Links round-up

Hi all,

I’m struggling for a good intro today. I normally talk about sports, but the NBA’s broken for the All-Star weekend (in which my happiness will only be complete if Joel Embiid dunks Russell Westbrook’s soul out of his body again), Sri Lanka’s win in the T20 yesterday was a huge anti-climax and the Winter Olympics sucks (see below). I could talk about the weather, but Oxford is nondescript and sunny today (and though I fail the Tebbit test, is there anything more English than hitting cricket and the weather as your first two topics of conversation?). So I’m stuck for topics. I just spent two hours doing optimal taxation modelling and an hour having my research design ripped to well-justified shreds, so forgive my lack of inspiration, and let’s get straight in to the links.

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve started on a proper rant, hasn’t it? VoxDev published an account of Oriana Bandiera and co-authors experiment on vocational training and apprenticeships on employment. They find that both help people find jobs. The interesting question is whether these jobs are ‘created’ or are usurped from other people consequently who become unemployed. Well, they check that, and lo and behold: “we find that apprentices displaced other workers in the firms where they were matched” though they have no evidence on vocational training. What really irritated me was this line: “even in the presence of full displacement, the interventions may still have led to an improvement in overall productivity, since the workers who were brought into employment were highly motivated and so likely to be more productive than the average unemployed youth.” Wait, what? That is pure speculation – was motivation or productivity measured? Do they actually replace ‘average unemployed youth’? What if they replace older workers, who have more dependents – that could reduce social welfare. Also, the finding of displacement suggests that motivation isn’t the limiting factor in finding jobs, it’s demand for workers – so how do we know ‘the average youth’ is less motivated? In these settings is unemployment a problem with the unemployed or a problem with the economy? Statements like that put you in the former camp.
  2. While I’m ranting: someone recently asked me why I’m not on twitter, and my response was that it seems to bring the worst out in people, and I’ve seen my worst and don’t care to inflict it on the world. Another reason is that there is so much groupthink, so much over-reaction and under-analysis, that you have to wade through an Okavango of bullshit before you find even a nugget of insight. This week’s “OMG, Steven Pinker is a Nazi” flare-up reinforces my decision.
  3. As an antidote, let’s all consider this shining example of good practice: Noam Angrist on replicating his Young 1ove intervention in Botswana and the generalisability of evidence. [full disclosure, Noam is a friend and co-student at BSG, but this is an example of really good practice that should be saluted].
  4. If you’re interested in American politics, I can’t recommend this piece by Clare Malone enough. She’s a data journalist from 538, but this is much more about the subjective experience of being an American in 2014, and how it contributed to the Trump phenomenon.
  5. This week in I hope people are listening: Michael Clemens on what the Global Compact on Migration can achieve.
  6. Let’s be honest: the Winter Olympics kind of suck, don’t they? I watched ten minutes of curling the other day and a portion of my soul evaporated. However, out of darkness, light: 538 have two good articles that use the Olympics as a launching pad for a consideration of gender equality, in one pointing out that men and women should probably be competing against each other in a number of events; and in the other they consider how maternal leave norms and laws contribute to the fact that while the US has sent 20 fathers to the games, they are represented by only one mother.
  7. This LitHub round-up of major literary feuds confirms two things: one, that Ernest Hemingway was a total prick; and two, that one should never get in a war of words with Salman Rushdie. You’ll lose.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

Normally, the links would be starting with some reference to Sri Lanka’s performance in the cricket (after scoring roughly infinity runs this week, it’s day two and we’re eight wickets down. In the second innings. Luckily, Bangladesh are doing even worse); but I am bereft: Martin Crane died this week. Sure, John Mahoney did other things, but I’ve probably watched Frasier beginning to end at least three or four times so this one hits really hard. Even a trawl of YouTube for some of my favourite scenes didn’t cheer me up, though I did come across this piece of magnificent insanity: a fan (clearly one with more time and creativity than I) has written 107 ‘alternative’ seasons of Frasier and spin-offs he created. On that note of obsession, on to the links:

  1. Imagine an intervention that generates returns of more than 250% per week to the poor, lasting for at least ten years. You’d drop everything and invest in it, wouldn’t you? Well it exists, it’s called migration, and David McKenzie has the ten-years-on follow-up to his already seminal paper on the returns to migration that prove it (co-authored with three others). I think it was Michael Clemens, together with Lant Pritchett, who pointed out that when the returns to a policy are this high, you effectively have to completely disregard the well-being of those who don’t share your passport to value any disutility to the intervention over the total gain to humanity. Migration is more complex than that allows for, but it’s a useful thought to use as a reference point.
  2. Speaking of Lant, his recent piece on education and learning in India is excellent and well-worth reading. While the main points should be largely familiar to most of us (schooling too often doesn’t translate into the kind of learning that allows young people to apply the concepts underlying what they’ve learnt to new problems), it’s really worth considering his point about aspirations. A growing body of research looks at the impact of increasing the aspirations of the young as a way of improving their outcomes. Lant points out that while these aspirations are rising, we are neither properly equipping young people to meet them, nor loosening the constraints that make them anything more than a lottery. What’s the net effect, then? I don’t know the answer, but it’s not something that I’ve seen carefully considered anywhere.
  3. Speaking of careful consideration, this interview with Jerry Muller considers the ways in which measurement can lead to worse outcomes, or at least unintended ones. I once (briefly) worked for an organisation that assesses a major UK public service, primarily through quantitative targets. I came away from the experience incredibly sceptical that we are capable of performance metrics that optimise behaviour in any but the most simple contexts, where it’s often least important. We can do better with incentive design more generally, but even then, we should probably focus on ruling out really bad behaviour rather than trying to get people to do ever better.
  4. Markus Goldstein summarises a really interesting new paper by Nina Buchman and co-authors (including our own Chief Economist) on what works in reducing child marriage. The intervention looks at cash transfers and empowerment training and finds one has no effect (hint: it’s not the cash transfer). Paper here.
  5. Having used data from the Bank of International Settlements myself before, I really appreciate the work that’s gone into this IMF research which shows the frankly shocking extent to which developing country economies are exposed to the Chinese banking sector. When we were recently asked to consider major risks to future growth in Africa and Asia, we weren’t stressing too much about a Chinese growth collapse, but did suggest that a banking crisis could be cataclysmic…
  6. This week in ‘Oh, man, this is super awkward’: Justin Sandefur and Divyanshi Wadhwa point out that the World Bank’s claims about how India’s improvements on the Doing Business survey reflect reforms don’t stack up; and indeed, that internal messaging on the topic has been inconsistent. That stifled guffaw you just heard came from the direction of Paul Romer.
  7. Random links to end the week: I got more joy out of this oral history of the politics of The Wire than is reasonable (ever wonder how many e’s there are in a sheeeey-it? Clay Davis reveals all); and I got more annoyed by the list of songs used in the Winter Olympics figure skating competition than is reasonable. It’s not so much that all the songs suck: it’s more that it’s basically a playlist with Despacito on three times and Jeff Buckley once. Someone got something wrong there.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

Normally when Sri Lanka are five hundred runs to the good and have seven wickets in hand, I’m responding to all text and e-mail traffic with ‘Deeply ill. Unlikely to recover until the 90th over the day has been bowled’, but in this case I’m struggling to care: we’re responding to a first innings of 500 odd from Bangladesh, and if there’s a result in this test, I will not only eat my hat, I will livestream the event on YouTube. Bah. Fortunately, at least one piece of news gave me cause to freak out in full geek mode: they are making an Andre the Giant documentary, and it’s going to be awesome. Just look at him fit Mean Gene’s *entire head* in the palm of his hand!

  1. From the sublime to the ridiculous (some would say from the ridiculous to the sublime, but they’d be wrong). Last week, Angus Deaton wrote an op-ed arguing that poverty inside the US is so bad that they should shift our attention from developing countries to domestic poverty. It was, of course, seized upon by noted aid sceptics like Bill Easterly, though the reaction turned this in to the world’s shortest game of a whack-a-mole. Two things are particularly odd about the original article. First is that someone who so clearly cares about the poor in all parts of the world should use the old trope of pitting two progressive causes against each other, because the most common outcome tends to be that both lose. The second is that the person who remains my go-to reference for the importance of empirical rigour should have been guilty of some pretty shoddy use of data. Justin Sandefur and Charles Kenny demonstrate as much here. Well worth reading.
  2. From one eminence grise of economics to another: Janet Yellen is no longer the Chair of the Federal Reserve, and a sentence in her final speech made the Planet Money crew extremely excited. She said: “the conventional framework for understanding inflation dynamics could be misspecified in some fundamental way.” Now, not everyone is going to get the vapours hearing that, but this is one of the most powerful central bankers in the world saying there’s a real chance we just don’t know why inflation behaves the way it does. It’s remarkable, and worth thinking about why more economists don’t talk openly about the doubts we no doubt all have about our models. They may do the job, or may be the best thing available, but being open about uncertainty should be encouraged (transcript).
  3. How does David Evans do this? 31 papers on education in 31 bullets. The man is a marvel.
  4. When I did my Master’s degree (the world looked like this back then), I did a course on ‘the imperialism of economics’ – the idea that economics was worming its way into virtually every discipline out there. I doubt the course convenor was thinking about sports when he designed the course, but when 538 start using Pareto optimality as a method of identifying outstanding performances, it’s hard not to think about how deep our tentacles go. (They still miss out Reggie Miller, though).
  5. Really nice VoxDev write up of research by Paulo Bastos, Joana Silva and Eric Vernoogen on how firms upgrade their outputs when they export. It turns out a crucial part of the story is input upgrading (so ‘garbage in, garbage out’ might apply to more than just econometrics).
  6. Michael Clemens does the sums and reports on the expected impact of Trump’s immigration proposals on migration into the US – on aggregate, by race and by level of education.
  7. And finally, in news that makes me feel substantially better about the high-pitched squeal I emitted when a microscopic spider ran across my desk this morning, elephants are terrified of bees. This seems both sensible and unremarkable, until the implications become clear: you can dramatically reduce the rate of elephant encroachment on farmland by using beehives. Brilliant.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

So, I’ve just spent the last few minutes following Donald Trump’s speech at Davos. There’s a section of the global audience who will slam what he says regardless of the content and style, but it wasn’t the train wreck some were predicting (though he did get comic book boos and hisses for an attack on the media). Regardless, it’s incredibly striking how different in tone and content it was to Xi Jinping’s keynote last year, and it really is both remarkable and not fully internalised in our own geopolitical analyses how much the roles and attitudes towards the global economic system traditionally held by the US and China have reversed. It’s a bit like Sri Lanka showing up to an ODI final against Bangladesh as massive underdogs, but less depressing.

  1. Speaking of Davos, Branko Milanovic is a sceptic. Starting with Euripedes, he laments that the quickness with which the Davos crowd will speak of inequality (and right on cue, in the post-Trump session, Christine Lagarde has just cited inequality as one of the key threats to the global economy) is matched by their silence and inaction when it comes to seriously considering international capital mobility, the revival of monopoly power and restrictions on labour organisation and how these have contributed to it. Michael Clemens might add migration to that list of wilful blindness, here again advocating for a serious hearing of the Global Skills Partnerships
  2. Branko, of course, thinks more deeply and carefully about inequality than most. And in an interview with Cardiff Garcia (I will never get tired of typing his name) and Stacey Vanek Smith (transcript), he compares most contemporary analysis of how inequality can be tackled to a general trying to win a new war with the tactics that won the last. But the combatants are different, they have organised differently and they are fighting on an entirely new terrain. In what sense will traditional unionism be the answer in a world where outsourcing makes firm-level inequality insignificant compared to between-firm inequality? Can domestic taxes be an answer when the rich can pick and choose where to pay their taxes? His answer, which will please Piketty fans, is wider ownership of capital.
  3. This is absolutely brilliant, the best piece of writing in this week’s links: Gabrielle Bedot writes about Haiti, declaring it to be “nobody’s shithole”, along the way giving a little history of Haiti and Dominica and the history of vilifying them (she gives a shout-out, too, to CLR James’ The Black Jacobins, one of the most stirring books of history I’ve read). Everyone should read this.
  4. A brilliant blog by David McKenzie, comparing the success rates of business people, economists and a machine learning system in predicting business success a priori. It turns out that the machines are not taking these jobs any time soon: the reality is that no system predicts business success well, at least in contexts like Nigeria, where virtually all businesses face massive challenges.
  5. Washington, DC has too many economists and not enough chefs. I know that sounds like the start of a joke about how too many economists spoils the broth, but it’s actually just the empirical truth: there are more economists in DC than chefs. This sounds entirely wrong for a happy society (though I am informed that it is possible to get spectacular Latin American food in DC, so all is not lost).
  6. I can’t believe I’ve relegated this to the last link, but it turns out that it is possible to throw so many stink bombs you can no longer stay in the room: Paul Romer has left his post as Chief Economist of the World Bank. I’ve got to say, he wasn’t wholly wrong about a few of the things he wanted to blow up, but the e-mails quoted in the FT are… interesting: “I’ve never in my professional life encountered professional economists who say so many things that are easy to check and turn out not to be true”. He clarifies to the FT that he doesn’t actually think the Bank have been fabricating data for research, but that’s not a clarification anyone wants to have to make. I do like the idea of an Internal Justice Bureau, though, is it like a Justice League for economists? If so, I’ve got a slogan I’d like them to consider: ‘Not all economists wear capes’.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

This morning, I was having a chat with an Australian cricket fan. England were about 70 runs off their target with 16 overs to go, and I commented on the inevitability of England’s victory. His reaction was totally different, pointing out that 16 overs was plenty of time to get 7 wickets. I was amazed at that, that there are sports fans whose experience of life has not been crushing disappointment and the gradual erosion of all their hopes and dreams. I pointed out that Sri Lanka were at that moment enjoying the innings break after Bangladesh had made 321, and thinking I was demonstrating textbook pessimism, I predicted we’d make about 182 in response. We made 157. Imagine supporting a team so bad that they make your pessimism turn into optimism. Such is the life of the Sri Lankan cricket fan.

  1. That intro isn’t solely designed to confuse and alienate the cricket illiterates. It’s also a pretty good metaphor for supporting team migration. We have two of the best batsmen out there in Michael Clemens and Lant Pritchett, and various other players of good repute, but policy just refuses to follow along. FiveThirtyEight document the rightward lurch the immigration debate has taken in the US, one that mirrors the rest of the world. You can satisfy your curiosity about the change in migration law around the world in the last 30 years at the IMPIC (Immigration Policies in Comparison) project website now.
  2. Paul Romer continues to throw stink bombs around the World Bank offices, this time taking aim at the Doing Business indicators. At first it sounded like he was alleging malpractice reflecting a political bias in the Bank; he later clarified that this was not the impression he was trying to make. Nevertheless, the brouhaha prompted two good responses. First, Alan Gelb and Vijaya Ramachandran suggest three pretty sensible fixes to improve the indicators, but they probably didn’t run them by their colleague Justin Sandefur, who pretty much suggests they be binned, pointing out much larger fluctuations than the one Romer focused on, Chile. Justin basically suggests that the entire middle 80% of the rankings is useless.
  3. There is no impact on student tests in language, mathematics, or science. There is no average impact between treatment and comparison schools. There is no impact if we restrict analysis to students of eligible teachers only. There is no impact using instrumental variables (i.e., treatment on the treated). There is no evidence of heterogeneous impacts across student wealth or student ability or proportion of teachers who are target teachers.” David Evans reviews a paper that completely puts the boot into an intervention aiming at improving teaching by paying teachers better, basically indiscriminately.
  4. I’ve been reading a heap of stuff about management this week, and I still think this is one of the best-developed research areas that donors have least well turned into good interventions. For those of you unfamiliar with the work of the World Management Survey, John Van Reenan offers a whistle-stop tour here.
  5. Workers’ lunches around the world. Unsurprisingly, the Pret ‘variations on a theme of depression in bread’ sandwich range doesn’t make the cut; astonishingly, neither does char siu fan. Anyone advocating for huel gets a slap.
  6. DfID folk will like this: The Economist weighs in on the worst airports in the world. While South Sudan gets a real kicking, I am amazed they didn’t find any hatred in their hearts for Kenya’s circle of hell – one of the most soul-destroying experiences I’ve had, notwithstanding watching this Sri Lanka team bat.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

I meant to get the links back up and running last week, but a catastrophic power cut (catastrophic because it cut both the wifi and the kettle, it was like the end of days here) put paid to that idea. On the plus side: last week, the links would have basically been one prolonged squeal of pain, roughly translatable as ‘EFFEFFESSENGLANDCANSOMEONEPLEASELEARNHOWTOBOWLABL**DYYORKER?!’, but I’ve gotten over the anguish now, so I’ll instead be miserable over the fact that I couldn’t get tickets to see Joel Embiid play against Boston last night in London. On the other hand, the time I put aside last week to finding all my favourite links of the year got swallowed up in electrician stuff so I’m afraid the planned best-of-the-year round-up had to be shelved. Sorry (for what it’s worth, the sentence of the year was from Michael Clemens: “Like killing a fly with a sledgehammer: you’re going to do more damage than good.”) Anyway, to the week’s links.

  1. Some of you might have noticed Stefan setting off a Twitter maelstrom over the last couple of days. A brief summary of one of his presentations (which will probably be familiar to many at DFID) on the big visions of if and how externals can ‘do’ development in poor countries prompted a Twitter firestorm over how male the list is, and an alternative list of great work by women on development by Alice Evans. I should point out that this isn’t Stefan’s list of what matters in development (the pointed commentary on the various viewpoints makes that clear, as does the absence of anything on the main concerns of his own career, including agriculture and insurance) – it’s an attempt to critically summarise what the big ‘zeitgeist-y’ takes on development have been. I agree with Alice that this makes it a very unbalanced list in terms of gender and ethnic composition, and economics really needs to get a handle on who wins influence and how; and what we can do about the biases and blind spots this causes. I note Heather Sarsons is on the job market at the moment. I hope she’s snapped up by a top school; her papers are really clever takes on this problem.
  2. In related news, it certainly seems that women are held to higher standards when it comes to publishing and in peer review. Research by Erin Hengel uses readability scores to argue that women are forced by peer review to improve more and faster over their career in order to clear the bar for publication; it also appears that peer review of their work takes longer than it does for men. This great long read from the Economist covers a lot of good research on how women fare in economics, and both Heather and Erin are cited (as is our new Chief Economist, Rachel Glennerster). It bothers me, though, that the default lens for thinking about bias is still Gary Becker’s – assuming that it reflects a well-thought out preference, which competition should be able to eradicate. Markets tend not to work that well, and people tend not to be that self-reflective.
  3. On the subject of people, do you like personality quizzes? I know a bunch of people who are addicted to them, while I’ve been dubious ever since the Myers-Brigg put me down as an introvert with a rationality deficit. Maggie Koerth-Baker from 538 seems to have found one that actually has a scientific backing. The secret? It doesn’t try to over-identify what people are like.
  4. Anyone who’s worked with me long enough will know that I love Our World in Data; so forgive me for having a massive geekout over this: Planet Money had Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie from the project on to discuss what the world’s headlines would look like if they were only written every 50 years (transcript). Good news gets a much higher billing, but so does the potentially catastrophic: an unprecedented reduction in global poverty alongside a terrifying increase in carbon dioxide emissions. It’s all about growth. (Also: Cardiff Garcia is now a Planet Money presenter. This has led to a dramatic increase in my standard of living, as I have the opportunity to say ‘Cardiff Garcia’ on a substantially more regular basis).
  5. If there was an award for most thankless but persistent calling of ‘bullshit’ this year, there would be no competition. Maya Forstater wins for her one-woman war on fake facts in the illicit financial flows literature.
  6. I’ve said this before, but it’s always true. Every new paper by Nick Bloom should be welcomed with dancing on the streets. This one looks at the large firm wage premium and suggests it’s disappearing on the back of outsourcing – an important companion piece to his Firming Up Inequality paper.
  7. And lastly, I’m really not sure if I should be watching this critically for stereotypes or just freaking out at how cool it’s going to be. The Black Panther trailer looks pretty, pretty good. (oh yeah, and the soundtrack will be written by Kendrick Lamar). Maybe 2018 won’t suck?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

Andy Dufresne lied to us. Hope is a terrible thing. It’s hope that gets you excited when England have twin centurions and six wickets in hand at 350-odd. It’s hope that’s kindled when a new fast bowler knocks off two Aussie top-order batsmen without any hassle. And yet, every time it offers you its helping hand, it yanks you in to deliver a pro-wrestling style kick to the belly. Needless to say, I was less than impressed by England’s collapse, Craig Overton’s side strain and the inevitable soul-crushing Steve Smith innings I awoke to follow on Friday morning. Here to add to your weekly quota of disappointment is this week’s links.

  1. Fair warning: this one can be distressing to read. I had an enlightening conversation recently about how simplistic the coverage of the #metoo movement has been, and how much diversity in women’s experiences has been glossed over. This brilliant article by Claire Malone looks into one aspect of this diversity, pointing out how appallingly different the experience of poor, blue/pink-collar workers (often immigrants) who experience sexual harassment or assault has been. It’s a great piece of writing, considering social biases, the role of trade unions and precarity at work and if there’s hope for the future.
  2. A great interview with Anne Case starts with words I’ve often used: “what I love about economics is…”. Everyone should read this, especially the section on why women have a harder time in economics than men, focusing in part on the aggressive seminar questioning culture of the discipline (someone recently  pointed out – correctly – that I buy into this, with my love of econ-arguments online). One thing I find remarkable (and great): a lot of the research they cite is by students or very young economists – Heather Sarsons is a PhD student and Alice Wu was, astonishingly, an undergraduate when she wrote her paper on Econ Job Market Rumours forum. Related: how to undo the gender bias in seminar questioning.
  3. Christie Aschwanden considers the ‘weird sample’ problem in social psychology, and a hugely ambitious idea to overcome it (and with it, some of what has caused the crisis of (non-) replicability in the field). A weird sample happens when your study examines a group that is somehow very unlike the global population you’re trying to understand. For example, if you’re trying to understand self-control and your participant pool is MIT postgrad students, you have a weird sample. One way of solving this: pre-registering your trial and through this process recruiting people in very different places to run the same experiment, increasing both the size and diversity of the sample.
  4. Branko on what the future of the global income distribution might look like, and what that means for politics. I’m disappointed that this doesn’t consider the implication of the considerably less elephantine elephant graph he produced recently.
  5. I could probably have filled this week’s links with nothing but 538 links, actually – another excellent piece looks at the benefits and costs of increased community resilience to terrorism. Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux points out that while the attitude of carrying on regardless does reduce the impact of (and thus return to) acts of terrorism, they also tend to be accompanied by a closing in of the community, and increased mistrust of outsiders.
  6. A very good VoxDev piece on what South Korea’s much-vaunted industrial policy actually consisted of.
  7. Despite what some would have you believe, the robots are not going to take all our jobs, as evidenced by this attempt to write literature (I’m tempted to invoke the econometricians’ maxim: garbage in, garbage out). The unicorns, on the other hand

Hope you had a great weekend, everyone! No links till the new year now – at which point I’ll try to round up my favourite pieces of 2017.

R

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Female condoms – a technology for women with low bargaining power?

Condoms are the only well-established technology that protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Yet in 2015 alone, an estimated 3.3 billion risky sex acts took place without condoms in Sub-Saharan Africa, leading to 910,000 new HIV infections (UNAIDS, 2016a). Women disproportionally bear the costs associated with risky sex: they are more vulnerable to HIV infection, and carry the burden of unwanted pregnancy (UNAIDS, 2016b). Yet despite women standing to benefit most from condom use, the decision to use a condom is joint, and both sexual partners must agree. Thus women with low bargaining power may struggle to convince their male partners to use condoms.

In my job market paper, co-authored with Rachel Cassidy (IFS) and Marije Groot-Bruinderink and Wendy Janssens (AIGHD), we show that low female bargaining power appears to be a significant driver of low use of male condoms, and that female condoms can offer a partial solution.  Using an RCT in Mozambique, we find that women with low bargaining power and those who are having unprotected sex are able to convince their partners to use female condoms, which men find more pleasurable and less stigmatizing than male condoms. This implies that despite the higher unit cost of female condoms, providing them for free may be a cost-effective policy.

Female condoms as a second-best solution?
Female condoms are slightly less effective in preventing STIs and more expensive to produce than male condoms (Dowdy et al., 2006; Trussell et al., 2011), but are more pleasurable and less stigmatizing, especially to men (Wanyenze et al. 2011; Koster et al. 2015). From a policy perspective, their introduction is justified if it helps women having unprotected sex convince their partners to use this second-best alternative. On the other hand, introducing female condoms could backfire if couples substitute male condoms for female condoms, increasing the overall riskiness of sex.


An RCT focusing on women’s bargaining constraints
We conduct a field experiment in the slums of Maputo, where the female HIV prevalence rate is estimated at 30%, to examine how household bargaining affects use of protection. Specifically, we exploit the scale-up of a condom program implemented by Pathfinder, which seeks to increase condom use by offering female condoms alongside male condoms. Participating women, out of which 85% are in a stable relationship, attend a series of group sessions that provide information about contraceptives, comparable to standard sex education programs in health centers and schools in locations with high HIV prevalence. Female condoms are added to the set of products carried by local health workers (which already includes male condoms) that participants can access freely and discreetly at the end of each session. The intervention thus alleviates information, access, and price constraints for both male and female condoms, allowing us to study how bargaining affects condom use. We use a phased-in randomized control trial (RCT) to compare women who attended the condom training to women who were randomized to wait an additional six months before beginning the course.

A model of intra-household bargaining and technology adoption
To help us think about who might adopt each type of condom and why, and indeed whether the frequency of sex might increase when condoms are offered, we introduce a model of the household where partners jointly choose whether and how they have sex. The model predicts three effects when female condoms are introduced. First, on the intensive margin, some women with low bargaining power who were previously having unprotected sex are now able to convince their partners to adopt female condoms (but not male condoms), increasing condom coverage. Second, some women with intermediate bargaining power who were previously using male condoms also substitute into using female condoms, decreasing average condom effectiveness. Third, on the extensive margin, some couples who were not previously having sex, because neither the utility from unprotected sex nor the utility from sex protected by condoms was greater than both partners’ outside options, now have sex with female condoms. The relative magnitudes of each of these margins of response are important to determine empirically, in order to establish total effects on HIV transmission and welfare.

High-frequency data on sexual behavior
In addition to baseline and endline data, we also collect weekly sexual diary data. This allows us to not only understand condom adoption, but also to understand the bargaining process and study impacts at the level of sex acts. The diaries are also instrumental in mitigating recall bias and misreporting, which we further address by recording the number of condoms that participants take with them after each session. To measure household bargaining power of the women who are in a stable relationship, we collect information about assets brought by the woman to the relationship, and also enumerate two different survey modules covering decision-making and power dynamics in the relationship (Donald et al., 2017).

Participants adopt female condoms, don’t substitute male condoms, and have more sex
The results show a large impact of treatment on female condom use: an increase of 18.4 percentage points in the proportion of women who have ever used female condoms (compared to 9% in the control group) and an increase of 7.7 percentage points in the proportion of those currently using female condoms (compared to 2% in the control group). Importantly, we see no significant evidence of substitution away from male condoms. Moreover, the diary data show that treatment leads to an increase of 9.1 percentage points in the probability that an individual and her partner have sex each week (19% of the endline mean in the control group). We do not observe an impact on the number of partners.

Women with low bargaining power adopt female condoms most strongly
As predicted by the model, among women in a stable relationship, adoption of female condoms is driven by women with lower baseline bargaining power; see Figure 2. Moreover, women who were having unprotected sex at baseline show particularly strong female condom adoption and drive the higher probability of having sex in the treatment group. Adoption is also greatest among women who are not in a stable relationship at baseline and women who are HIV-positive, suggesting increased coverage of the sex acts with the highest risk of HIV transmission.

Free provision of female condoms can be cost-effective
Using an epidemiological model, we conduct simulations of the scale-up of our full intervention to the whole of Southern Mozambique. We also simulate free distribution of female condoms, assuming that information provision comes through existing sex education programs. The simulations take into account the increase in condom coverage, but also the decrease in average condom effectiveness compared to pure use of male condoms, and the observed increase in the number of sex acts. We estimate that while scaling up the full intervention at its current cost is not cost-effective, free provision of female condoms is cost-effective, given the observed lack of substitution away from male condoms and the cost of antiretroviral therapy.

Overall, the paper demonstrates how policy design should take into account asymmetry in the costs and benefits of technology adoption across household members. In particular, we highlight how low female bargaining power may lead to under-adoption of technologies that improve household welfare, in cases where women have a stronger preference for adoption or face higher costs of non-adoption. In such cases, the first-best policy may be to target male preferences, through information and social norm campaigns to increase welfare-improving investments and adoption (see for example Stopnitzky (2017)). If such campaigns cannot resolve under-adoption, this paper suggests that providing versions of the technology that are more acceptable to men, or bundling technologies with goods for which men have a high demand, may offer a second-best solution. The trade-off between changing norms and adapting technologies to fit with preferences of the dominant partner, both in the short and long term, remain important topics for future research.

This article was originally published in the World Bank Development Impact blog on 4 December 2017 and is reproduced here with both their permission and that of the author.

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Links round-up

Hi all,

I know I’ve said this before without being right, but I feel sure we have reached the end of days: apparently Rough Guide have listed Newcastle as the number one destination in the world in 2018. I’m aware that mocking this decision is going to invite some domestic strife, but I have a friend who’s just putting the finishing touches on a move to Fiji and I think he’s probably not regretting his decision. I’m going to be in Newcastle over Christmas and probably now need to buy some sort of disguise. In addition to about ten layers. Luckily, if we’re frozen in, there’ll be crushingly inevitable defeat in the Ashes to keep us warm.

  1. Jokes aside, I actually really like Newcastle, after extended exposure shifted my prior beliefs. I have much stronger, more hardened priors about the value of training programmes for employment and firm success – namely that there doesn’t seem to be any, at least in developing countries. That said, this Markus Goldstein piece has me questioning this. His team at the Gender Innovation Lab have found that if designed to make them accessible for girls and implemented before they make really long lasting decisions like marriage and child-bearing, the effects can be substantially larger. He also makes the oft-neglected point that men and boys are an important constituency to engage to make sure effects for women are positive. As one of my bosses once put it: men are the most obvious constraint to gender equality.
  2. A couple more good gender links: first, Planet Money’s Stacey Vanek-Smith teams up with Cardiff Garcia (still the best name ever) to investigate the evolution of sexual harassment training videos in the US, pointing out that the early, incredibly unsubtle ones made a point that modern ones neglect: that men use positions of power to get away with this crap (transcript). Secondly, Karlijn Morsink (full disclosure: an old friend) has her job market paper on the Development Impact blog, one she presented at DFID recently. The premise is really interesting and intuitive: that unless you consider the power dynamics that determine decision making, you can’t select what technology can best support women’s final outcomes. She illustrates this with data on use of male and female condoms.
  3. Grudge theory: Tim Harford coins a phrase for using nudges to further a malign intent. What he gets at is that most ‘benign’ nudges work by taking loosely held opinions and moving them relative to some decision threshold, so only people who really care take the trouble to move back to the original position. What some of the more malign examples do is different: they take a loosely held opinion and make it salient (either before or after moving it slightly) – so after the nudge, it becomes a strongly held opinion. You don’t have to look hard to find that effect in other contexts, either.
  4. A very nice new paper by Angrist and co-authors uses an experimental design implemented on Uber drivers to suggest that the famous ‘reference dependence’ theory of Camerer, Thaler and others might be illusory (the theory suggested that cab drivers work up until they meet a target daily income and no more, which Angrist finds no evidence of). He does, however, find support for a certain kind of loss aversion, so Thaler probably shouldn’t throw the Nobel in the bin just yet.
  5. Nick is going to love this: a paper on the asymmetric effects of real exchange rate movements, suggesting that currency appreciations have a worse effect on exporters than depreciations can help them. The novelty of this paper is that it accounts for the skewed distribution of firm productivity in estimating these effects – hugely relevant for developing countries.
  6. Brilliant article by Christie Aschwanden, 538’s amazing science writer, on how the inherent uncertainty of scientific results can and has been weaponised against it by vested interests. The basic plan was discovered by Big Tobacco: emphasise the doubt and ask for better research – there will never be anything completely free of uncertainty.
  7. And finally, because it’s Friday and we deserve it: Tom Cruise running. Every single time.

Hope you had a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

This week has been the stuff of nightmares: scroll down to link number 7 and you’ll find the story of a lady who went to the bathroom and was attacked by a python… in her own house. Link number 2 is even scarier: a breakdown of the Alwyn Young paper on instrumental variables I mentioned last week. And that isn’t even getting into the fact that we apparently live in one of Philip K. Dick’s creations, in which the most powerful political figure in the world shares content that even the people who originated it describe as ‘hate speech’. On a scale of one to what the actual eff are you doing, that one scores pretty highly. That’s not even the scariest thing that happened this week: imagine how Dame Lillard felt when this happened to him. It’s like playing basketball against an X-Man.

  1. Job market season is so much fun (well, for everyone except those on the job market), particularly because the Development Impact blog does so well in picking up good summaries of the most interesting papers. I really liked this write up of Stefano Caria’s research with Girum Abebe and Estebean Ortiz-Ospina. He shows that the cost of applying for jobs creates conditions in which poor workers with high ability are especially disadvantaged, and that this leads to firms winding up with a lower-ability workforce than is available. There’s a lot going on here (more than I realised the first time I saw it presented) and lessons could generalise to a number of contexts.
  2. For those of you who lacked the time to work through Alwyn Young’s paper, Marc Bellemare summarises. I’m not a strong enough econometrician to fully assess how valid the conclusions are, but they are startling: between a third and half of all 2SLS estimates covered are falsely declared significant. That said, I was explaining the logic behind the empirical methods economists use to a historian friend last night and pointed out that we know there are no watertight results: luck plays a role, and the quality of the concepts you’re using (and what you can measure), the data and the techniques are all imperfect. At some level, even policymakers who don’t think in detail about econometric choices get this, which is why we like results which have been proven from lots of different angles, or which accord conceptually with lots of literatures. Every paper is fallible but what the discipline knows is much greater than what any of its members can prove.
  3. Being more optimistic for a moment: Elon Musk succeeded in creating renewable storage at an unprecedented scale and pace in South Australia. This is pretty amazing.
  4. Also, I hadn’t realised that Pandas are now off the endangered list (which makes me feel better about skipping the chance to see them on a recent trip to Chengdu – it was them or a visit to the wholesale spice market, and the chillies win every time). I also hadn’t realised that this success was basically entirely due to one enormously horny bear named Pan Pan.
  5. Planet Money are so cool. When they discovered Paul Manafort was charged with money laundering they did what seemed obvious to them: asked an expert money launderer if he was any good at it (transcript).
  6. In one of those ‘economists shocked by events that all other humans expect’ moments, a new paper (yes it’s political science, but why spoil a good joke?) shows that politicians sometimes make enormous blunders. Using multiple sources to try and find those instances where politicians either miscalculated based on known information or had too little information, Daniel Treisman finds that many autocratic regimes become more democratic due to blunder, not design.
  7. Lastly, just to leave you with the worst nightmares possible for the weekend: snakes are everywhere, and Samuel L. Jackson isn’t.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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