Migration and Resilience during a Global Crisis
(with many co-authors)
European Economic Review 158(Sep): 104524 (2023).
This study explores the relationship between migration and household resilience during a global crisis that eliminated the option to migrate. We link prior data from four populations in Bangladesh and Nepal to new phone surveys conducted during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. While earnings fell universally, pandemic-induced declines were 14–25% greater among previously migration-dependent households and urban migrant workers, with household remittance losses far exceeding official statistics. Heightened economic exposure during the pandemic erased prior gains achieved by transnational migrants and caused fourfold greater prevalence of food insecurity among domestic subsistence migrants. Economic distress spilled over onto non-migrants in high-migration villages and labor markets. We show that migration contributed to economic contagion independent of its role in disease transmission. Losing the option to migrate differentially increased the vulnerability of migration-dependent households during a crisis.
| Paper | Publication | Replication

Got (Clean) Milk? Organization, Incentives, and Collective Action in Indian Dairy Cooperatives
(with Manaswini Rao)
Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 212(Aug): 708–22 (2023).
Smallholder producers in developing countries often collaborate in teams that take advantage of scale economies and allocate surplus among members. We experimentally evaluate team-level incentive contracts for quality upgrading among Indian dairy cooperatives where there is a risk of free-riding because individual quality cannot be traced. Incentives improve aggregate quality, with evidence of increased effort from both producers and cooperative managers. However, several managers decline incentive payments when they cannot control how payment information is disclosed to cooperative members. Survey evidence indicates publicity lowers managerial returns, suggesting transparency-based efforts to constrain elites can undermine the core policy goal.
| Paper | Publication | Project Summary | VoxDev

Migration Frictions, Earnings Differentials, and Spatial Misallocation: Evidence from Thailand
Journal of Southeast Asian Economies 40/2(Aug): 234–57 (2023).
This paper uses revealed-preference location decisions of workers in Thailand to quantify the disutility of labor migration, characterize the migration contribution to labor supply elasticity, and estimate the effect of migration frictions on spatial earnings differentials and labor misallocation. I structurally estimate a spatial equilibrium model using commodity prices as instruments for local earnings to overcome endogeneity and selection, and to identify the net present value returns to potential migration. Estimation employs a novel strategy using maximum likelihood to accommodate measurement error and choice-based sampling. I find migration contributes 9.5 percentage points to labor supply elasticity at the extensive margin, which is 25–50 percent as large as existing intensive-margin estimates among non-movers. The disutility from migration is 1.0–1.2 times annual earnings; alleviating this friction would induce a quarter of the population to relocate and lower spatial earnings variation by 20 percent. However, gains would be realized primarily in non-wage utility with a modest 3 percent increase in national product, suggesting migration frictions play a limited role relative to preference heterogeneity in productive misallocation.
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COVID-19 through the Lens of Seasonal Agriculture in South Asia
(with Arjun Kharel, A. Mushfiq Mobarak, and Corey Vernot)
Forthcoming: Applied Economics Policy and Perspectives
75% of the world’s poor reside in rural areas where the local economy is tied to agriculture. We interpret new panel data on COVID-19 from Nepal and Bangladesh in relation to agricultural seasonality. Conditions in April–June 2020 were comparable to a typical lean season even though the pandemic arrived at harvest time. Income losses stem from both depressed local employment as well as lower migration and remittances. We also document indirect adverse health impacts on nutrition and mental health. Findings are specific to the nature of economic activity at harvest, and effective pandemic policy must evolve with the agricultural season.
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Does Survey Mode Matter? Comparing In-Person and Phone Agricultural Surveys in India
(with Ellen Anderson, Travis Lybbert, Rupikah Singh, and Daniel Stein)
Conditionally accepted: Journal of Development Economics
Ubiquitous mobile phone ownership makes phone surveying an attractive method of low-cost data collection. We explore differences between in-person and phone survey measures of agricultural production collected for an impact evaluation in India. Phone responses have greater mean and variance, and this difference persists within a subset of respondents that answered the same question over both modes. Treatment effect estimation nonetheless remains stable across survey mode, but estimates are less precise when using phone data. These patterns are informative for cost and sample size considerations in study design and for aggregating evidence across study sites or time periods.
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Striving to Revive Pulses in India with Input Subsidies, Extension Activities, and Output Price Supports
(with Travis Lybbert, Tomoé Bourdier, and Caitlin Kieran)
Conditionally accepted: American Journal of Agricultural Economics
Pulse production in India has stagnated relative to staple grains and cash crops, raising concerns about rural protein consumption. We experimentally evaluate an effort to increase local pulse production in Bihar. This intervention consisted of two years of input subsidies and extension to facilitate learning, followed by the creation of marketing organizations and a year of output price support to raise profitability. Farmers respond to price signals by expanding inputs when subsidized and increasing pulse sales under price supports. However, we see no evidence that the program shifted equilibrium production portfolios as pulses return to pre-intervention levels after the support ends. Results indicate that short-term learning-by-doing cannot overcome long-run barriers to local pulse production, even when farmers have a viable outlet to sell surplus.
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Falling Living Standards during the COVID-19 Crisis: Quantitative Evidence from Nine Developing Countries
(with many co-authors)
Science Advances 7(6): eabe0997 (2021).
Despite numerous journalistic accounts, systematic quantitative evidence on economic conditions during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic remains scarce for most low- and middle-income countries, partly due to limitations of official economic statistics in environments with large informal sectors and subsistence agriculture. We assemble evidence from over 30,000 respondents in 16 original household surveys from nine countries in Africa (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone), Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Philippines), and Latin America (Colombia). We document declines in employment and income in all settings beginning March 2020. The share of households experiencing an income drop ranges from 8 to 87% (median, 68%). Household coping strategies and government assistance were insufficient to sustain precrisis living standards, resulting in widespread food insecurity and dire economic conditions even 3 months into the crisis. We discuss promising policy responses and speculate about the risk of persistent adverse effects, especially among children and other vulnerable groups.
| Paper | Publication | Replication | Policy Brief | Coverage: One Two Three

Working Papers

Declining Mobility among Mexican-Born Workers in the US Labor Force
(with Julian Arteaga)
Geographic mobility is a key component of labor supply elasticity. We document a reversal in the relative migration elasticity of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. relative to native-born workers. In 2000–2012, Mexican immigrants’ location choice was more responsive to local economic conditions, with the gap expanding over the period. This pattern subsequently reversed, and by 2020 native-born workers had a greater migration elasticity than their Mexican-born counterparts. This reversal is unique to immigrants of Mexican origin, does not correspond to geographic differences in immigration policy, and is not explained by the occupational or demographic composition of the Mexican-born labor force.
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Delegation Risk and Implementation at Scale: Evidence from a Migration Loan Program in Bangladesh
(with Harrison Mitchell, A. Mushfiq Mobarak, Karim Naguib, and Maira Reimao)
Many economic policies show promising pilot results that fail to replicate at scale. We demonstrate how delegation of authority to implementing agents can threaten scalability in a randomized evaluation of a migration loan program in Bangladesh. Pilot evaluations found the loan offer to increase temporary migration by 25–40p.p., but this effect fell to 12p.p. at scale. To explain the attenuation, we introduce a theory of delegation risk that leads implementing agents to systematically mistarget intended program beneficiaries. Mistargeting occurs because benefits are concentrated among those enabled to migrate with a loan—i.e. program compliers—but capacity constraints lead effort to be directed toward those already planning to migrate—i.e. always-takers. We present evidence consistent with this theory that the characteristics that predict pre-loan migration are strongly correlated with the likelihood of remembering the loan offer in endline surveying, and we show delegation risk can quantitatively account for the diminished treatment effect. Policy impacts are further tempered by expansion to adjacent geographic regions despite participants being observably similar. We rule out two additional explanations: First, our geographically clustered randomization design reveals treatment intensity crowds in rather than crowds out migrants. Second, changes in population characteristics over time appear to have little influence. Delegation risk identified in this study has the potential to undermine a number of common development policies, and is exacerbated by management practices frequently used by development organizations.
| Paper | Policy brief

Implementer Identity Effects in Program Evaluation
(with Travis Lybbert)
Implementer effectiveness can be as important as policy design in shaping impacts of development interventions. Prior research has documented systematic differences in policy impacts based on the identity of the implementer (e.g. Vivalt2020). We examine how implementer identity affects program evaluation in the context of a package of agricultural subsidies and extension to promote the production of pulse crops in Bihar, India. This program was implemented as a two-year randomized controlled trial by local NGOs with a history of engagement in the area. Endline data includes a laboratory-style incentive-compatible elicitation of participants’ demand for unsubsidized seeds, in which we experimentally vary the salience of the implementer. In one variation we explicitly advertise our evaluation of the implementer’s efforts, while in the other we describe the exercise as a study on the viability of pulse farming. We find that increasing implementer salience lowers demand for pulse seeds, likely because the program was generally viewed as a failure due to adverse weather. However, the negative salience effect is 3–4 times greater in control relative to treatment villages. This disparity is driven largely by program beneficiaries whose demand increases by 20–25% when the implementer is made salient. Salience also differentially lowers demand among those who had participated in prior NGO initiatives that delivered benefits for free, consistent with price anchoring. Our results conform to a model where program beneficiaries reciprocate by delivering positive evaluations of implementers. We demonstrate they may take costly actions to do so in an incentive-compatible demand elicitation, and the effect is quantitatively large: the estimated negative treatment effect is attenuated by 66% when evaluation is made salient. These findings suggest that program evaluation with popular implementers may be subject to a type of Hawthorne effect that systematically biases in favor of success.
| Paper

Skimming off the Top: The Unintended Consequences of Technology Adoption in the Indian Dairy Industry
In India, village dairy cooperatives collect milk from rural producers and sell it in bulk to the regional market. In the last decade the Karnataka Milk Federation, the largest organizer of cooperatives in the Indian state of Karnataka, has invested heavily in bulk milk chillers (BMCs) that drastically lower the time between production and refrigeration. These chillers, by lowering the perceived risk of penalty for spoilage, both raise the potential returns to high quality milk and increase the temptation to engage in unsavory practices such as milk dilution. Risk declines both because chillers better preserve milk and because monitoring at chilling stations is more lax. Therefore the new technology both raises the returns to quality and lowers the cost of cheating. I investigate the net effects of village access to a BMC on the production process through a difference-in-difference approach using village-level data from the district of Kolar. I find that production quantity increases with access to a chiller but average production quality decreases, as does the likelihood of being punished for low quality. The results are consistent with a model in which villagers increase their use of dishonest practices such as dilution after being connected to a BMC because they face less risk of being punished. The effect size is strongest in villages that had the highest quality ex ante, suggesting an equilibrium shift brought on by the change in punishment probability. In addition, I find the strongest evidence of adulteration in villages with fewer outside agricultural options.
| Updated version coming soon

In Progress

Market Effects of a Revenue Insurance Product in Northern Ghana
(with Jon Einar Flatnes and Richard Gallenstein)
RCT Registration: One | Project page

Mexican migration flows and agricultural labor markets in the U.S.
(with Julian Arteaga)

Lights at Night and Measures of Household Wellbeing
(with Xiaoman Luo)

Searching for Poverty Traps in Household Panel Data
(with Mo Alloush)

Asymmetric Information with a Noisy Signal