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Completed Doctoral Student Research Projects

Current Doctoral Student Research Projects
Current CID Research | Research Archive

 


"Beyond Borders: Transnational Civil Society Networked Governance and China's Engagement in Transboundary Environmental Management"
Erik Nielsen, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT; Research Fellow, Center for International Development, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

China is a country experiencing an environmental crisis of unprecedented magnitude. While the domestic environment situation presents serious challenges, the transboundary environmental consequences of China's development patterns present an even more worrisome scenario. While the country's leadership now recognizes the need to ameliorate domestic environmental degradation, critics argue it appears less concerned with harmful impacts on its neighbors. Although China has become increasingly active in international environmental affairs since 1978, this engagement has been predominantly focused on domestic enforcement.

The Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS) offers a cogent case to examine China's transboundary environmental impacts. As the GMS undergoes tremendous economic development, the region's rich natural resource base faces certain environmental threats posed by China. Chinese leaders have referred to the GMS as a common thread joining all riparian nations of the region; yet civil society organizations assert China does not appear to be interested in working with other nations if that collaboration stands to jeopardize the implementation of national development projects, many of which stand to adversely impact downstream nations.

However, based upon six months of pre-dissertation field research, I have identified specific scenarios when China positively and sometimes even proactively engages in transboundary environmental management; but, I have simultaneously identified situations when it does not. Based upon my preliminary analysis the key factors that appear to inhibit China's cross-border eco-jurisdictional cooperation include a state-centric hard law or binding approach and the failure of transnational civil society to link with Chinese non-state environmental actors. Whereas the key factors that appear to promote China's cross-border eco-jurisdictional cooperation include a state-centric soft law or a non-binding approach and the success of transnational civil society to effectively network with domestic non-state environmental actors.

Contradictions among the cases identified, exemplified by China's constructive engagement in certain circumstances and not in others, have led me to pose two inter-related research questions: 1) What institutional arrangements lead China to respond and engage in a positive manner in some transboundary eco-jurisdictional situations and not in others; and 2) What role can transnational civil society play in China's transboundary environmental policy-making process given its growing influence in China and the GMS?

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"Causal Linkages between Local Development and Local Leadership in the Royal Bafokeng Nation"
J. Andrew Harris, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Government, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

This research project follows from survey and observational research undertaken in the summer of 2004 in the Royal Bafokeng Nation (RBN), a traditional authority in South Africa. Three compelling results emerged. First, survey results indicated that participation in the village meetings (kgotla) declined sharply as incomes and urbanization increased. On one hand, this result is expected: modernizing forces like education and urbanization may erode traditional institutions. However, the Bafokeng are exceptional: their communal lands sit on large platinum deposits, which provide mining royalties to the Bafokeng. Thus, participation in the kgotla ensures access to an expanded bundle of public goods and services, valuable to people of all income levels: educational loans, skill training services, subsidized utilities, and improved schools, to name a few. Second, interviews revealed that the role of the local village leader (kgosana) was central in village life and business, but much variance existed across those surveyed regarding whether a particular kgosana provided effective leadership. Third, large standard-of-living differences appeared to exist between villages with similar geographic and human capital endowments.

The goal of this project is to determine the nature of causal linkages between local development and local leadership in the RBN. In the project's initial stage, two goals will be accomplished. First, through structured interviews with village leaders, profiles will be created of their understandings of effective leadership, economic development, and distributive justice. Second, using interviews with residents and business leaders as well as public records, the project will isolate the constraints and inducements shaping economic choices in the villages, as manifest through leadership choices and the broader institutional environment. This research will provide empirical evidence on the micro-foundations of development, as well as contribute to the larger literature on the role of traditional authorities in governance and development in sub-Saharan Africa.

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"Corruption and Political Horizons"
Mario Gamboa-Cavazos, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Economics

This research seeks to understand how politics has an effect on the incidence of corruption. In particular, the research studies the roots of corruption from a political economy perspective, and empirically assesses its determinants in a controlled experimental setting. Mexico’s recent and geographically uneven transition towards democracy offers an excellent ground to test political theories of corruption.

Using a proprietary survey on corruption of nearly 4,000 firms across municipalities and states in Mexico, there appears to be an economically meaningful and statistically significant relation between political horizons and corruption. Specifically, corruption is U-shaped with respect to political horizons of state governors. Entrepreneurs doing business in states where governors have a short or long horizon make larger extra-official payments relative to entrepreneurs doing business in states where governors have a medium horizon. Political horizons are unambiguously defined using the number of years left in office for state governors.

The data also show that monopoly and oligopoly firms are more sensitive to political horizons than similar competitive firms. In particular, firms with large market concentrations are more likely to make large (small) corruption payments when political horizons are long (short). This result suggests that special interest firms bribe politicians with long and feasible horizons, but shy away from bribing those with short political futures. The analysis also seems to indicate that politicians engage in extorting the private sector when their horizons are sufficiently short. These patterns are not driven by firm- or state-specific characteristics. The relationships are also robust to firms’ legitimate business connections to government.

Overall, this research seeks to contribute to the design of public policies aimed at curbing corruption in countries undergoing political transitions.  It also has the objective to provide guidance in the improvement of politicians’ accountability via institutional mechanisms, such as increased transparency in the public-private dealings and the strengthening of the judiciary branch of government.

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"Education and Menstruation in Nepal"
Emily Oster, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Economics
Rebecca Thornton, Doctoral Fellow, Political Economy and Government

In most of the developed world, women assume that their menstrual periods will remain part of their private lives, and will not affect their ability to work, go to school or contribute to society in other ways. This is not the case everywhere. For example, in Nepal women are considered "unclean" during the menstrual period and prevented from taking part in many normal aspects of their lives. There are clearly cultural reasons for these taboos; however, it is also possible that lack of technology is part of the reason they persist. Most women in Nepal, for example, are still using sanitary cloths that must be washed and re-used.

In this project we will run an experiment to randomly provide modern menstruation technology to school-age girls in Nepal, and analyze the effect that this has on school participation, self-esteem and test scores. We will initially be running a pilot study in which several hundred girls will be followed for two months and the hope is to then run a larger study in which more girls are followed for up to a year. We will return periodically to survey the girls; the hope is that some of these surveys would take place during the girl's period so we can observe the effect on behavior and emotional state both while the period is going on and outside of it. School attainment is very low for women in Nepal -- just slightly over two years, versus five for men. The hope is that this project may not only shed light on some of the reasons why that is true, but also on a possible solution.

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"Estimating Economic Consequences of Health Shocks: Getting Around the Chicken and the Egg Problem"
Manoj Mohanan, Doctoral Candidate, Health Policy Program

The impact of adverse health events on households’ vulnerability to poverty is not well understood although anecdotal evidence of the impoverishing effects of these health shocks is abundant. Households in developing countries, unable to insure their consumption when faced with major health shocks, end up having to borrow at very high interest rates and deplete their asses - two major causes of perpetuation of poverty traps. Disentangling a causal relationship between income and health has proved to be much more complicated due to issues of reverse causality. One feasible way to get around this issue of reverse causality would be to identify health shocks that are random and exogenous.
My research focuses on the following questions in Karnataka, India:
(i) How do households that face health shocks mitigate the impacts of such shocks? If there is consumption smoothing, what mechanisms do households rely on to insure consumption?
(ii) What sources of financing (informal borrowing, credit markets, savings, depleting assets) do affected households depend on?
(iii) How do households respond to changes in household labor supply as a result of the health shock (in terms of changes in intra-household allocation and labor supply decisions)?
I study random exogenous health shocks by focusing on passengers involved in bus accidents in Karnataka, India, using data from compensation records of the State Transport Corporation. Specifically, I focus on individuals who were passengers in accidents involving state-run buses (who received random health shocks) and compare them with ‘control’ groups comprising individuals who have similar travel patterns but were not exposed to the random shock (.e. were not in an accident).
In addition to providing a unique instrument to study the question of the health-wealth relationship, road traffic accidents are also a growing burden of disease that impacts the poor disproportionately, both in developing as well as developed countries. This proposed research will also serve to contribute to the understanding of the economic and social consequences of road traffic accidents.

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"How Educational Vouchers Work: Evidence from Vocational Schools in Colombia"
Juan E. Saavedra, Doctoral Candidate in Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government

This project uses data from a Colombian program in which school vouchers were randomly assigned through a lottery to shed light on the mechanisms by which voucher programs affect educational outcomes. The Colombian government issued private school vouchers - PACES - for students entering secondary school. The vouchers targeted the poorest third of the population and were renewable so long as the recipient made adequate progress towards secondary school graduation. Previous results suggest that, in general, voucher winners had higher academic achievement through the end of secondary school. The voucher, however, could have improved student outcomes for a variety of reasons. It could have been an income shock. The voucher could have strengthened the incentives for students to work hard. The voucher could have also changed students' peer characteristics and quality of school attended.

To explore some of the possible mechanisms, we analyze the effects of vouchers on students who applied to vocational schools. Among applicants to vocational schools, the voucher seemed to have odd effects on the type of schools that students attended. Voucher winners used their voucher to attend vocational schools. Voucher lottery losers, by contrast, switched to academic schools. Three years into the program, voucher winners were 18 percentage points more likely to be attending a vocational school, and as a result, they were more likely to attend schools of inferior quality as measured by academic performance on the ICFES - a college entry exam. In this stage, we will survey approximately 300 schools in Bogotà. The proposed data collection would gather additional characteristics of the schools that voucher applicants attended and further help us test whether voucher winners, despite being academically successful, truly went to inferior schools.

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"The Impact of Strengthening Land Rights on Access to Credit: Evidence from a Large-Scale Land Titling Project in India"
Philipp Schnabl, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Economics

A large literature has documented extensive credit rationing in developing countries. Low-income rural households in particular are frequently excluded from formal credit markets because they are unable to provide proper collateral. This inability is often due to a lack of formal property titles, rather than the lack of underlying assets. In fact, many rural households own substantial property, primarily land, but are denied credit because they fail to provide the formal documentation to certify their ownership. In short, access to credit is seriously hampered by an absence of functioning institutions to ensure the proper issuance, verification, and enforcement of land titles.

The main objective of this research project is to evaluate the effect of improving land tenure and titling institutions on access to credit. Specifically, this project will focus on a large-scale policy intervention to computerize land records in rural Karnataka, India. This computerization strengthened land rights by reducing corruption and improving accuracy and reliability of formal land titles. A recent survey indicates that the computerization significantly raised access to credit among landowners.

Empirically, the setting is ideal for identifying the effect of strengthened land titles on credit because the computerization was introduced in a staggered fashion across districts. The cross-district and time variation in the program introduction allows the use of a differences-in-differences estimation strategy. The main advantage of this strategy is to take out time and regional effects that could easily confound such an analysis.

Overall, this research project aims to contribute to the growing literature on the effects of land titling and, more generally, the microeconomics of property rights. Specifically, this study aims to go beyond the simple statement that property rights matter and explore the mechanisms and institutions that mediate the effect of property rights on economic outcomes. This topic has been discussed extensively among both academics and policymakers, and the goal of this research project is to provide findings that are relevant to both groups.

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"Men at War: Do Countries with More Men Experience More Conflict?
Emily Oster, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Economics

This project seeks to understand whether excess men relative to women make a nation more likely to experience conflict. Statistically, men are more likely to commit crimes and engage in other forms of violence. This paper addresses the issue of whether having more men can also lead to more collective violence - revolutions, civil wars and internal disturbances more generally. I take advantage of variations across countries in sex ratio at birth to avoid selection problems. The project will explore the effect of excess men on both historical and contemporary conflicts. In addition to helping us understand the effect of demographics on war, this paper has important policy implications. It is clear that the demographic makeup of some developing countries - India, for example - is shifting towards men. If more men relative to women lead to more conflict, then there are real additional concerns about these gender shifts. Although others have suggested this issue, there remains no good empirical evidence that men and conflict are related. I hope to overcome that empirical deficit with this project.

This research will contribute to academic knowledge-building with relevance to decentralization, local governance, institutional reform, and democratization. In addition, practitioners who are involved in helping stimulate better performance among local governments will find it of use. The project is to result in a book manuscript, articles, seminar and workshop presentations, and contributions to development assistance agencies on reform and innovation in local governance. The project has been funded by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and the Center for International Development.

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"Social Norms and Formal Laws: A Case of Chinese Rural Women’s Land Rights"
Pengyu He, Doctoral Candidate, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences & Harvard Law School

Rural women’s land rights are particularly important for China given that women in the countryside currently contribute more to agricultural production in China than ever before. According to some surveys, women account for 60% to 70% of all farm labor, as rural men have swarmed to cities and towns for jobs. Rural women are not only working in the fields, but also looking after the elderly and children at home. However, rural women are very vulnerable to losing their land when they leave their native villages after marriages and move to their husband’s villages. Previously, women could receive land at their husband’s village in the initial land readjustment. In 2002, a significant piece of legislation- Rural Land Contracting Laws - was adopted. For the first time in any laws or policies regarding rural land, women’s rights to land were specifically addressed. Under the new laws, women would not be entitled to land at their husband’s villages through land readjustment. However, they can still retain proportionate land rights in their original households, which would not be given away when they marries, till they receives land in their husband’s villages through either uncultivated wasteland or reserved land for additional population, if available.

Even though the new land laws is meant to protect rural women’s land rights, the implementation represents formidable challenges. More and more women are deprived of their rights to land because of changes in marital status. In particular, local social customs seem to have determinative effects in preventing the implementation and enforcement of the new laws. In opposition to the local customs, some rural women resorted to legal means to protect their land rights. There are many interesting questions worthy of exploration. For instance, how rural women become aware of their land rights, through what channels, and how much or what they know about their rights; in defense of their land rights, what means they resort to and why they choose certain means as opposed to others, and how effective they are; what are local villagers’ attitudes towards local customs that are hostile to rural women’s legal rights, and to what extent they perceive them as just or unjust, etc. Theoretically, I am particularly interested in the dynamics between informal rules/social norms and formal rules and laws.

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"A Theory of the Developing Economy Firm: Institutional Adaptivity to Risk and Uncertainty"
A. Hazel Mukuna Mugo, Doctoral Candidate, Harvard Law School

My research focuses on the behavior of developing economy firms (DEFs). Very little is understood about their nature, management, decision-making rationale or the forces driving them towards efficient (or inefficient) operation. DEFs operate in economies that are characterized by high costs of information and high levels of political risk which result in increased transaction costs. My research focuses on how DEFs adapt to high information costs and political risk. In the preliminary phase of my research I measured DEF response to high information costs in the market for managers. Initial results showed that DEFs have formed alternative mechanisms allowing them to verify managerial reputations and firm performance. These results contradict popular assumptions that in less-developed markets, managerial reputations are unable to form due to the small market size and absence of others such as vibrant take-over markets. In fact I found that managerial reputation is a large determinant of a manager's future employment capacity. The subsequent phase of my research will focus on the nature and efficacy of these alternative mechanisms.

I found DEFs' adaptation to high levels of political risk to creation of incentives through the use of political godfathers or business pacts with politicians. Here there are differences between Kenya and South Africa regarding the nature and structure of these incentives. My subsequent research will focus on the interrelationship between capital and politics in the absence of actual politically connected personnel in firm management. I will be searching for more specific evidence of how the political relationship translates into economic gain and what insurance mechanisms firm use to insure against political fall-outs.

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Current Doctoral Student Research Projects
Current CID Research | Research Archive

 

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Last revised 31 October 2007