several measures of economic well-being than households which were not identified. We conclude that PRAs and PRAs coupled with additional verification successfully identify a population which is measurably poorer in various respects, especially those which are more readily observed. The standard government procedures, however, do not appear to...
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July 18, 2009
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In order to study the impact of microcredit on entrepreneurs in Manila, the authors worked with a lender in Manila who undertook an expansion by randomly accepting some marginally credit-worthy loan applications. The researchers conducted a follow-up survey to measure the effects of this credit expansion on borrowing, business, and social outcomes. Compared to marginally credit-worthy applicants who did not receive approval of their loans, there is some evidence that the business profits of those in the treatment group increased. Households given the opportunity to borrow invested less in the target business, spent less on labor, and substituted away from formal insurance. These effects were stronger for male and higher-income entrepreneurs. Together, the results suggest that microcredit works broadly through risk management and investment at the household level, rather than directly through business investment as is typically claimed.
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July 01, 2009
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This paper uses a microfinance field experiment in two Lima shantytowns to measure the relative importance of social networks and prices for borrowing. Our design randomizes the interest rate on loans provided by a micro-finance agency, as a function of the social distance between the borrower and the cosigner. This design effectively varies the relative price (interest rate differential) of having a direct friend versus an indirect friend as a cosigner. After loans are processed, a second randomization relieves some cosigners from their responsibility. These experiments yield three main results. (1) As emphasized by sociologists, connections are highly valuable: having a friend cosigner is equivalent to 18 per cent of the face value of a 6 month loan. (2) While networks are important, agents do respond to price incentives and switch to a non-friend cosigner when the interest differential is large. (3) Relieving responsibility of the cosigner reduces repayment for direct friends but ha...
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Working Paper
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July 01, 2009
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Economic theory predicts that in a first-price auction with equal and observable valuations, bidders earn zero profits. Theory also predicts that if valuations are not common knowledge, then since it is weakly dominated to bid your valuation, bidders will bid less and earn positive profits. Hence, rational players in an auction game should prefer less public information. We are perhaps more used to seeing these results in the equivalent Bertrand setting. In our experimental auction, we find that individuals without information on each other’s valuations earn more profits than those with common knowledge. However, given a choice between the two sets of rules, approximately half the individuals preferred to have the public information. We discuss possible explanations, including showing that there is a correlation between ambiguity aversion and a preference for having more information in the auction.
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July 01, 2009
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It gives me great pleasure to present Innovations for Poverty Action’s first annual report. Despite the world financial crisis, IPA grew remarkably in 2009. This year we managed about $18 million in research grants, a 40 percent increase from 2008. This comes partly from the inclusion of new researchers, partly from the increase in projects with existing researchers, and last but not least the inclusion of scale-up efforts into IPA’s core activities. In just eight years we’ve grown from a small group of researchers into an established organization, managing more than 200 research projects in 31 countries with a staff of over 250. Today, more than 30 research affiliates — professors at some of the leading institutions of higher education in the world — turn to us to implement and manage their projects. For our researchers and our donors, the greatest satisfaction comes from knowing that the value of our work will continue to increase many times over through more effective anti-poverty p...
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Annual Report
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July 01, 2009
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This paper studies the economic and health impacts of the 2007 Kenyan Presidential Election crisis. Over the two months of civil conflict that immediately followed the election, we observe sizeable downfalls in income, expenditure, and consumption for a broad segment of the rural population. This suggests households were unable to smooth over the shock. We also find that the crisis increased the likelihood that women who supply transactional sex chose to engage in unprotected sex, increasing the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission. These results suggest that social unrest is an important channel through which political instability can affect long-term outcomes and development.
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June 01, 2009
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Microcredit has spread rapidly since its beginnings in the late 1970s, but whether and how much it helps the poor is the subject of intense debate. Despite high hopes for microcredit’s potential to transform the lives of the poor, there is a lack of concrete evidence demonstrating its impact. Skeptics fear that microfinance is displacing more effective anti-poverty measures or even contributing to longterm poverty via over indebtedness. This paper reports on the first randomized evaluation of the impact of introducing microcredit in a new market. Based on a survey of slums in Hyderabad, India, the authors find mixed results on a range of impact measures.   Full published paper is available here.
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May 01, 2009
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This paper presents a randomized field experiment on community-based monitoring of public primary health care providers in Uganda. Through two rounds of village meetings, localized nongovernmental organizations encouraged communities to be more involved with the state of health service provision and strengthened their capacity to hold their local health providers to account for performance. A year after the intervention, treatment communities are more involved in monitoring the provider, and the health workers appear to exert higher effort to serve the community. We document large increases in utilization and improved health outcomes—reduced child mortality and increased child weight—that compare favorably to some of the more successful community-based intervention trials reported in the medical literature
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May 01, 2009
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Agencies engaged in humanitarian efforts to prevent the further spread of HIV have emphasized the importance of voluntary counseling and testing (VCT), and most high-prevalence countries now have facilities that offer testing free of charge. The utilization of these services is disappointingly low, however, despite high numbers reporting that they would like to be tested. Explanations of this discrepancy typically rely on responses to hypothetical questions posed in terms of psychological or social barriers; often, the explanation is that people fear learning that they are infected with a disease that they understand to be fatal and stigmatizing. Yet when we offered door-to-door rapid blood testing for HIV as part of a longitudinal study in rural Malawi, the overwhelming majority agreed to be tested and to receive their results immediately. Thus, in this paper, we ask: why are more people not getting tested? Using an explanatory research design, we find that rural Malawians are respons...
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April 15, 2009
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This paper examines the accuracy of corruption perceptions by comparing Indonesian villagers reported perceptions about corruption in a road-building project in their village with a more objective measure of 'missing expenditures' in the project. I find that villagers' reported perceptions do contain real information, and that villagers are sophisticated enough to distinguish between corruption in a particular road project and general corruption in the village. The magnitude of the reported information, however, is small, in part because officials hide corruption where it is hardest for villagers to detect. I also find that there are biases in reported perceptions. The findings illustrate the limitations of relying solely on corruption perceptions, whether in designing anti-corruption policies or in conducting empirical research on corruption.
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March 11, 2009
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This paper reports the results of a field experiment testing the effectiveness of different quality get-out-the-vote (GOTV) non-partisan phone calls. During the week preceding the November 2004 election, we randomly assigned registered voters in North Carolina and Missouri to one of three live phone calls with varying length and content. The scripts are (1) standard GOTV, (2) interactive GOTV, and (3) interactive GOTV with a request for mobilizing neighbors. We find that people assigned to the interactive GOTV treatment are more likely to turn out, while the effect of the “get your neighbors to vote” script is relatively as weak as that of the standard script. The findings suggest that interactive phone calls generally tend to increase voter turnout, but in order for a phone call to be effective, the message needs to be focused. The borderline statistical significance of the script that encourages neighbors’ participation invites replication of this experiment.
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March 01, 2009
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This paper presents the evaluation of the program Computers for Education. The program aims to integrate computers, donated by the private sector, into the teaching of language in public schools. The authors conduct a two-year randomized evaluation of the program  using a sample of 97 schools and 5,201 children. Overall, the program seems to have had little effect on students' test scores and other outcomes. These results are consistent across grade levels, subjects, and gender. The main reason for these results seems to be the failure to incorporate the computers into the educational process. Although the program increased the number of computers in the treatment schools and provided training to the teachers on how to use the computers in their classrooms, surveys of both teachers and students suggest that teachers did not incorporate the computers into their curriculum.
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March 01, 2009
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What is the political legacy of violent conflict? I present evidence for a link from past violence to increased political engagement among ex-combatants. The evidence comes from northern Uganda, where rebel recruitment generated quasi-experimental variation in who was conscripted by abduction. Survey data suggest that abduction leads to substantial increases in voting and community leadership, largely due to elevated levels of violence witnessed. Meanwhile, abduction and violence do not appear to affect non-political participation. These patterns are not easily explained by conventional theories of participation, including mobilization by elites, differential costs, and altruistic preferences. Qualitative interviews suggest that violence may lead to personal growth and political activation, a possibility supported by psychological research on the positive effects of traumatic events. While the generalizability of these results requires more evidence to judge, the findings challenge our...
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March 01, 2009
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A randomized evaluation in rural Kenya !nds, contrary to the previous literature, that providing textbooks did not raise average test scores. Textbooks did increase the scores of the best students (those with high pretest scores) but had little effect on other students. Textbooks are written in English, most students’ third language, and many students could not use them effectively. More generally, the curriculum in Kenya, and in many other developing countries, tends to be oriented toward academically strong students, leaving many students behind in societies that combine a centralized educational system; the heterogeneity in student preparation associated with rapid educational expansion; and disproportionate elite power.
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January 01, 2009

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