Working Papers

With Edward Soule and Catherine Tinsley. 

Forthcoming,  Economic Development and Cultural Change. Pre-analysis plan filed with the AEA Registry: AEARCTR-0004846.

Talk: Psychology and Economics of Poverty Convening 2021  Stakeholder Webinar

In  the  context  of  anti-poverty  programs,  what  are  the  benefits  of  marginal  in-vestments  in  interventions  targeting  soft  skills  or  psychological  well-being  comparedto  direct  economic  assistance?   We  make  progress  on  this  question  by  benchmark-ing  two  programs  against  an  unconditional  cash  transfer.   One  targets  participants’self-confidence and sense of agency using personal reflection and storytelling exercises.The other teaches soft skills:  goal setting, public speaking, and networking.  Relativeto cash,  the psychologically-targeted intervention significantly improves psychosocialoutcomes but not economic outcomes, while the soft skills program improves economicoutcomes with few effects on psychosocial outcomes.  However,  when comparing thetwo interventions to one another, effects are statistically indistinguishable along mostoutcomes.   Our  results  highlight  the  potential  for  targeted  marginal  investments  insimilarly designed interventions to improve specific outcomes.

Increasing electricity access can contribute to the dual goals of universal energy access and climate mitigation, but electrification remains low among rural, low-income populations. I examine an understudied explanation: the relationship between electrification and intensive margin electricity prices. A subsidy for solar electricity in Togo reduced intensive margin electricity prices by 18%--42% without changing upfront costs. The subsidy increased adoption of the least expensive systems by 220% and higher capacity systems by up to 48%. My results illustrate the importance of intensive margin costs in the adoption of consumer durables and indicate that long-term affordability is critical in electrification decisions. 

With Wenfeng Qiu. 

Growing concerns about the reliability of empirical research have led to practices that limit researcher degrees of freedom but cannot prevent and detect fraud. We present a simple algorithm that cherry picks large subsets of data yielding spuriously large, statistically significant treatment effects. The subsets are indistinguishable from a random sample. There are few deterrents to such manipulation: our algorithm produces robust results, performs well under complex sampling strategies, and yields artificially high effects on multiple outcomes. Given the potential for cherry picking, we propose a simple institution to prevent this type of fraud.

Prepaid electricity contracts lower enforcement costs but may burden consumers, particularly when market frictions are present. I randomly offer 2,000 rural Rwandese consumers a line of credit for electricity payments that lowers liquidity constraints and transaction costs. Twenty percent borrow and demand for the credit is inelastic; however, the line of credit does not change aggregate demand for electricity. By estimating effects for borrowers, I show that the line of credit creates value for different consumers by lowering liquidity constraints, reducing transaction costs, and enabling consumers to target purchases. The results highlight potential Pareto improvements from more flexible prepaid contracts.

With Julia Seither. Pre-analysis plan filed with the AEA Registry: AEARCTR-0003214Z. Submitted

In contexts where women have few opportunities for wage work, entrepreneurship may be one of the only avenues for economic inclusion. However, women-owned businesses are often less profitable than their male-owned counterparts, and many micro-enterprises do not grow. Does removing non-financial barriers to productive entrepreneurship increase women's incomes and, if so, what happens when women become productive entrepreneurs. We randomize a program targeting ultra-poor women in Uganda that pairs business and entrepreneurship skills development with psychological empowerment. Removing these non-financial barriers generates large effects on business creation and increases profits by 105\% relative to control. Treated women heavily re-invest their profits, spending only 23\% on household consumption. As a result, we detect no effects on household welfare within our study period. However, we document significant, positive spillovers to other businesses and children in the community. Our results highlight the importance of non-financial constraints to productive entrepreneurship while pointing to remaining barriers to private sector development. 

(Blog post)

We know little about demand for electricity in developing country settings after electrification, on the intensive margin. This is despite predictions that most growth in energy use will come from developing countries in the coming decade. In this paper, I study two incentives offered by a pay as you go solar company to 3,200 randomly selected customers in rural Kenya and Rwanda. Both incentives lower the price on selected units of electricity, but differ in the levels of liquidity and attention required to qualify for them. The incentives do not significantly alter demand for electricity. I can largely rule out liquidity constraints and variable utility from electricity as potential explanations, but inattention may contribute to consumer non-responsiveness. I show that consumer non-responsiveness implies a relatively high lower bound on consumer surplus from electricity: $26.31 per household per year in Rwanda and $88.01 in Kenya. Under assumptions allowing for substantial consumer inattention, my estimates drop to $13.15 and $44 in Rwanda and Kenya. My results expand our understanding of consumer decisions about electricity use in rural, low-income settings and suggest that the benefits of electrification in such contexts may be larger than previously believed.  

With Ethan Ligon

Household consumption expenditures are generally the preferred measure of household welfare in low income countries, but surveying households about expenditures is costly. Can short message service (SMS) surveys enable researchers and policymakers to measure household welfare at a high frequency in low income countries? We detail the implementation of a SMS survey on household composition and consumption expenditures in Rwanda and evaluate the efficacy of such surveys for gathering high-frequency data. We successfully calculate a measure of household welfare for households that respond to the SMS survey, and we find that SMS surveys are substantially less costly than equivalent in-person surveys; however, nonresponse is a significant problem. For this reason, our proposed use of high-frequency SMS surveys is to combine them with in-person baseline surveys and leverage the panel nature of the data to compute weights that correct for nonresponse bias.

Work in Progress

Reducing and Reporting IPV: Evidence from a Field Experiment on the Economics of Women's Entrepreneurship

With Maria Sofia Casabianca, Catalina Duran, and Julia Seither. Pre-analysis plan filed with the AEA Registry: AEARCTR-0003214Z

Understanding interlocking barriers to electrification: evidence from subsidized prepaid meters in Benin 

With Arnaud Dakpogan

High upfront connection costs may limit demand for electrification in low-income settings, but such costs may only be one of multiple factors preventing households from connecting to electricity. Imperfect information about the benefits and costs of electrification, technical or behavioral savings constraints, the price of electricity post-adoption, credit constraints for appliance investments, and low-quality service may all pose barriers to electrification even when connection costs are low. Which barriers, either alone or in combination, are responsible for low electricity adoption? Answering this question is critical for designing effective policies for energy access, but it is difficult to study interactions between multiple barriers when connection costs are high. We aim to fill this gap through a partnership with the Ministry of Energy in Benin.