Saravana Ravindran

National University of Singapore

Abstract: Rapid urbanization is reshaping economies and intensifying spatial inequalities. In Bangladesh, we experimentally introduced mobile banking to very poor rural households and family members who had migrated to the city, testing whether mobile technology can reduce inequality by modernizing traditional ways to transfer money. One year later, for active mobile banking users, urban-to-rural remittances increased by 26% of the baseline mean. Rural consumption increased by 7.5% and extreme poverty fell. Rural households borrowed less, saved more, sent additional migrants, and consumed more in the lean season. Urban migrants experienced less poverty and saved more, but bore costs, reporting worse health.

Abstract: The initial spread of COVID-19 halted economic activity as countries around the world restricted the mobility of their citizens. As a result, many migrant workers returned home, spreading the virus across borders. We investigate the relationship between migrant movements and the spread of COVID-19 using district-day-level data from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan (the 1st, 6th, and 7th largest sources of international migrant workers). We find that during the initial stage of the pandemic, a 1 SD increase in prior international out-migration relative to the district-wise average in India and Pakistan predicts a 48% increase in the number of cases per capita. In Bangladesh, however, the estimates are not statistically distinguishable from zero. Domestic out-migration predicts COVID-19 diffusion in India, but not in Bangladesh and Pakistan. In all three countries, the association of COVID-19 cases per capita and measures of international out-migration increases over time. The results show how migration data can be used to predict coronavirus hotspots. More broadly, the results are consistent with large cross-border negative externalities created by policies aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 in migrant-receiving countries.

Abstract: Violence against women is a problem worldwide, with economic costs ranging from 1-4% of global GDP. Using variation in the intensity of government-mandated lockdowns in India, we show that domestic violence complaints increase by 0.47 SD in districts with the strictest lockdown rules. We find similarly large increases in cybercrime complaints. Interestingly, rape and sexual assault complaints decrease 0.4 SD during the same period in districts with the strictest lockdowns, consistent with decreased female mobility in public spaces, public transport, and workplaces. Attitudes toward domestic violence play an important role in the reporting and incidence of domestic violence during the lockdown.

Abstract: The adoption of technologies with network externalities is influenced by who has already adopted or is likely to adopt. We investigate family-based network externalities through a randomized experiment on adoption of a mobile banking service in Bangladesh. Adoption increases by 18.7 percentage points when female urban migrants are trained on the technology after their rural-based families. Adoption increases by 11.4 percentage points when male migrants receive a pro-family marketing treatment. The results show that network effects shape patterns of financial inclusion, and they demonstrate that gender gaps can narrow or widen depending on the way that the technology is promoted.

Parental Investments and Early Childhood Development: Short and Long Run Evidence from India

Finalist, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Dissertation Prize 2019, University of Chicago

[Poster] Additional Coverage: Choosing among children: Early childhood investments in India, Ideas For India.

Abstract: The overall impacts of early childhood programs depend on both the direct impacts on exposed cohorts, as well as the indirect impacts that arise due to intra-household reallocation of parental investments. To study these effects, I collected historical administrative data from the rollout of the Integrated Child Development Services program in India, the largest early childhood development program in the world. Children exposed to the program were significantly less likely to be malnourished and more likely to be able to read and do math. Adults exposed to the program when young showed significant improvements in various measures of health. They were also significantly more likely to be literate, employed, and earn a higher wage. However, I show that parents reallocated their investments towards children exposed to an increase in program intensity, as evidenced by negative spillovers on siblings. This crowd-out of investments is particularly severe for girls. Accounting for the negative spillovers on siblings reduces the internal rate of return of the program by approximately 9%.

Selected Research in Progress

When is Performance Feedback Effective? Experimental Evidence from India's Integrated Child Development Services Program

Abstract: Absenteeism and low morale are common problems among providers of public health services in developing countries. Performance feedback has often been suggested as a way to overcome such problems, with mixed results. Through a large cross-randomized intervention, I ask the following: (1) Do workers change their behavior in response to feedback on their own performance, in addition to feedback on the performance of workers they regularly interact with? (2) When is such feedback particularly effective? (3) Do key outcomes such as malnutrition change as a result of changes in worker behavior? I ask these questions in the setting of India’s Integrated Child Development Services program, which provides healthcare services to children under six years of age. The proposed experiment is low-cost and can easily be scaled up.

Schooling, Health, and Willingness to Pay for Solar Lanterns in Bangladesh (with Abu S. Shonchoy)

Abstract: Beliefs over the effectiveness of new technologies play an important role in the technology adoption decisions of households in developing countries. To generate exogenous variation in these beliefs, we conducted a randomized field experiment in un-electrified areas of Bangladesh. The experiment introduced households in the treatment group to solar lanterns and leased the product to households for a period of sixteen months. We find that treated households substituted to solar lanterns from kerosene-based lighting products. However, children in treated households did not perform better in school examinations. Furthermore, the lanterns had no noticeable improvement in respiratory symptoms among treated students. Consequently, we find that households in the treatment group revised their beliefs on the impacts of the lanterns downward after the lease period, displaying significantly lower willingness to pay for lanterns in comparison to households in the control group.


Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
National University of Singapore
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