Working Papers

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

Additional Coverage: Choosing among children: Early childhood investments in India, Ideas For India, 03/11/2019

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%.

Poverty and Migration in the Digital Age: Evidence on Mobile Banking in Bangladesh (with Jean N. Lee, Jonathan MorduchAbu S. Shonchoy and Hassan Zaman)  [Conditionally Accepted: American Economic Journal: Applied Economics]

Additional Coverage: The many dimensions of mobile money: Evidence from Bangladesh, VoxDev, 09/21/2018

Abstract: Mobile banking technology makes it cheaper and easier to move money across distances. Against a background of rapid urbanization in Bangladesh, we estimate the impact of mobile banking in a sample of “ultra-poor” rural households paired with relatives who migrated to find jobs in the capital. The study shows that diffusion of the gains from urbanization is constrained by barriers to remitting money. The technology substantially improved rural economic conditions by better connecting villagers to urban migrants, an idea that contrasts with (and complements) innovations like microfinance that focus on rural self-employment. Participants were trained on how to sign up for and use mobile banking accounts in a randomized encouragement design costing less than $12 per family. Active use of accounts increased substantially, from 22% in the rural control group to 70% in the rural treatment group, and urban-to-rural remittances increased by 30% one year later (relative to the control group). For active users, rural consumption increased by 7.5% and extreme poverty fell. Rural households borrowed less, saved and invested more, and fared better in the lean season. The rate of child labor fell, and we find weak but positive evidence that schooling improved. Rural health indicators were unchanged. Migrants, however, bore costs. They were slightly more likely to be in garment work, saved more, and were less likely to be poor. However, migrants actively using mobile banking reported worse physical and emotional health.

Selected Research in Progress

When is Performance Feedback Effective? Experimental Evidence from India's Integrated Child Development Services Program  [In the Field]

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)  [Fieldwork Complete]

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.

©2019 by Saravana Ravindran.