Paper Round-up: Pacific Conference for Development Economics (PacDev) 2018

This post was curated by CEGA staff with an introduction by Travis Lybbert, CEGA affiliate and Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis.

PacDev 2018 (Credit: Alex Russell)

Research communities thrive on a professional engagement that balances skepticism and criticism with encouragement and inspiration. In the past decade, PacDev has become an important venue for such engagement among development economists.

We were happy to host the 2018 edition of PacDev at UC Davis. Compared to the 2007 and 2012 editions, also at UC Davis, the growth of this annual conference has been striking. In 2012, we received 122 submissions for a program of 57 presentations (47% acceptance rate). In 2018, we received over 300 submissions for a program of 64 papers (21% acceptance rate). Attendance nearly doubled to 200 participants.

Needless to say, pulling off such an event demands many hands. Thanks to recent faculty hires at UC Davis and thriving PhD programs in development economics we had plenty of people to pitch in: Our program committee consisted of seven faculty members, 26 PhD students, and several media and event staff. We received generous support from the Agricultural & Resource Economics and Economics Departments at UC Davis, the BASIS Innovation Lab, and CEGA.

In addition to behind the scenes help, we thank the CEGA team for putting together this excellent, succinct synthesis of the research that made PacDev 2018 so stimulating. We look forward to migrating south again next year for the 2019 installment of PacDev at USC.

Session 1A: Women’s Empowerment: Political & Institutional Change

  • After controlling for household factors, grooms with higher education levels have higher dowries, suggesting that dowry inflation observed over the years can be attributed to increased educational attainment. (Chiplunkar and Weaver)
  • Increasing the number of women in lower tier political positions may help to close the gender gap in national politics, by inspiring new female political actors to run at higher levels of government and changing voter behavior. (Brown et al)
  • An inaugural study on the relationship between sex selection and female political representation shows a decline in female births as female political representation increases. (Biswas)

Session 1B: Hope, Hopelessness & Poverty

  • Sponsorship programs in Kenya, Indonesia, and Mexico can lead to greater self-esteem, optimism, hope for a white collar job, and overall life aspirations for children. (Ross et al)
  • A panel study in South Africa shows that income affects psychological well-being, especially for the poor, and that poor individuals with low levels of psychological well-being may be disproportionately affected by poverty. (Alloush)
  • A study in Oaxaca, Mexico suggests that hope can increase microfinance performance and business success. (Rojas Valdes et al)
  • An evaluation of victims of violence in Colombia shows that severe symptoms of psychological trauma can lower perceived prospects of upward mobility and induce hopelessness. (Moya and Carter)

Session 1C: Local Governance & Participation

  • Despite increasing popularity, community-based credit targeting is shown to favor well-connected recipients, rather than selecting recipients based on poverty, productivity or credit history. (Vera-Cossio)
  • Purge of senior officials in China’s anti-corruption campaign was not due to Xi’s efforts to consolidate power; in fact, network connections were not helpful in safeguarding against being purged. Evidence suggest that the campaign was largely a sincere effort to curtail corruption. (Lu and Lorentzen)
  • The ability of local officials to shirk government policies, combined with conditions of surrounding terrain, explain the severity of the Great Leap Forward (GLF) famine (1959–61) in different sub-provinces in China. The more rugged the terrain, the fewer deaths resulted from GLF policies. (Gooch)
  • A study in Pakistan found that community dialogue via in-person meetings and SMS notifications improved access to schools, school performance and overall representation of constituents’ preferences. (Asim and Riaz)

Session 1D: Risk Sharing, Savings & Investment

  • Data on price shocks in India and the effect of in-kind food subsidies on food consumption support the claim that in-kind transfers have the potential to out-perfom cash transfers in situations where there is price volatility. (Gadenne et al)
  • An RCT on the uptake of incentive-linked savings accounts in Mexico finds a 41% increase in accounts opened in treatment group over control group. A five year follow-up indicates that the increase and transaction rates hold up over time. (Gertler et al)
  • In Kenya, the more social connections a community has, the more likely households are to informally cope with risk; individuals with stronger social ties are 31% more likely to “risk share” than those who are less socially connected. (Jain)

Session 1E: Structural Change & Resource (Mis)Allocation

  • Farmers in India respond to price supports by over-investing in supported staple crops, drawing labor supply away from the more productive non-agricultural sector, with significant negative implications for gross output. (Krishnaswamy)
  • A review of data from 35 countries finds that increases in the supply of intermediate inputs — i.e., outsourced services — provide positive shocks in the value added share of output. (Hu)
  • Barriers to women’s non-agricultural employment in developing-country economies drive overallocation of women to the agriculture sector. Data from 69 countries show that this misallocation of female labor distorts productivity. (Lee)
PacDev 2018 (Credit: Steve Boucher)

Session 2A: Women’s Decisionmaking Power: Economics, Law and Domestic Violence

  • Physical domestic violence is associated with a 19% increase in female employment in Colombia, largely driven by a desire by these women to find employment as a way to separate from an abusive relationship. (Fajardo-Gonzalez)
  • Evidence from Mexico reveals that policies that make it easier to get divorced decrease emotional, sexual, and economic intimate partner violence (IPV), despite having little to no effect on physical IPV. (Garcia-Ramos)
  • Traditional beliefs that women are less competitive than men don’t hold up: evidence from China suggests that men and women simply respond to different incentives to compete (child-benefiting incentives for women, and cash-based incentives for men.) (Cassar et al)

Session 2B: Health & Behavioral Economics

  • When children are more educated in China, we see multiple positive casual effects on their parents including cognition function, expected survival, lung function, body weight of older parents, labor supply and psychological well-being. (Ma)
  • While respondents in Kenya change their reproductive desires a lot, they’re not aware of having changed their mind — especially those who now want more children. Motivated reasoning and current preferences shaping the recall of past preferences are two possible explanations. (Johnson-Hanks et al)
  • In a study of social signaling in Kenya, colored “signaling” bracelets increased take-up of a community deworming treatment by over 20%, while ink applied to the thumb had minimal effects. The “signaling” bracelets were three times as effective as a small material incentive.(Karing and Naguib)

Session 2C: Quality & Delivery of Public Services

  • The presence of political opposition in city councils in Brazil helps to reduce corruption and improve public service delivery by significantly reducing embezzlement opportunities, increasing the probability that a physician will be present at local health clinics, and decreasing the infant mortality rate for uneducated mothers. (Poulsen)
  • Outsourcing management of schools in Liberia, while more expensive, improved student performance (per standardized tests) and reduced absenteeism. (Romero et al)

Session 2D: Impacts of Shocks on Behavior & Personality: Junior Researchers’ Work

  • Peruvian farmers, especially younger ones, respond to drought and highly variable rainfall by conserving water. Fertilizer use also increases with weather shocks (though less drastically) but soil conservation practices do not. (Tambet)
  • Threats to national identity increase members of the Peruvian public’s willingness to pay for agro-biodiversity programs more so than maintaining quinoa varietal diversity, agricultural productivity, or landscape conservation. (Scott and Elmes)
  • Collected drawings from Syrian refugee children who have been re-integrated into non-camp communities in Jordan show evidence of reduced anxiety, depression, and PTSD. (Panlilio)
  • The personalities of ultra-poor graduation program participants seem to be sensitive to shocks. Conscientiousness and agreeableness increase after goods or services are received, but decrease during drought. Drought also increases neuroticism in men. (Mehra)

Session 2E: Industrialization & Industrial Organization

  • The Industrial Areas program in India, which established industrial firms in areas that had previously been restricted to agriculture, triggered a “structural transformation” of the economy by increasing the number of firms and employment, and generating substantial spillovers to neighboring villages. (Blakeslee et al)
  • The targeted industrialization of remote parts of China during the Cold War had positive long term effect on the local economy, but had no significant effect on the aggregate efficiency of the country. (Fan and Zou)
  • According to cell phone metadata, incidents of violence led firms in Afghanistan to leave the local market for up to six months, with some larger firms exiting the market all together. (Blumenstock et al)

Keynote: Paul Neihaus (UC San Diego, GiveDirectly, Segovia)

In his talk, Paul Niehaus encouraged the development economics community to “think bigger” when conducting large-scale experiments that could have greater policy impacts. He also challenged researchers to be more thoughtful and explicit about how smaller studies are designed in order to clarify scalability and thus maximize impact.

Paul Niehaus (Credit: Alex Russell)

Session 3A: Education

  • Secondary students in Uganda who were selected to watch “Queen of Katwe,” an aspirational movie featuring a potential role-model, were less likely to fail national exams 1–4 weeks later. (Riley)
  • Vocational training in Uganda led to a 20% increase in employment and 34% increase in earnings. Providing vocational training to workers proved more effective than offering firms wage subsidies to train workers on-the-job because of certifiable and sector-specific skills. (Alfonsi et al)
  • In India, an elite public college rollout increased primary/secondary education in the district by .3 years, increased the number of private schools, and led to investments in electricity, road and water services. (Jagnani and Khanna)
  • When some positions in governments and universities are reserved for low caste groups, low-caste students on average get more education to meet eligibility requirements. There is no impact on other disadvantaged groups. (Khanna)

Session 3B: Violence & Conflict

  • Increasing the intensity of defection messages to rebels from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led to increases in defections and a decrease in violence in Uganda. (Armand et al)
  • Threats of force such as those carried out in Afghanistan under the Bush Doctrine do not lead to an expansion of local government ownership. (Downey)
  • Evidence from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict since 2014 shows that firms in more ethno-linguistically Russian areas in Ukraine decreased trade with Russia less than ethno-linguistically Ukrainian areas, suggesting animosity as a primary mechanism (rather than other conflict-related barriers). (Korovkin and Makarin)
  • Worsening climate change will likely increase rates of homicides in Mexico due to the psychological and income-related effects of weather fluctuations on criminal behavior. (Garg et al)

Session 3C: Political Economy: Social and Geographic Distance & Bureaucratic Turnover

  • Bureaucrats allocated to their home states in India are perceived to be more corrupt than bureaucrats from other states, especially in states that are more corrupt. (Xu et al)
  • In municipalities in Brazil where political appointees influence education policy, turnover can negatively affect students’ test scores. (Akhtari et al)
  • More remote villages in India experience lower-quality public goods provision than comparable villages closer to towns, due to the high cost of monitoring the provision of these goods. (Asher et al)

Session 3D: Assets & Technology Adoption in Agriculture

  • Targeting strategies may increase adoption of a hybrid maize seed among typical sellers, but does not have welfare impacts among buyers who are not targeted. (Bird)
  • Inorganic fertilizer use among Bolivian farmers, though apparently profitable, is lower than in other South American countries. But inefficiencies in input allocation stem from overuse of purchased seed rather than underuse of fertilizer. (McArthur)
  • A livestock transfer and training program that yields improvements in women’s empowerment and financial inclusion indirectly benefits others when a low-cost “pay it forward” component is added (at least in the short-term). (Janzen et al)
  • Perceptions of self-efficacy among farming households in Mozambique and Tanzania impact adoption behavior. Attributing production variance to weather — demonstrating an external locus of control — is associated with lower adoption of improved maize varieties. (Malacarne)

Session 3E: Firm Productivity & Wage Work

  • The assumption that a firm’s choice of intermediate inputs depends only on the observed choices of other inputs and on unobserved productivity fails when firms are constrained or face other market distortions. (Shenoy)
  • New evidence suggests that an imbalance in the design of China’s water quality monitoring system will lead to 150 billion USD worth of losses in industrial output per year, as the country works to decrease their level of water pollution. (He et al)
  • The expectation of job opportunities leads entrepreneurs to reduce their firm size in developing countries; this finding was confirmed by measuring trade-induced changes in employment opportunities in large export manufacturing firms. (Koelle)
PacDev 2018 (Credit: Alex Russell)

Session 4A: Political Economy: Information, Entry & Elections

  • Providing free access to a lawyer helps motivate potential candidates to run for office, although they are not any more successful in getting elected than candidates who do not receive support. (Gulzar and Khan)
  • An experiment in which the same anti-incumbent message was randomly shown to opposition and incumbent voters in Turkey increased polarization of a referendum result, suggesting that incumbent parties can exploit access to higher quality data on voters to maintain power. (Baysan)
  • A randomized evaluation of election results in Liberia shows that improved voter information can promote accountability in public good provision. (Romero et al)
  • Computerization of land titling records in Pakistan formalized property rights, stimulating activity in land, tenancy and labor markets. (Beg)

Session 4B: Environment and Development

  • After a natural disaster (volcanic eruption) in Ecuador, informal economic arrangements fell apart in communities with homogeneous wealth distribution. (Stephane)
  • A study of the ecological footprint of transport infrastructure in India reveals that while the expansion of highways has had a large negative effect on forest cover, “last mile” rural roads have had virtually no effect. (Asher et al)
  • Information campaigns in Mozambique (such as reminding farmers of their water allocation) can reduce water scarcity during a dry spell. (Christian et al)

Session 4C: Tax Compliance Enforcement and Compliance with Labor Legislation

  • Evidence from Colombia suggests that the employment of inspectors to monitor labor legislation compliance increases formal employment by around 2 percentage points, but the effect is mostly concentrated in the formal economy. (Pignatti)
  • Results from a large-scale experiment in Uruguay on tax compliance suggest that information campaigns around audits can be a significant deterrent for tax evaders. (Bergolo et al)
  • By merging tax records with the leaked “Panama Papers” to track the worst tax evaders in Colombia, researchers found that tax amnesty incentives had the greatest impact on compliance for wealthy individuals. (Londono-Velez and Avila)

Session 4D: Satellite & Other Big Data to Measure Poverty, Competition & Economic Activity

  • Imagery from Digital Globe, Planet, and the GoogleNet neural network may be more effective at mapping poverty than nighttime lights, as they afford higher resolution and greater frequency. (Babenko et al)
  • Landsat data may be better at mapping economic activity than nighttime lights, as a high level of economic activity can be detected. (Goldblatt et al)
  • Enforcing a competition policy for telecommunications providers in Rwanda would likely reduce costs and improve welfare, although it would not have an effect on overall investment. (Bjorkegren)

If you would like to suggest a correction to any of the above summaries, please email CEGA Communications Associate, Dustin Marshall, at