English

Labor-intensive public works programs are important social protection tools in low- income settings, intended to supplement the income of poor households and improve public infrastructure. In this evaluation of the Malawi Social Action Fund, an at- scale, government-operated program, across- and within-village randomization is used to estimate effects on food security and use of fertilizer. There is no evidence that the program improves food security, and suggestive evidence of negative spillovers to untreated households. These disappointing results hold even under modifications to the design of the program to offer work during the lean rather than harvest season or increase the frequency of payments. 

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Working Paper
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March 09, 2016
English

We implemented a randomized intervention among Malawian farmers aimed at facilitating formal savings for agricultural inputs. Treated farmers were offered the opportunity to have their cash crop harvest proceeds deposited directly into new bank accounts in their own names, while farmers in the control group were paid harvest proceeds in cash (the status quo). The treatment led to higher savings in the months immediately prior to the next agricultural planting season, and raised agricultural input usage in that season. We also find positive treatment effects on subsequent crop sale proceeds and household expenditures. Because the treatment effect on savings was only a small fraction of the treatment effect on the value of agricultural inputs, mechanisms other than alleviation of savings constraints per se are needed to explain the treatment’s impact on input utilization. We discuss other possible mechanisms through which treatment effects may have operated.

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Published Paper
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January 01, 2016
English

We implement an artefactual field experiment in rural Malawi to study revisions of prior choices regarding future income receipts. This allows examination of intertemporal choice revision and its determinants. New tests provide evidence of self-control problems for some participants. Revisions of money allocations toward the present are positively associated with refined measures of present-bias from an earlier survey, and with the randomly assigned closeness in time to the first possible date of money disbursement. We find little evidence that revisions of allocations toward the present are associated with spousal preferences for such revision, household shocks, or the financial sophistication of respondents.

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Working Paper
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January 01, 2016
English
To explain persistent gender gaps in market outcomes, a lab experimental literature explores whether women and men have innate differences in ability (or attitudes or preferences), and a separate field-based literature studies discrimination against women in market settings. We posit that even if women have innate ability that is comparable to that of men, their relative performance may suffer in the market if the task requires them to interact with others in society, and they are subject to discrimination in those interactions. We test these ideas using a large-scale field experiment in 142 Malawian villages where men or women were randomly assigned the task of learning about a new agricultural technology, and then communicating it to others to convince them to adopt. Even though female communicators learn and retain the new information better, and those taught by women experience higher farm yields, the women are not as successful at teaching or convincing others to adopt. Micro-data on individual interactions from 4000 farmers in these villages suggest that other farmers perceive female communicators to be less able, and pay less attention to the women’s messages. 
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Working Paper
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November 18, 2015
English

Beginning with the seminal article in 1971 by Lucas and Prescott, economists have examined investments under uncertainty in a variety of contexts. Becker et al. (1977) applied this concept to marriage suggesting that increased uncertainty in marriage (i.e., the likelihood of separation or divorce) reduces the incentive for spouses to invest in marriagespecific capital. Several studies have found that reducing the barriers to marital dissolution, through no-fault divorce laws for example, is associated with lower investments in marriage-specific goods (Landes, 1978; Johnson and Skinner, 1986; Peters, 1986; Lommerud, 1988; Lundberg and Rose, 1999; Stevenson, 2007).1 Similar studies have found that with greater uncertainty about paternity, 1 Other papers in economics have examined the impact of outside options in marriage and contracts affecting marital outcomes (Rasul, 2006; Rasul and Mathoushek, 2008; South and Lloyd, 1995). men are less willing to invest in their alleged offspring and more likely to divorce their wives (Alexander, 1974; Anderson et al., 2005). In this paper we examine the relationship between uncertainty and marriage stability in rural Malawi. In particular, we examine how uncertainty about a spouses’ HIV status, and thus the risk of HIV exposure, affects the likelihood of divorce.

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Working Paper
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March 30, 2015

Despite regulatory efforts designed to make it easier for firms to formalize, informality remains extremely high among firms in Sub-Saharan Africa. In most of the region, business registration in a national registry is separate from tax registration. This paper provides initial results from an experiment in Malawi that randomly allocated firms into a control group and three treatment groups: a) a group offered assistance for costless business registration; b) a group offered assistance with costless business registration and (separate) tax registration; and c) a group offered assistance for costless business registration along with an information session at a bank that ended with the offer of business bank accounts. The study finds that all three treatments had extremely large impacts on business registration, with 75 percent of those offered assistance receiving a business registration certificate. The findings offer a cost-effective way of getting firms to formalize in this dimension. However, in common with other studies, information and assistance has a limited impact on tax registration. The paper measures the short-term impacts of formalization on financial access and usage. Business registration alone has no impact for either men or women on bank account usage, savings, or credit. However, the combination of formalization assistance and the bank information session results in significant impacts on having a business bank account, financial practices, savings, and use of complementary financial products.

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Working Paper
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January 01, 2015

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