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A word cloud of the most commonly used words in the titles of Esther Duflu's research papers and other publications.

More than fifteen years ago, Esther Duflo wrote that while research measuring poverty and its link to inequality has flourished in recent years, the evidence on policies that effectively reduce poverty is harder to come by. “One is left to hope that research will follow in this domain as well.” Two weeks ago, Esther Duflo won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, together with Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer, “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.” She has contributed dozens of studies to fill the very gap that she highlighted. Despite having finished her PhD just 20 years ago, she has published more than a hundred research publications, including research articles, policy articles summarizing research, book chapters, book reviews, comments on others’ research, and books. In the blog post below, you’ll find a quick introduction to almost all of them, grouped by academic citations per year since publication. Within categories, I’ve ordered studies chronologically. (I’ve linked to open-access versions of the articles wherever possible; you can find the published versions in Google Scholar.)

In case you missed it, I did a similar round-up of Michael Kremer’s work last week. Look out for one on Abhijit Banerjee coming up.

Platinum Hits

  • Schooling and Labor Market Consequences of School Construction in Indonesia: Evidence from an Unusual Policy Experiment”: “Between 1973 and 1978, the Indonesian Government constructed over 61,000 primary schools throughout the country. This is one of the largest school construction programs on record. I evaluate the effect of this program on education and wages… The construction of primary schools led to an increase in education and earnings.” (2001)

  • The role of information and social interactions in retirement plan decisions: Evidence from a randomized experiment”: This is Duflo’s first published randomized experiment. A random sample of university employees were encouraged “to attend a benefits information fair” for a tax-deferred retirement plan. Attendance at the fair increased fivefold for those invited and tripled for those in their departments. Enrollment in the plan went up too, both for invitees and their peers. (with Saez, 2003)

  • Inequality and Growth: What Can the Data Say?”: “It is often that the most basic questions in economics turn out to be the hardest to answer and the most provocative answers end up being the bravest and the most suspect. Thus it is with the empirical literature on the effect of inequality on growth… Changes in inequality (in any direction) are associated with lower future growth rates.”  (with Banerjee, 2003)

  • Grandmothers and Granddaughters: Old Age Pension and Intra-household Allocation in South Africa”: Pensions received by women in South Africa increased their granddaughters’ weight and height, but not that of their grandsons’. Pensions for men had no such effect. (2003)

  • Women as Policy Makers: Evidence from a Randomized Policy Experiment in India”: “Since the mid-1990’s, one third of Village Council head positions in India have been randomly reserved for a woman: In these councils only women could be elected to the position of head… We show that the reservation of a council seat affects the types of public goods provided. Specifically, leaders invest more in infrastructure that is directly relevant to the needs of their own genders.” (with Chattopadhyay, 2004)

  • How Much Should We Trust Difference in Differences Estimates?”: A common strategy for evaluating the impact of programs is difference-in-differences. But the conventional way of calculating standard errors for these estimates severely overstates statistical significance. (with Mullainathan and Bertrand, 2004)

  • Remedying Education: Evidence from Two Randomized Experiments in India”: “A remedial education program” that “hired young women to teach students lagging behind in basic literacy and numeracy skills…increased average test scores of all children in treatment schools by 0.28 standard deviation... A computer-assisted learning program focusing on math increased math scores by 0.47 standard deviation.” (with Banerjee et al., 2007)

  • Using Randomization in Development Economics Research: A Toolkit”: “A practical guide (a toolkit) for researchers, students and practitioners wishing to introduce randomization as part of a research design in the field.” (with Kremer and Glennerster, 2008)

  • The Economic Lives of the Poor”: Survey data from 13 countries help to document the economic lives of poor people. There are surprises: The poor spend less on food and more on entertainment than one might expect. (with Banerjee, 2007)

  • Nudging Farmers to Use Fertilizer: Theory and Experimental Evidence from Kenya”: “Many farmers in Western Kenya fail to take advantage of apparently profitable fertilizer investments, but they do invest in response to small, time-limited discounts on the cost of acquiring fertilizer (free delivery) just after harvest.” (with Kremer and Robinson, 2011)

  • Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty”: “Poor Economics is a book about the very rich economics that emerges from understanding the economic lives of the poor. It is a book about the kinds of theories that help us make sense of both what the poor are able to achieve, and where and for that reason they need a push.” (with Banerjee, 2011)

  • Female Leadership Raises Aspirations and Educational Attainment for Girls: A Policy Experiment in India”: “A 1993 law reserved leadership positions for women in randomly selected village councils. Using 8,453 surveys of adolescents aged 11–15 and their parents in 495 villages, we find that, compared to villages that were never reserved, the gender gap in aspirations closed by 25% in parents and 32% in adolescents in villages assigned to a female leader for two election cycles. The gender gap in adolescent educational attainment is erased and girls spent less time on household chores.” (with Beaman et al., 2012)

  • Women Empowerment and Economic Development”: “Women empowerment and economic development are closely related: in one direction, development alone can play a major role in driving down inequality between men and women; in the other direction, empowering women may benefit development. Does this imply that pushing just one of these two levers would set a virtuous circle in motion? This paper … argues that the interrelationships are probably too weak to be self-sustaining, and that continuous policy commitment to equality for its own sake may be needed to bring about equality between men and women.” (2012)

  • The Diffusion of Microfinance”: If the first people who find out about a microfinance program in a community are well-connected, then community participation will be higher. But people hear about the program even from non-participants. (with Banerjee et al., 2013)

  • Do Firms Want to Borrow More: Testing Credit Constraints Using a Targeted Lending Program”: A policy experiment reveals that many Indian firms were “severely credit constrained, and that the marginal rate of return to capital was very high for these firms.” The way you can tell is that they use a new credit source to expand production rather than to substitute for other forms of credit. (with Banerjee, 2014)

  • A multifaceted program causes lasting progress for the very poor: Evidence from six countries”: A holistic approach to help the poor that combined “the transfer of a productive asset with consumption support, training, and coaching plus savings encouragement and health education and/or services” across six different countries increased consumption and mental health. The positive impacts lasted at least a year after the program ended. (with Banerjee et al., 2015)

  • The Miracle of Microfinance? Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation”: A microcredit program in India led to “no significant changes in health, education, or women’s empowerment.” (with Banerjee et al., 2015)

  • Field Experiments on Discrimination”: “Perhaps because so much of economists’ attention has been devoted to using field experiments to measure the extent of discrimination, there has been much less activity in designing creative ways to better document either its consequences or ways to undermine it.” (with Bertrand, 2017)

Gold Hits

  • Reputation Effects and the Limits of Contracting: A Study of the Indian Software Industry”: “We find strong effects of reputation (measured in several different ways) on the choice of contracts and the contractual outcomes.” (with Banerjee, 2000)

  • Participation and Investment Decisions in a Retirement Plan: The Influence of Colleagues’ Choices”: Employees at a large university were influenced by their peers on whether to enroll in a university-sponsored tax-deferred retirement plan. (with Saez, 2002) Instrumental variables at play in early Duflo.

  • Use of Randomization in the Evaluation of Development Effectiveness”: “Current evaluation practices often encounter problems that prevent them from effectively determining program impact, and … there is considerable scope for greater use of randomized evaluation methods in addressing these problems.” (with Kremer, 2005)

  • Growth Theory through the Lens of Development Economics”: “Above all, we need better growth theory… This is an exciting time to think about growth. We are beginning to see the contours of a new vision, both more rooted in evidence and more ambitious in its theorizing.” (with Banerjee, 2005)

  • Dams”: “The construction of large dams is one of the most costly and controversial forms of public infrastructure investment in developing countries, but little is known about their impact.” In India, “in a district where a dam is built, agricultural production does not increase but poverty does,” but “districts located downstream from the dam benefit from increased irrigation and see agricultural production increase and poverty fall.” (with Pande, 2007)

  • How High Are Rates of Return to Fertilizer? Evidence from Field Experiments in Kenya”: For farmers, using fertilizer is highly profitable. But relatively few farmers use it. But there is a solution! “Offering farmers the option to buy fertilizer (at the full market price, but with free delivery) immediately after the harvest leads to an increase of at least 33 percent in the proportion of farmers using fertilizer, an effect comparable to that of a 50 percent reduction in the price of fertilizer.” (with Kremer and Robinson) Personal note: As a graduate student research assistant, I helped to set up this experiment. You can find me in the acknowledgements.

  • What is Middle Class about the Middle Classes around the World?”: Using household surveys from 13 countries, you can read this as a companion piece to Banerjee and Duflo’s “The Economic Lives of the Poor.” “Nothing seems more middle class than the fact of having a steady well-paying job. While there are many petty entrepreneurs among the middle class… if they could only find the right salaried job, they might be quite content to shut their business down.”  (with Banerjee, 2008)

  • The Experimental Approach to Development Economics”: The authors lay out the promise of and concerns with an experimental approach to development economics. “Economists are sometimes well placed to propose or identify programs that are likely to make big differences. Perhaps even more importantly, they are often in a position to midwife the process of policy discovery, based on the interplay of theory and experimental research. This process of ‘creative experimentation,’ where policymakers and researchers work together to think out of the box and learn from successes and failures, is the most valuable contribution of the recent surge in experimental work in economics.” (with Banerjee, 2009)

  • Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias?”: How does randomly assigning Indian villages to have quotas for female leaders affect views about women leaders? “Villagers rate their women leaders as less effective when exposed to them for the first, but not second, time. These changes in attitude are electorally meaningful: after 10 years of the quota policy, women are more likely to stand for and win free seats in villages that have been continuously required to have a female chief councillor.” (with Beaman et al., 2009)

  • Improving Immunization Coverage in Rural India: A Clustered Randomized Controlled Evaluation of Immunization Campaigns with and without Incentives”: Setting up reliable immunization camps in rural India showed that “improving reliability of services improves immunization rates, and small, non-financial incentives have large positive impacts on the uptake of immunization services in resource-poor areas.” (with Banerjee et al., 2010)

  • Pitfalls of Participatory Programs: Evidence from a randomized evaluation in education in India”: In India, “training volunteers to hold remedial reading camps” improved literacy for attendees, but two other interventions to get communities involved in education “had no impact on community involvement.” (with Banerjee et al., 2010)

  • Happiness on Tap: Piped Water Adoption in Urban Morocco”: “Connecting private dwellings to the water main is expensive and typically cannot be publicly financed. We show that households’ willingness to pay for a private connection is high when it can be purchased on credit, not because a connection improves health but because it increases the time available for leisure and reduces inter- and intra-household conflicts on water matters, leading to sustained improvements in well-being.” (with Devoto et al., 2012)

  • Incentives Work: Getting Teachers to Come to School”: In rural India, “teachers’ attendance was monitored daily using cameras,” and they received bonuses if their attendance exceeded a monthly minimum. “Absenteeism by teachers fell by 21 percentage points relative to the control group, and children’s test scores increased by 0.17 standard deviations.” (with anddddxxHanna and Ryan, 2012)

  • Do Labor Market Policies Have Displacement Effects? Evidence from a Clustered Randomized Experiment”: A job placement program in France helped youth to find stable jobs, but the effects were transitory, and “they appear to have come partly at the expense of eligible workers who did not benefit from the program.” (with Crépon et al., 2013)

  • Turning a Shove into a Nudge? A ‘Labeled Cash Transfer’ for Education”: Labelling a cash transfer as an education support program in Morocco increased school participation. Applying conditions or targeting it to mothers didn’t make any difference. (with Benhassine et al., 2015)

  • School Governance, Teacher Incentives, and Pupil-Teacher Ratios: Experimental Evidence from Kenyan Primary Schools”: Schools in Kenya were selected at random to hire “an additional teacher on an annual contract renewable conditional on performance.” Students who stayed with teachers on regular contracts saw no learnings gains despite dramatically smaller classes, but students with the locally hired contract teachers showed test score improvements. (with Dupas and Kremer, 2015)

  • Estimating the impact of microcredit on those who take it up: Evidence from a randomized experiment in Morocco”: In rural Morocco, just 13 percent of households chose to take a microfinance loan. People bought things to help with their self-employment activities (like agricultural inputs) but reduced their casual labor, so “there was no gain in measured income or consumption.” (with Crépon et al., 2015)

  • Education, HIV and Early Fertility: Experimental Evidence from Kenya”: Education subsidies reduce adolescent girls’ dropout, pregnancy, and marriage but not sexually transmitted infection… The government’s HIV curriculum, which stresses abstinence until marriage, does not reduce pregnancy or STI.” (with Dupas and Kremer, 2015)

  • Up in Smoke: The Influence of Household Behavior on the Long-Run Impact of Improved Cooking Stoves”: Improved cooking stoves in India initially reduced smoke inhalation, but “this effect disappears by year two… Households used the stoves irregularly and inappropriately, failed to maintain them, and usage declined over time.” (with Hanna and Greenstone, 2016)

Hits

  • Child Health and Household Resources: Evidence from the South African Old-Age Pension Program”: “The Old Age Pension program in South Africa has led to an improvement in the health and nutrition of children, especially girls. This effect is entirely due to pensions received by women. The effects are large.” (2000)

  • Scaling Up and Evaluation”: “For international agencies there is no real trade-off between scaling up and evaluation. On the contrary, evaluation can give them an opportunity to leverage the impact of their programs well beyond their ability to finance them.” (2004)

  • The Medium Run Consequences of Educational Expansion: Evidence from a Large School Construction Program in Indonesia”: A massive school-building initiative by the Indonesian government in the 1970s led to more education. “An increase of 10 percentage points in the proportion of primary school graduates in the labor force reduced the wages of the older cohorts by 3.8% to 10% and increased their formal labor force participation by 4% to 7%.” (2004)

  • Health Care Delivery in Rural Rajasthan”: “The picture painted by our data is bleak: villagers’ health is poor despite the fact that they heavily use health care facilities and spend a lot on health care.” (with Banerjee and Deaton, 2004)

  • Wealth, Health, and Health Services in Rural Rajasthan”: Villagers’ health is poor; the quality of the public service is abysmal; private providers unregulated and for the most part unqualified provide the bulk of health care in the area… Yet, as we have seen for the self-reported health status, villagers not only do not perceive their health as particularly bad, but they seem pretty content with what they are getting.” (with Banerjee and Deaton, 2004)

  • Poor but Rational?”: “What is needed is a theory of how poverty influences decision-making, not only by affecting the constraints, but by changing the decision-making process itself. That theory can then guide a new round of empirical research, both observational and experimental.” (2006)

  • Saving Incentives for Low- and Middle-Income Families: Evidence from a Field Experiment with H&R Block”: “We analyze a randomized experiment in which 14,000 tax filers in H&R Block offices in St. Louis received matches of zero, 20 percent, or 50 percent of IRA contributions. Take-up rates were 3 percent, 8 percent, and 14 percent, respectively.” (with Gale et al., 2006)

  • Addressing Absence”: Bringing “together evidence from a number of randomized experiments designed to address the problem of absence of teachers and health providers in developing countries… our tentative conclusion is that these service providers are willing to respond even to quite moderate incentives.” The problem? “Getting the incentives implemented: participants in the system, including both supervisors and beneficiaries, seem unwilling or unable do so.” (with Banerjee, 2006)

  • Putting Band Aid on a Corpse: Incentives for Nurses in the Indian Public Health Care System”: Absenteeism is a big problem in India’s health care system. A new monitoring system, with financial incentives for good attendance and adverse consequences for the worst offenders, was effective at first. “But after a few months, the local health administration appears to have undermined the scheme from the inside by letting the nurses claim an increasing number of ‘exempt days.’ Eighteen months after its inception, the program had become completely ineffective.” (with Banerjee and Glennerster, 2007)

  • Indoor Air Pollution, Health and Economic Well-being”: “Indoor air pollution (IAP) may have potentially large impacts on the health and well-being of poor families… Although the literature is growing, there is currently a deficit of information on the impacts of IAP on health, and even less on the impacts on the economic well-being of the family, with much of the evidence…resulting from observational studies.” (with Greenstone and Hanna, 2008)

  • Giving Credit Where it is Due”: “The experimental literature on credit markets in developing countries shows the powerful connections between empirical research and theory in development economics. Empirical work in this area has drawn directly on a well-developed body of theoretical research, testing and finding support for some theories, but not others, and has gone on to generate new puzzles that the theory needs to explain.” (with Banerjee, 2010)

  • Peer Effects and the Impacts of Tracking: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Kenya”: “To the extent that students benefit from high-achieving peers,” grouping students by ability (or “tracking”) “will help strong students and hurt weak ones. However, all students may benefit if tracking allows teachers to better tailor their instruction level.” In an experiment with tracking in Kenya, “while the direct effect of high-achieving peers is positive, tracking benefited lower-achieving pupils indirectly by allowing teachers to teach at their level.” (with Dupas and Kremer, 2011).

  • Being surveyed can change later behavior and related parameter estimates”: Across “three health experiments, … [just] being surveyed increases use of water treatment products and take-up of medical insurance.” But in microcredit experiments, being surveyed didn’t affect borrowing. (with Zwane et al., 2011)

  • Comparative Cost-Effectiveness Analysis to Inform Policy in Developing Countries: A General Framework with Applications for Education”: “Comparative cost-effectiveness analyses can help inform policy in developing countries.” This paper discusses “the underlying methodological assumptions necessary for performing this kind of analysis using data gathered as part of rigorous impact evaluations.” (with Dhaliwal et al., 2013)

  • Truth-telling by Third-party Auditors and the Response of the Polluting Firms: Experimental Evidence from India”: Normally, firms in India would choose and pay their own auditors. An experiment that randomly assigned auditors to plants and paid them out of a central fund identified more polluters and—after two years—resulted in less pollution from plants that participated in the experiment. (with Greenstone et al., 2013)

  • Marry for What? Caste and Mate Selection in Modern India”: Using a dataset of marriage advertisements (i.e., an ad to find a spouse) in India, “we find evidence for very strong own-caste preferences… The bride’s side would be willing to trade off the difference between no education and a master’s degree in the prospective husband to avoid marrying outside their caste.” (with Banerjee et al., 2013)

  • Bundling Health Insurance and Microfinance in India: There Cannot Be Adverse Selection if There is No Demand”: “Drawing evidence from the randomized introduction of a health insurance program bundled with a standard microfinance program, we show that … a large fraction of borrowers (16 percentage points) were actually willing to give up microfinance to avoid purchasing health insurance, and that the majority of those clients ended up losing access to microfinance altogether.“ (with Banerjee and Hornbeck, 2014)

  • Double/Debiased/Neyman Machine Learning of Treatment Effects”: This is how to use a particular machine learning approach for estimating the impact of a program using observational (rather than experimental) data. (with Chernozhukov et al., 2017)

  • From Proof of Concept to Scalable Policies: Challenges and Solutions, with an Application”: “The promise of randomized controlled trials is that evidence gathered through the evaluation of a specific program helps us—possibly after several rounds of fine-tuning and multiple replications in different contexts—to inform policy… This paper describes the journey from the original concept to the design and evaluation of scalable policy,” using “a series of strategies that aim to integrate the nongovernment organization Pratham’s ‘Teaching at the Right Level’ methodology into elementary schools in India.” (with Banerjee et al., 2017)

  • Richard T. Ely Lecture: The Economist as Plumber”: “As economists increasingly help governments design new policies and regulations, they take on an added responsibility to engage with the details of policy making and, in doing so, to adopt the mindset of a plumber. Plumbers try to predict as well as possible what may work in the real world, mindful that tinkering and adjusting will be necessary since our models gives us very little theoretical guidance on what (and how) details will matter.” (2017)

B-Sides

  • The (Mis)allocation of Capital”: In standard economics, capital should be allocated so that it’s marginal product equals its marginal cost (the interest rate). Also, capital should be allocated across uses so that the marginal product is equal across uses. Based in Indian data, “things on the ground are nowhere near the neoclassical ideal.” (with Banerjee and Munshi, 2003)

  • Implications of Pension Plan Features, Information, and Social Interactions for Retirement Saving Decisions”: The decision to participate in a retirement plan “is influenced by things other than new information about costs and benefits.” Duflo and Saez propose a series of future experiments to better understand the issues. (with Saez, 2004)

  • Bank Financing in India”: “Bank credit in India does not necessarily seem to flow to firms and individuals who have the greatest potential use for it. To correct this deficiency, we first suggest amending lending rules so that they are more responsive to current and future profitability.” (with Banerjee and Cole, 2005)

  • Banking Reform in India”: “Giving banks a stronger incentive to lend by cutting the interest rate on government borrowing will also help. The evidence reported above suggests that where lending is difficult, making lending to the government less lucrative can strongly encourage bankers to make loans to the private sector.” (with Banerjee and Cole, 2005)

  • Why Political Reservations”: “Many countries are amending their political systems to set aside positions to groups, such as women and racial or religious minorities, that are perceived as being disadvantaged… Reservation significantly increases the access of disadvantaged groups to political decision making. Although this brings to power a group of relatively inexperienced and less-educated politicians, there is no evidence that this comes at the expense of the quality of decision making.” (2005)

  • Field Experiments in Development Economics”: “There is a long tradition in development economics of collecting original data to test specific hypotheses. Over the last 10 years, this tradition has merged with an expertise in setting up randomized field experiments, resulting in an increasingly large number of studies where an original experiment has been set up to test economic theories and hypotheses… We need both to continue testing existing theories and to start thinking of how the theories may be adapted to make sense of the field experiment results, many of which are starting to challenge them.” (2005)

  • Can Informational Campaigns Raise Awareness and Local Participation in Primary Education”: “A central plank of public policy for improving primary education services in India is the participation of village education committees [or VEC], consisting of village government leaders, parents, and teachers.” Based on a survey, “most parents do not know that a VEC exists, public participation in improving education is negligible, and large numbers of children in the villages have not acquired basic competencies of reading, writing, and arithmetic.” (with Banerjee et al., 2007)

  • Mandated Empowerment. Handing Antipoverty Policy Back to the Poor?”: “The current trend in antipoverty policy emphasizes mandated empowerment: the poor are being handed the responsibility for making things better for themselves, largely without being asked whether this is what they want.” Two examples suggest it might not be what they want: “While many poor people own businesses, this seems to be more a survival strategy than something they want to do”; and in rural schools, “despite being informed that they now have both the right to intervene in the school and access to funds for that purpose, and despite being made aware of how little the children were learning, parents opt to not get involved. Both examples raise concerns about committing ourselves entirely to antipoverty strategies that rely on the poor doing a lot of the work.” (with Banerjee, 2008)

  • Cooking Stoves, Indoor Air Pollution and Respiratory Health in Rural Orissa, India”: “Indoor air pollution emitted from traditional fuels and cooking stoves is a potentially large health threat in rural regions.” From “a survey of traditional stove ownership and health… about one-third of the adults and half of the children in the survey had experienced symptoms of respiratory illness in the 30 days preceding the survey.” (with Greenstone and Hanna, 2009)

  • Expérience, science et lutte contre la pauvreté” [Experience, science and poverty alleviation]: “With the experimental method, science and the fight against poverty are mutually reinforcing.” [Translation from the French via Google Translate.] (2009)

  • Aging and Death Under a Dollar a Day”: “The poor, and particularly the extremely poor, have a lower chance of survival than those who are somewhat more well- off. We have not tried to disentangle the direction of the causality: these adults could be poor because they are in poor health, which would then in turn explain why they are more likely to die. Or alternatively, being poor could make them more likely to die. And of course, both directions of causality may be true at the same time… On balance, we are tempted to interpret the evidence accumulated in this chapter as revealing, at least in part, that poverty does kill.” (with Banerjee, 2010)

  • La politique de l'autonomie (Lutter contre la pauvrete, volume 2)” [“The Policy of Autonomy (Fighting Poverty, Volume 2)”]: “Experiment tirelessly to concretely improve the lives of the poor: this is how civic life can flourish in developing countries.” [Translation from the French via Google Translate.] (2010)

  • Political Reservation and Substantive Representation: Evidence from Indian Village Councils”: “Women who are elected leaders differ from men in significant ways and have access to different social networks and support structures… There is significant evidence that women leaders make different policy decisions and increase female participation in the political process.” (with Beaman et al., 2010)

  • Under the Thumb of History? Political Institutions and the Scope for Action”: “The choice facing the field of political economy is very simple. It can embrace grand theories that will offer us the satisfaction of strong and simple answers. Or it can try to be useful.” (with Banerjee, 2014)

  • (Dis)organization and Success in an Economics MOOC”: “The main problem that MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses] face is that few users actually complete the class.” Examining data from their MOOC on global poverty, Banerjee and Duflo find that “students whose behavior suggests that they are not organized are significantly less likely to succeed in a MOOC… This is entirely driven by their failure to complete assignments on time.” (with Banerjee, 2014)

  • Cognitive Science in the field: A preschool intervention durably enhances intuitive but not formal mathematics”: In Indian preschools, a “game-based preschool curriculum intended to exercise children’s emerging skills in number and geometry … yielded marked and enduring improvement on the exercised intuitive abilities… Math-trained children also showed immediate gains on symbolic mathematical skills but displayed no advantage in subsequent learning of the language and concepts of school mathematics.” (with Dillon et al., 2017)

  • Movies, Margins and Marketing: Encouraging the Adoption of Iron Fortified Salt”: Shopkeepers in Indian villages received the chance to sell “a new salt, fortified with both iron and iodine…at 50% discount.” Showing a short edutainment film about the benefits of the salt increased take-up a lot. (with Banerjee and Barnhardt, 2017)

Deep Cuts

  • Early Reaction of Russian Firms to the Shocks of Liberalization”: What happens to Russian firms in the wake of liberalization? They adjust how much they produce and trade. They can’t restructure much because they lack fresh resources to pay for it. (with Senik-Leygonie, 1997)

  • (Review) Glewwe, Paul, “The Economics of School Quality Investments in Developing Countries: An Empirical Study of Ghana”: “The task is not completed once we have estimated the impact of a specific program on a specific outcome. Instead, to evaluate a program as a policy option, its cost, the monetary value of its benefits, and the cost and benefits of potential alternatives have to be put together. This step is often absent in research papers, or is at best paid lip service.” (2001)

  • (Review) Fields, Gary, “Distribution and Development: A New Look at the Developing World”: Towards the end of Fields’s book, which Duflo is reviewing, Fields apparently argues that “to reduce poverty, one should seek to increase growth and decrease inequality.” She then highlights that, “research on inequality and poverty that has flourished after this book was published has shown the prescience of Fields’ insights.” When it comes to what policy proposals will achieve these, Duflo concludes that “one is left to hope that research will follow in this domain as well.” (2003)

  • The Impact of Reservation in the Panchayati Raj: Evidence from a Nationwide Randomized Experiment”: In India, legally reserving certain seats on local councils for women shows that “women invest more in goods that are relevant to the needs of local women: water and roads in West Bengal; water in Rajasthan. They invest less in goods that are less relevant to the needs of women: non-formal education centers in West Bengal; roads in Rajasthan.” (2004)

  • What Do Banks (Not) Do?”: “In many ways the banking system in India, including the regulatory apparatus, remains a product of the planning years: It seems to be a system that was conceived for a world where people were expected to do what they were told, and things happened to as they were meant to.” (with Banerjee, 2004)

  • (Comment) Jensen, Robert, ‘Caste, Culture and the Status of the Well-Being of Widows in India’”: “The main insight of the paper, that the treatment of widows, even if ostensibly governed by timeless norms, may actually respond in part to economic motives, is very important. The evidence provided here, while far from definitive, is certainly tantalizing.” (2005)

  • Egalité des sexes et développement” (Equality of the Sexes and Development): “Economic development and equality of the sexes are intimately linked, but the link may not be strong enough to initiate a virtuous cycle… Societies should no doubt continue to justify preferential measures towards women in the name of equality, not efficiency.” [This is my translation from Duflo’s slides from a talk she gave on this paper.] (2006)

  • (Comment) on Hanson, Gordon, “Globalization, Labor Income, and Poverty in Mexico”: “Relative to the abundant number of papers on the impact of globalization on inequality, only a few papers (several of them in this volume) try to investigate its effects on poverty.” A key factor determining that impact seems to be whether people can migrate. (2007)

  • Le Développement Humain (Lutter contre la pauvrete, volume 1)” [Human Development (Fighting poverty, volume 1)]: “Health and education are the prerequisites not only for social welfare, but also for freedom: this book shows how to move them forward decisively.” [Translation from the French via Google Translate.] (2010)

  • Long Run Impacts of Income Shocks: Wine and Phylloxera in 19th Century France”: “Between 1863 and 1890, phylloxera [“an insect that attacks the roots of vines”] destroyed 40% of French vineyards… The shock decreased long-run height, but it did not affect other dimensions of health, including life expectancy.” (with Banerjee et al., 2010)

  • (Comment) on ‘Requiescat in Pace? The Consequences of High Priced Funerals in South Africa’”: “It may be to protect one’s psychological well-being that one does not spend too much time anticipating these events [deaths and droughts]; one must after all have one’s sanity. This may explain why the poor households are unlikely to have formal insurance against catastrophic health events or weather disasters, and that even when that insurance is available and offered to them, the take up rates remain extremely low.” (2011)

  • Is Decentralized Iron Fortification a Feasible Option to Fight Anemia Among the Poorest?”: In this “randomized evaluation of an experimental community-level iron fortification program in Udaipur district, Rajasthan,” millers [the people who grind flour] “were trained and supplied with simple equipment to fortify flour in a safe and easily implemented way… Ultimately take up was quite low (around 30% of flour was fortified). The program was effective in reducing anemia as long as the take up was high enough, but ineffective when and where take up was low.” (with Banerjee and Glennerster, 2011)

  • Balancing Growth with Equity: The View from Development”: “Balancing growth with equity in developing countries will be achieved, not by trying to affect the sources of growth (which we have no idea how to do anyway) but by designing policies that will allow the poor access to the opportunity generated by growth whenever it happens.” (2011)

  • What Does Reputation Buy? Differentiation in a Market for Third-party Auditors”: “We measure the quality of third-party … environmental auditors in the Indian state of Gujarat, using the difference between their reports on the air and water pollution emitted by client industrial plants and independent backchecks. We find that there is a substantial range of auditor quality, that higher-quality auditors receive more in payments for audits and consulting, and that higher-quality auditors are associated in market equilibrium with fewer costly actions against client plants.” (with Pande et al., 2013)

  • Nutrition, Iron Deficiency Anemia and the Demand for Iron-Fortified Salt: Evidence from an Experiment in Rural Bihar”: A survey in Bihar, India, shows high potential returns to an intervention to fight anemia. But when the intervention (double-fortified salt) was introduced, take-up falls very quickly with price—i.e., people aren’t willing to pay much for it. (with Banerjee and Barnhardt, 2014)

  • The Influence of Randomized Controlled Trials on Development Economics Research and on Development Policy”: “To really get the full benefits of the RCT revolution, it is not enough to do more RCTs and get some of them scaled up. A range of complementary institutions are also necessary to more effectively translate research into policy. For example, we need better systems for the production of meta-analyses and review articles and for the creation of expert panels to review the evidence.” (with Banerjee and Kremer, 2016)

  • NAITRE study on the impact of conditional cash transfer on poor pregnancy outcomes in underprivileged women: protocol for a nationwide pragmatic cluster-randomised superiority clinical trial in France”: This is just a registered plan for an upcoming study – “Our study aims to determine whether financial incentives could improve pregnancy outcomes in women with low SES in a high-income country.” (with Bardou et al., 2017)

  • An Introduction to the ‘Handbook of Field Experiments’”: “In development economics, the non-experimental literature was completely transformed by the existence of this large RCT movement. When the “gold standard” is not just a twinkle in someone’s eyes, but the clear alternative to a particular empirical strategy… researchers feel compelled to think harder about identification strategies… The standards of the nonexperimental literature have therefore improved tremendously over the last few decades, without necessarily sacrificing its ability to ask broad and important questions.” (with Banerjee, 2017)

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Reflections

Going through Duflo’s extensive body of work, here are three reflections.

  1. Understand the problem as well as try to solve it. Karl Marx wrote that “the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” Obviously, much of Duflo’s work has focused on seeking to change the world, with dozens of experiments seeking to reduce pollution, keep girls in school, improve child health, get people to save for retirement, and much more. But experiments only make sense once you know what problem you’re trying to solve.

    Duflo has many descriptive papers identifying the challenges faced by people around the world. In “The Economic Lives of the Poor,” she and Banerjee examine how poor people make and spend their money across more than a dozen countries in great detail. In “What is Middle Class about the Middle Classes around the World?” they do a similar analysis for slightly better off families. In “Aging and Death under a Dollar a Day,” they look at health and mortality amongst the poor in 15 countries. In another study, they team up with Deaton to demonstrate the low quality of health services—along with citizens’ perhaps surprising lack of discontent with them—in rural India.

  2. Reporting on tested interventions that don’t work. Not everything works. As Duflo highlights in her lecture “The Economist as Plumber,” economic theory tells us a lot about principles but not a lot about the details of implementation. As a result, some things we test won’t work. Duflo has tested and published the results of many experiments that have improved the desired outcomes, but she has also published a wide range of experiments that either didn’t work or didn’t work as expected. A microcredit program in India led to “no significant changes in health, education, or women’s empowerment.” A monitoring system for health workers in India “had become completely ineffective” within 18 months. Giving fortified salt to people in rural India didn’t improve their health outcomes. Giving out condoms in Kenya didn’t reduce HIV risk. We learn from these failures just as we learn from successes, but only if they get analyzed, written up, and published.

  3. Use the right tool for the task. Duflo, along with Banerjee and Kremer, won the Nobel prize “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.” Experiments make up many of Duflo’s publications, but many use other empirical methods to approach important questions. As she and Banerjee wrote recently, having randomized controlled trials in mind as an alternative compels researchers to “to think harder about identification strategies, and to be more inventive and rigorous about them.” Duflo has taken advantage of nonexperimental methods to examine the impact of school construction on both education and labor market outcomes, old age pensions on children’s health, the decision to enroll in a retirement plan, the impact of a fall in income on health, and the impact of dam construction on poverty.

You can find the full list of Duflo’s publications yourself here, and she provides links to most of the published papers here, along with more than a dozen working papers here. Many thanks to Amina Mendez Acosta for essential background work identifying studies, tracking down open-access versions, and finding citation counts. And I’ll close with a disclosure: Duflo was one of my professors and mentors during my PhD, and I’ve been grateful for her insight but then and subsequently.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.