My main area of research is development economics with a focus on micro-level institutions. Some of my work focuses on the role of gender. Recent projects include studies of rural governments and credit cooperative in India and missing women in developing countries. I am currently collecting data in rural Maharashtra, India with the aim to understand some implications of the new UID government initiative.
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(with Chris Bidner)
Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 2015, Volume 130(3), p. 1421-1484.
In developing countries, the extent to which women possess property rights is shaped in large part by transfers received at the time of marriage. Focusing on dowry, we develop a simple model of the marriage market with intra-household bargaining in order to understand the incentives for brides' parents to allocate the rights over the dowry between their daughter and her groom. In doing so, we clarify and formalize the 'dual role' of dowry - as a pre-mortem bequest and as a market clearing price - identified in the literature. We use the model to shed light on the intriguing observation that, in contrast to other rights, women's rights over the dowry tend to deteriorate with development. We show how marriage payments are utilized even when they are inefficient, and how the marriage market mitigates changes in other dimensions of women's rights even to the point where women are worse off following a strengthening of such rights. We also generate predictions for when marital transfers will disappear and highlight the importance of female human capital for the welfare of women.
(with Patrick Francois, Ashok Kotwal and Ashwini Kulkarni)
Economic and Political Weekly, June 27, 2015, Volume L, No. 26-27, pp. 44-48.
(with Patrick Francois and Ashok Kotwal)
American Economic Review, June 2015, Volume 105(6), p. 1780-1816.
In many developing countries, institutional set-ups often feature a key group of players, the elite, seeking to manipulate extant institutions to their advantage. Their means of doing this vary across contexts and greatly affect the prospects of institutional reform. We explore this process for village level governing institutions in India, using a survey that we designed for this end. The region we chose, rural Maharashtra, is known to exhibit functional local democracies, but also shows tremendous government inaction on poverty alleviation; perhaps due to elite control. We find a stunningly robust and participatory democratic process: elections are freely contested, fairly tallied, highly participatory, non-coerced and lead to appointment of representative politicians. However, beneath this veneer of ideal democracy we find evidence of deeply ingrained clientelist vote-trading structures maintained through extra-political means. Elite minorities seek power to undermine policies that would redistribute income towards the majority poor. We explore theoretically the means by which the elite are able to use their dominance of land-ownership and traditional positions of social superiority to achieve political control. Our theory predicts a large set of observables that should covary with the presence of a socially ascendant group (the Maratha caste). Our estimates suggest how the dominant elite have been able to maintain power in light of successful majoritarian institutional reforms.
(with Garance Genicot)
Journal of Development Economics, May 2015, Volume 114, p. 64-78.
This paper studies the impact of female property rights on male and female suicide rates in India. Using state level variation in legal changes to women’s property rights, we show that better property rights for women are associated with a decrease in the difference between female and male suicide rates, but an increase in both male and female suicides. We conjecture that increasing female property rights increased conﬂict within household and this increased conﬂict resulted in more suicides among both men and women in India. Using individual level data on domestic violence we ﬁnd evidence that increased property rights for women did increase the incidence of wife beating in India. We develop a model of intra-household bargaining with asymmetric information and costly conﬂict to explain these ﬁndings.
Marriage payments evolve in response to economic forces, and the initial processes of development inevitably cause marriage payments to act to the detriment of women. Such payments should be prohibited, and parents should be encouraged to invest instead in their daughters' human capital. Governments should promote programs to empower women through female education subsidies and targeted employment and micro-credit schemes. Indeed, marriage payments will disappear once women reap more equal economic opportunities relative to men.
(with Debraj Ray)
Economic and Political Weekly, December 2012, Vol. XLVII, No. 47-48, p. 87-95
Relative to developed countries, there are far fewer women than men in India. Estimates suggest that among the stock of women who could potentially be alive today, over 25 million are “missing”. Sex selection at birth and the mistreatment of young girls are widely regarded as key explanations. We provide a decomposition of missing women by age across the states of India. While we do not dispute the existence of severe gender bias at young ages, our computations yield some striking ﬁndings. First, the vast majority of missing women in India are of adult age. Second, there is signiﬁcant variation in the distribution of missing women by age across different states. Missing girls at birth are most pervasive in some northwestern states, but excess female mortality at older ages is relatively low. In contrast, some northeastern states have the highest excess female mortality in adulthood but the lowest number of missing women at birth. The state-wise variation in the distribution of missing women across the age groups makes it very difﬁcult to draw simple conclusions to explain the missing women phenomenon in India.
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Volume 3, January 2011, 239-263.
We compare outcomes across two types of villages in rural India. Villages vary by which caste is dominant (owns the majority of land): either a low or high caste. The key finding is that income is substantially higher for low-caste households residing in villages dominated by a low caste. This seems to be due to a trade breakdown in irrigation water across caste groups. All else equal, lower caste water buyers have agricultural yields which are 45 percent higher if they reside in a village where water sellers are of the same caste compared to one where they are not.
(with Debraj Ray)
Review of Economic Studies, Volume 77, October 2010, 1262-1300.
Relative to developed countries and some parts of the developing world, most notably sub-Saharan Africa, there are far fewer women than men in India and China. It has been argued that as many as a 100 million women could be missing. The possibility of gender bias at birth and the mistreatment of young girls are widely regarded as key explanations. We provide a decomposition of these missing women by age and cause of death. While we do not dispute the existence of severe gender bias at young ages, our computations yield some striking new ﬁndings: (1) the vast majority of missing women in India and a signiﬁcant proportion of those in China are of adult age; (2) as a proportion of the total female population, the number of missing women is largest in sub-Saharan Africa, and the absolute numbers are comparable to those for India and China; (3) almost all the missing women stem from disease-by-disease comparisons and not from the changing composition of disease, as described by the epidemiological transition. Finally, using historical data, we argue that a comparable proportion of women was missing at the start of the 20th century in the United States, just as they are in India, China, and sub-Saharan Africa today.
(with Mukesh Eswaran)
Journal of Development Economics, November 2009, 90(2), 179-191.
This paper examines the determinants of female autonomy within households in a developing country. In particular, we investigate the relative contributions of earned versus unearned income in enhancing women’s autonomy and the role of employment outside of their husband’s farm. In a simple theoretical model, it is demonstrated that earned income could be more important than unearned income in empowering women. Using data from rural Bangladesh, empirical estimations conﬁrm this prediction and also reveal the surprising fact that it is not employment per say but employment outside their husbands’ farms that contributes to women’s autonomy. The data also point to the importance of choosing the correct threat point in theoretical analyses of female autonomy.
(with Jean-Marie Baland and Karl Moene)
Journal of Development Economics, September 2009, 90(1), 14-23.
Informal groups cannot rely on external enforcement to insure that members abide by their obligations. It is generally assumed that these problems are solved by ‘social sanctions’ and reputational effects. The present paper focuses on roscas, one of the most commonly found informal ﬁnancial institutions in the developing world. We ﬁrst show that, in the absence of an external (social) sanctioning mechanism, roscas are never sustainable, even if the defecting member is excluded from all future roscas. We then argue that the organizational structure of the rosca itself can be designed so as to address enforcement issues. The implications of our analysis are consistent with ﬁrst-hand evidence from rosca groups in a Kenyan slum.
(with Patrick Francois)
in Institutions and Economic Growth edited by Elhanan Helpman, Harvard University Press, 2008.
Journal of Economic Theory, Fall 2007, 137(1), 140-152.
An influential explanation for rising dowry payments is the “marriage squeeze”. The present paper shows this explanation to be internally inconsistent. The marriage squeeze argument for inflation relies on the fact that population growth leads to an excess supply of brides in the marriage market. This excess supply is resolved by some women postponing marriage, so that the average age of brides increases. In previous studies the argument is stated informally. Here, a matching model of marriage is developed to formally analyze the link between dowry payments and population growth. It is shown that a marriage squeeze cannot yield dowry inflation. In fact, when women who do not find matches at the ‘desirable’ marrying age re-enter the marriage market as older brides, a marriage squeeze is shown to imply dowry deflation. Population change is therefore not a promising explanation for the observed increases in dowry payments.
Journal of Political Economy, April 2003, Vol. 111, p. 269-310.
In contrast to most dowry-oriented societies in which payments have declined with modernization, those in India have undergone significant inflation over the last five decades. This paper explains the difference between these two experiences by focusing on the role played by caste. The theoretical model contrasts caste- and non-caste-based societies: in the former, there exists an inherited component to status (caste) that is independent of wealth, and in the latter, wealth is the primary determinant of status. Modernization is assumed to involve two components: increasing average wealth and increasing wealth dispersion within status (or caste) groups. The paper shows that, in castebased societies, the increases in wealth dispersion that accompany modernization necessarily lead to increases in dowry payments, whereas in non-caste-based societies, increased dispersion has no real effect on dowry payments and increasing average wealth causes the payments to decline.
(with Jean-Marie Baland)
Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 2002, Vol. 117, p. 963-995.
This paper investigates individual motives to participate in rotating savings and credit associations (roscas). Detailed evidence from roscas in a Kenyan slum (Nairobi) suggests that most roscas are predominantly composed of women, particularly those living in a couple and earning an independent income. We propose an explanation of this based on conflictual interactions within the household. Participation in a rosca is a strategy a wife employs to protect her savings against claims by her husband for immediate consumption. The empirical implications of the model are then tested using the data collected in Kenya.