kate.orkin[at]bsg.ox.ac.uk


I am an Associate Professor in Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. I am an affiliate at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and the Centre for the Study of African Economies.

My CV is here.

My work is in labour, public, behavioural and development economics. I study market failures or patterns in decision-making that prevent people in low- and middle-income countries finding work or improving their earnings over time. I create new interventions with NGOs and governments which aim to tackle these barriers and test these in large-scale field experiments, producing both papers relevant to academic debates and findings which can be applied in policy and programme design. I have three strands of research.

1. Whether psychological interventions can increase future-oriented investment. Some recent work shows:

  • Showing farmers motivational documentaries about successful people from similar backgrounds makes them more likely to save, adopt agricultural technologies, expand microenterprises and invest in children's education.

  • Interventions to encourage women to visualise the future increase take-up of water chlorination and reduce child diarrhea (published at JEEA).

  • A short intervention encouraging rural women to set goals, break them into small steps and plan for potential obstacles increases aspirations, labour supply, investment, revenue, and wealth and is highly cost-effective relative to a cash transfer.

2. Frictions in urban developing country labour markets that prevent young people finding work or reduce the quality of matches between firms and workers.

  • We find giving unemployed youth information about their relative place in the skills distribution and enabling them to share this information credibly (on certified reports) with employers increases employment and wages (published in AER).

  • We find giving jobseekers more information about their skills, even if they can't signal this to employers, helps them target their search toward jobs aligned with their comparative advantage.

  • We are testing whether improving the information on workers’ skills used to select workers recruited for entry-level jobs improves firm-branch-level outcomes: match quality, turnover, and hiring.

3. The role of mental health in labour market decisions and outcomes.

  • In a meta-analysis of the existing literature, we find that treating mental health conditions improves labour supply, measures of attention and focus on work among people with mental health conditions across 29 trials.

  • We are studying if digitally delivered Behavioural Activation, a therapy for depression, delivered through an app supported by peer mentors, affects adolescents' human capital.

More details are on the 'work in progress' page.

Media pieces on social protection and behavioural messaging during COVID19 are here.

I lead the Mind and Behaviour Research Group, a joint initiative of the Centre for the Study of African Economies and the Oxford Department of Psychiatry, hosted by the Blavatnik School. This is a network of economists, psychiatrists and psychologists applying psychology to inform the design of programmes which either reduce poverty or improve governance and service delivery in low- and middle-income countries. One of the group's aims is to develop and test scalable, high-impact interventions that can be used in programming and to support governments and NGOs in taking interventions to scale.

We hosted the Linkages between Micro and Macro in Labour Economics in Developing Countries workshop from 13-15 September 2022 in Oxford.

We hosted the BREAD conference on Behavioural Economics and Development from 5-7 February 2020 in Oxford.

We hosted a master class and workshop on Meta-analysis in Development Economics in July 2019. Videos and slides from all speakers are available on the site.