Research

Working Papers 

(with Muhammad Haseeb; supported by the British Academy and the Lahore School of Economics)
(Previous version entitled "Reforming Institutions: Evidence from Cash Transfers in Pakistan") 


Administrative data is key to many government functions; but generating and maintaining it is costly and challenging in low-income countries.  We study an overhaul of public assistance in Pakistan that created a national database of household assets and used the data to means-test cash transfers, eliminating discretion in their allocation.  We use difference-in-differences and regression discontinuity approaches to quantify the effect of this reform.  Favoritism and transfers to wealthy households dropped; we estimate welfare benefits of the reform seven times its costs.  The reform improved public support for social assistance, creating a robust institution that survived political transitions. 




(with Florence KondylisArianna LegoviniAstrid Zwager, and Luiza Andrade)


Sexual harassment is pervasive, yet its economic costs are largely undocumented. To capture these costs, we randomize the price women commuters in Rio de Janeiro face to ride in the women-reserved ``safe space''. We recruit 357 women riders to crowd-source information on their behavior and experience across 22,000 rides. Women riding in the public space experience harassment once a week. A third of riders are willing to forego a subsidy equivalent to 10% of the fare to ride in the ``safe space". Randomly assigning riders to the ``safe space" reduces their experiences of physical harassment by 40%, implying a low-bound cost of avoiding physical harassment of 2.86 USD per incident. However, Implicit Association Tests reveal that commuters associate women riding in the public space with more openness to sexual advances. While the reserved space is safer in relative terms, this stigma may normalize harassment of women in the public space.


Infrastructure investments, public transport use and sustainability: Evidence from Lahore, Pakistan

 
(with Hadia Majid and Ammar Malik; supported by the IGCIFPRI-PSSP3IE and ADB)

In the developing world, private vehicle ownership is growing rapidly, worsening traffic congestion, increasing pollution, and fostering land-use patterns that may reinforce inequality. To address these challenges, over two hundred cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America have built mass transit systems.  Yet most research on urban transport has focused on developed countries. In this paper, we collect rich microdata to study the impacts of a new mass transit line in Lahore, Pakistan, using as a comparison group areas that are observably similar at baseline and slated for future transit routes. We make four main contributions. First, we quantify the impact of transit on commuting: access to the new transit line reduced both the time and cost of commuting, and led to a 30% increase in public transport use in treated areas with 35,000 commuters switching from private modes.  Second, we estimate the environmental externalities averted due to riders switching from private to public modes. Because the switch from private modes comes mostly from motorbike users, the carbon emissions savings in the short run are modest; however, the effect on local particulate air pollution is substantial.  Third, we examine the incidence of benefits of mass transit.  Before the mass transit line, public modes were primarily used by low-income, low-educated commuters; we find that mass transit benefited both low- and middle-income commuters, and they report higher willingness to pay for their trip. This implies that mass transit can be made more financially sustainable through reducing or targeting its running subsidy.  Fourth, we test for responses in other markets. We find evidence of a quantity response in the land market: transit stops increased nearby building cover and business activity. However, we find no evidence of a price response in land purchase prices or rents.  This elastic supply response allows mass transit to increase public transport accessibility on two margins: first, by directly connecting areas of existing activity, and second, through densification, i.e. concentrating more economic activity near stops.  



Targeting One’s Own:  Politicians, clans, and cash transfers in Punjab, Pakistan 

(supported by the British Academy and the Lahore School of Economics)

In this paper, I estimate the extent of politicians' influence over targeting of government assistance to households. I use primary panel data from rural Punjab, Pakistan over a national election cycle to compare targeting in years when politicians of different clans were in office.  I find that when a politician is elected, his co-clan members are 70% more likely than their peers to receive government assistance. I find that favoritism for the winning politician's clan is greater overall in more competitive elections, but concentrated among the politician's "inner circle" in less competitive elections, suggesting a tradeoff between favoritism with personal and political motivations.  This effect occurs both in households that are likely to be eligible and ineligible for these programs, suggesting that politicians' influence may both selectively correct exclusion errors in targeting and create inclusion errors. 




Work in Progress

Transport, urban labor markets, and women's mobility: Experimental evidence from urban Pakistan  
(with Erica Field; supported by DfID-IZA; IGC; Gates-J-PAL; PEDL; NSF, 3IE and ADB

Abstract:  In many contexts with conservative norms or high crime, female workers may face greater restrictions on their physical mobility within the city.  This limits women's opportunities in the labor market and the pool of workers that firms can attract and retain.  In this study, we test the overall impact of transport to work on men, women, and the differential impact for women of women's-only transport.  We experimentally vary access to a subscription service for daily commuting, and study how this affects job search.  In preliminary results of the study, we find that female jobseekers' probability of applying to a position increases substantially when the job is accessible by the commuting service, while male jobseekers' decisions are unaffected.  Women respond to both mixed-gender and women's-only transport offers, but the impact of the women's-only transport offer on the application rate is larger, suggesting that avoiding harassment and stigma play an important role in mobility constraints on female labor supply.



Expanding female access to the job market in Riyadh through affordable commute
(with Jawaher Al-Sudairy, Chaza abu Daher, and Erica Field) 

This study examines the relationship between mobility and women's female labor force participation and empowerment in Saudi Arabia.  The researchers use a Randomized Controlled Trial to examine the impact of treatments designed to increase mobility, including subsidies for ride-sharing and assistance with obtaining a driving license.  This will allow the team to quantify how female mobility affects labor market outcomes for female employees and jobseekers, and ultimately women’s empowerment. 



Incentivizing NGOs: A Field Experiment in Pakistan 
(with Hamna Ahmed and Simon Quinn; supported by PPAF, IGC and NSF)

Donors and developing country governments have experimented with alternative ways to deliver services and assistance to communities and to individuals.  One such approach is to deliver funding for basic services through non-governmental organisations.  Incentive issues have been studied extensively in government bureaucracies.  However, similar issues also arise when public spending is channelled through the non-government sector, which may reduce state effectiveness in policy delivery; yet there is very little research on these issues.  In addition, we know very little about how public spending through non-government organisations affects service delivery through the traditional bureaucracy.  Under what circumstances does it complement or bolster mainstream public service delivery, providing information or exerting citizen pressure on the government?  Under what circumstances does it “let government off the hook,” substituting for services that would have been provided by the state?  In this project, we are collaborating with the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund to study these issues.  PPAF receives support from both donor and Pakistani government sources, and funds local volunteer-run NGOs across Pakistan to provide public services in a wide range of sectors.  We are collaborating with PPAF on a Randomized Controlled Trial with 836 volunteer local NGOs across Pakistan.  As a part of the trial, PPAF is randomly varying the reporting obligations and incentives for those NGOs.  The results of the RCT and related analysis on a rich panel dataset on these NGOs, their communities and local government offices will help shed light on how monitoring and incentives can be improved in the NGO sector; how the staff of a complex organization (PPAF and its partners, who disburse the funds and support the local NGOs) respond to and manage new information; and on the relationship between publicly-funded NGO sector and traditional state institutions. 


Institutional capacity as an organizational challenge: a field experiment in Pakistan
(with Hamna Ahmed and Simon Quinn; supported by PPAFIGC and NSF)

Large organizations, such as firms or bureaucracies, are often structured as complex hierarchies.  Theory suggests two features of an organizational hierarchy may matter for its performance: information flow within the hierarchy; and divergent preferences of the members of the hierarchy.  However, we have limited empirical evidence on how either affects organizational capacity and performance.   In this study, we shed light on these issues through a novel field experiment involving a large donor organization and over 800 recipient community organizations across Pakistan.  The design allows us to test how each part of a large, complex organization (the donor) responds to new information on performance (of recipient organizations) on key performance indicators, and how the responses of both donor and recipients to new information and incentives relate to organizational characteristics of theoretical importance, including divergence of preferences between members of the organization; communication costs between parts of the organization; and decentralization of decisionmaking authority.  



A Labour Markets Research Agenda through a Job Search Platform

(with Erica Field and Rob Garlick; supported by DFID-IZA GLM-LIC and IGC) 

Labour markets in low-income countries experience many frictions that impair efficient firm-worker matching. Information frictions can hinder firms' attempts to observe workers' skills and productivity, spatial frictions can separate firms and workers, regulatory frictions can deter firms from hiring and norms around gender and other identities can hurt some workers and small firms.  These frictions can harm both workers and firms.  In this project, we develop and use an innovative job search platform, Job Talash, in urban Lahore, Pakistan to help match workseekers and firms. Job Talash generates rich, high-frequency data on both the supply and demand sides of the labour market.  This project uses Job Talash to randomly vary the frictions facing firms and workseekers and hence quantify the importance of these frictions. 


Institutional reform and de facto women’s rights in Pakistan
(with Erica Field and the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, supported by EDI and J-PAL)

One important constraint on women’s de facto legal rights in much of the developing world is the fact that government officials who carry out basic legal functions such as marriage registration and the processing of inheritance of property often follow their own judgment, are misinformed on details of law, or respond to the pressures of other interested parties rather than complying strictly with the law. In this project, we work in close collaboration with the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) on the initial stages of rigorous impact evaluation of two major initiatives designed to address these challenges and ensure women’s de facto rights in two key areas: their legal share of inheritance, and key rights in marriage. To do so, we evaluate (1) an initiative to impose new procedural requirements and incentives for government officials involved in property transfer, and (2) the first ever initiative to train all marriage registrars in the province of Punjab.