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Berk Ozler

Berk Ozler

Berk Özler is a senior economist in the Development Research Group, Poverty Cluster. He received his B.Sc. in Mathematics from Bosphorous University in 1991, and his Ph.D in Economics from Cornell University in 2001. After working on poverty and inequality measurement, poverty mapping, and the 2006 Word Development Report on Equity and Development earlier, he decided to combine his interests in cash transfer programs and HIV risks facing young women in Africa by designing a field experiment in Malawi. He has since been involved in a number of cluster-randomized field experiments.

Articles by Berk Ozler

A different take on “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” programs

May 6, 2019

Almost exactly four years ago, I wrote a blog post, titled “Poverty Reduction: Sorting Through the Hype,” which described the paper by Banerjee et al. (2015) in Science on the impacts of the ultra-poor graduation approach, originally associated with BRAC in Bangladesh, in six countries. Now comes a new paper by Naila Kabeer, which reports …

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The promise and limitations of cash transfers to adolescent females

April 22, 2019

When you have to redo your literature review for a “revise and resubmit,” you know two things: first, the publishing process in economics is slow, and second, the evidence is accumulating fast in your subject matter. The former is what it is and the latter is good. Into the rapidly growing literature regarding the effects …

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Do I need to “recruit” a control group for my trial?

March 27, 2019

An article titled “Synthetic control arms can save time and money in clinical trials” that I read last month discusses how drug trials can be faster and cheaper by using data collected from real world patients instead of recruiting a control group, hence the term “synthetic controls.”[1] Proliferation of digital data in the health sector, …

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Signed referee reports: a one-year follow-up

March 11, 2019

Last January, I decided to start signing my referee reports and wrote a blog post about it. Partly because it felt like something I should do and partly because it was a commitment device to try to useful but critical referee reports without sounding mean. Economics suffers from many ills that it has been trying …

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Men at Work: Shhh!

February 11, 2019

“Who can it be now?” I turn my head around from my seat at the seminar table to see who it is this time that has interrupted the seminar speaker for the Nth time before she even got through her introductory slides: it was a man, of course.  A lot of people at econ seminars …

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Sex, Lies, and Measurement: Do Indirect Response Survey Methods Work? (No…)

January 27, 2019

Smart people, mainly with good reason, like to make statements like “Measure what is important, don’t make important what you can measure,” or “Measure what we treasure and not treasure what we measure.” It is rumored that even Einstein weighed in on this by saying: “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be …

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A stepping stone or a bad place to get stuck? Self-control problems explain lack of continued job search effort in Ethiopia’s ready-made garment industry: Guest Post by Christian Meyer

November 20, 2018

Amidst momentous political and economic reforms, the Ethiopian labor market continues to shift from low-productivity agriculture to services, construction, and tradables. Urbanization is a key aspect of this transformation, as people from rural areas seek employment and education in the cities. In the outskirts of the capital Addis Ababa, where a lot of rural-urban migrants …

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Most good you can do. But for whom?

October 22, 2018

It’s hard to argue that giving cash to someone in need is the best you can do for that person in most circumstances: money maximizes your choice set and any conditions, strings attached, etc. makes that set smaller. With the advance of mobile technologies and better, bigger data, you can now send someone anywhere in …

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Cash grants and poverty reduction

September 10, 2018

Blattman, Fiala, and Martinez (2018), which examines the nine-year effects of a group-based cash grant program for unemployed youth to start individual enterprises in skilled trades in Northern Uganda, was released today. Those of you well versed in the topic will remember Blattman et al. (2014), which summarized the impacts from the four-year follow-up. That …

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Review of Randomistas: How Radical Researchers Changed Our World

May 21, 2018

This is a guest post by Bruce Wydick. It isn’t hard to understand why Andrew Leigh would write a book on randomized controlled trials. A kind of modern renaissance man, Leigh currently serves as a member of the Australian House of Representatives. But in his prior life as an economist (Ph.D. from Harvard’s Kennedy School), …

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Incorporating participant welfare and ethics into RCTs

May 14, 2018

One of the standard defenses of an RCT proposal to a skeptic is to invoke budget and implementation capacity constraints and argue that since not everyone will get the desired treatment (at least initially), the fairest way would be to randomly allocate treatment among the target population. While this is true, it is also possible …

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Evidence-based or interpretation-based?

April 23, 2018

When people say “evidence-based policymaking” or they talk about the “credibility revolution, they are surely trying to talk about the fact that (a) we have (or trying hard to have) better evidence on impacts of various approaches to solve problems, and (b) we should use that evidence to make better decisions regarding policy and program …

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GiveDirectly Three-Year Impacts, Explained

March 30, 2018

My post earlier this week on dissipating effects of cash transfers on adults in beneficiary households has caused not only a fair amount of disturbance in the development community, but also a decent amount of confusion about the three-year impacts of GiveDirectly’s cash transfers, from a working paper by Haushofer and Shapiro (2018) – HS …

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Facility-based data collection: a data methods bleg

February 26, 2018

Today, I come to our readers with a request. I have a ton of experience with household and individual survey data collection. Ditto with biomarkers, assessments/tests at home, etc. However, I have less experience with facility-based data collection, especially when it is high frequency. For example, we do have a lot of data from the childcare …

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I just signed my first referee report

January 29, 2018

I once received a referee report for a journal submission that said, “In fact, in my view its contribution to science is negative…” The report continued with comments about how the paper lacked “proper and sound scientific inquiry” and was “…unsuitable for publication pretty much anywhere, I think.” Just in case the four-page assault was …

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12 of our favorite development papers of the year

December 21, 2017

Development Impact will now be on break over the next couple of weeks for the holidays, resuming in early January after the AEA annual meetings. Inspired by some of the interesting lists of favorite papers of the year (e.g. Noah Smith, Matt Notowidigdo) we thought we’d each offer three of our favorite development economics papers …

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The Economics and Law of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

November 6, 2017

This week, I leave you with this short 2003 paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives by Kaushik Basu. It both follows somewhat from my last post, is related to the day’s news, and relevant for thinking about principles for intervention in labor markets for a host of issues that our colleagues deal with in developing and …

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Teacher training and parenting education in preschool

October 10, 2017

Lack of adequate preparation for primary school through pre-primary education is one of the key risk factors for poor performance in primary school (Behrman et al., 2006).* Thus, a popular approach for trying to improve outcomes in children has to do with increasing enrollment in preschool programs, and/or trying to improve the quality of existing …

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Dealing with attrition in field experiments

September 24, 2017

Here is a familiar scenario for those running field experiments: You’re conducting a study with a treatment and a comparison arm and measuring your main outcomes with surveys and/or biomarker data collection, meaning that you need to contact the subjects (unlike, say, using administrative data tied to their national identity numbers) – preferably in person. …

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Sometimes (increasingly often times), estimating only the ITT is not enough in a RCT

July 31, 2017

“In summary, the similarities between follow-up studies with and without baseline randomization are becoming increasingly apparent as more randomized trials study the effects of sustained interventions over long periods in real world settings. What started as a randomized trial may effectively become an observational study that requires analyses that complement, but go beyond, intention-to-treat analyses. …

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False positives in sensitive survey questions?

July 17, 2017

This is a follow-up to my earlier blog on list experiments for sensitive questions, which, thanks to our readers generated many responses via the comments section and emails: more reading for me – yay! More recently, my colleague Julian Jamison, who is also interested in the topic, sent me three recent papers that I had …

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The Puzzle with LARCs

June 14, 2017

Suppose that you’re at your doctor’s office, discussing an important health issue that may become a concern in the near future. There are multiple drugs available in the market that you can use to prevent unwanted outcomes. Some of them are so effective that there is practically no chance you will have a negative event …

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List Experiments for Sensitive Questions – a Methods Bleg

May 8, 2017

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post on issues surrounding data collection and measurement. In it, I talked about “list experiments” for sensitive questions, about which I was not sold at the time. However, now that I have a bunch of studies going to the field at different stages of data collection, many …

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The importance of study design (why did a CCT program have no effects on schooling or HIV?)

April 24, 2017

A recent paper in Lancet Global Health found that generous conditional cash transfers to female secondary school students had no effect on their school attendance, dropout rates, HIV incidence, or HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus – type 2) incidence. What happened?

A careful read of the paper (and the comment that was published alongside) points to a lot of pitfalls that could have been avoided at the outset:

The study took place in an area in South Africa, where 80% of the households in the study sample at baseline was receiving the monthly child support grant, which was approximately $30 per month at the time and also equal to the per capita monthly household expenditure. Assuming a household size of 5, that is equivalent to about 20% of monthly household expenditures, putting the CSG amount alone at the higher end of cash transfer programs as a share of household expenditures. The intervention doubled this amount, conditional on 80% school attendance. There is likely to be a big difference in schooling responses when a household goes from receiving nothing to $30 a month vs.

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Weekly Links, April 14: More basic income, research ethics, aliens’ rights, and thanks…

April 14, 2017

First, thanks for all the great 6th birthday wishes, via email and in the comments section. Your substantive comments to posts make this blog better, which does not go unnoticed.

Based on his joint work with Dominique van de Walle and others on workfare in India (see here) and targeting in Africa (here and here), Martin Ravallion calls for a consideration of universal basic income. I blogged about one of these papers here and am on board with the idea of cost-neutral effects on poverty reduction. However, many poor countries currently give transfers to about 10-20% of households, meaning that cost-neutral expansion would mean dividing the already modest per household amounts by 5-10. Small amounts of regular transfers can still make a difference, but will poor people balk at the idea of receiving a few dollars a month at best, along with the non-poor? Tax bases will have to broaden and the targeting problem will shift from the transfer to the tax side… I recently gave a couple of soundbites on this on PBS NewsHour Weekend.

Our own prolific David Evans on "What do researchers owe their participants?"  Discusses sex workers in Nairobi hoping to design guidelines for people who want to do research on them. Related is the discussion of the same issue by San people of Southern Africa in Science Magazine.

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Papers that caught my attention last week

April 10, 2017

In the journal Epidemics, McCormick et al. (2017) consider the static and dynamic displacement effects of behavior change interventions for HIV prevention. This is something we also thought about a fair amount in the past – our spillovers work is partly a function of worry over such negative spillover effects. Suppose you have an efficacious intervention that convinces young women to turn down the offers of older, risky men. The effect depends on a few things. First, what share of the population has your intervention left out, who may be the recipients of extra attention from rejected men? You have ineligible women (perhaps out of age range for the intervention), you have eligible but not enrolled, eligible but randomized out, and then finally eligible but not adherent (non-complier). Second, how persistent are men? In other words, how many rejections will reduce their sexual activity rather than simply displace it? The authors, using an agent-based model, find that the intent-to-treat effect will become a non-linear function of adherence/compliance.

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