World Bank Research Observer

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The World Bank Research Observer seeks to inform readers about research from both within and outside the World Bank, in areas of economics relevant for development policy. Requiring only a minimal background in economic analysis, its surveys and overviews of key issues in development economics research are intended for policymakers, project officers, professors and students of development economics and related disciplines, nonspecialists, and journalists keeping up to date.

Papers for the Observer are not sent out to referees, but all articles published are assessed and approved by the Editorial Board, which includes three to four distinguished economists from outside the Bank.

Published twice per year (three times until volume 16) 1996 to Present

Editor: Peter Lanjouw

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Now showing 1 - 10 of 225
  • Publication
    The Relationship between Climate Action and Poverty Reduction
    (Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2023-12-30) Lankes, Hand Peter; Macquarie, Rob; Soubeyran, Éléonore; Stern, Nicholas
    There is growing awareness that actions by policymakers and international organizations to reduce poverty, and those to mitigate and adapt to climate change, are inextricably linked and interwoven. This paper examines relevant academic and policy literature and evidence on this relationship and explores the potential for a new form of development that simultaneously mitigates climate change, manages its impacts, and improves the wellbeing of people in poverty. First, as a key foundation, it outlines the backdrop in basic moral philosophy, noting that climate action and poverty reduction can be motivated both by a core principle based on the right to development and by the conventional consequentialism that is standard in economics. Second, it reviews assessments of the current and potential future impacts of weakly managed climate change on the wellbeing of those in poverty, paying attention to unequal effects, including by gender. Third, it examines arguments and literature on the economic impacts of climate action and policies and how those affect the wellbeing of people in poverty, highlighting the importance of market failures, technological change, systemic dynamics of transition, and distributional effects of mitigation and adaptation. Finally, the paper surveys the current state of knowledge and understanding of how climate action and poverty reduction can be integrated in policy design, indicating where further research can contribute to a transition that succeeds in both objectives.
  • Publication
    Social Norms and Gender Disparities with a Focus on Female Labor Force Participation in South Asia
    (Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2023-09-23) Bussolo, Maurizio; Ezebuihe, Jessy Amarachi; Muñoz Boudet, Ana Maria; Poupakis, Stavros; Rahman, Tasmia; Sarma, Nayantara
    Despite decades of economic growth, gender disparities in South Asia remain remarkably high. Although not the only one, social norms are a crucial driver of various gender outcomes, including differential economic participation. Using repeated cross-sectional data from nationally representative surveys, this study explores long-term trends across gender outcomes and social norms(contrasting attitudes and social normative expectations towards gender roles) in South Asia. The results corroborate the evidence that there has been almost no progress in gender disparities in South Asia over the past half-century. There has been little progress in female labor force participation, age at first birth, agency, and intimate partner violence, while (basic) education is an important exception. The lack of progress is apparent among all layers of society, including women who live in urban areas, are educated, and have higher incomes. Gender attitudes also remain unchanged, while for some issues, they have become more conservative and have a negative relationship with gender outcomes. This negative relationship is even stronger when social normative expectations are considered. More data on social norms and a better understanding of their constraining role may be critical for achieving gender equality in the region.
  • Publication
    Impacts of Temporary Migration on Development in Origin Countries
    (Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2023-04-17) Bossavie, Laurent; Özden, Çağlar
    Temporary migration is widespread globally. While the literature has traditionally focused on the impacts of permanent migration on destination countries, evidence on the effects of temporary migration on origin countries has grown over the past decade. This paper highlights that the economic development impacts, especially on low- and middle-income origin countries, are complex, dynamic, context-specific, and multichanneled. The paper identifies five main pathways: (a) labor supply; (b) human capital; (c) financial capital and entrepreneurship; (d) aggregate welfare and poverty; and (e) institutions and social norms. Several factors shape these pathways and their eventual impacts. These include initial economic conditions at home, the scale and double selectivity of emigration and return migration, whether migration was planned to be temporary ex ante, and employment and human capital accumulation opportunities experienced by migrants while they are overseas. Meaningful policy interventions to increase the development impacts of temporary migration require proper analysis, which, in turn, depends on high-quality data on workers’ employment trajectories, as well as their decision processes on the timing of their migration and return. These are currently the biggest research challenges to overcome to study the development impacts of temporary migration.
  • Publication
    What Makes Public Sector Data Valuable for Development?
    (Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2023-04-14) Jolliffe, Dean; Veerappan, Malarvizhi; Kilic, Talip; Wollburg, Philip
    Data produced by the public sector can have transformational impacts on development outcomes through better targeting of resources, improved service delivery, cost savings, increased accountability, and more. Around the world, the amount of data produced by the public sector is increasing rapidly, but we argue the full potential of data to improve development outcomes has not been realized yet. We outline 12 features needed for data to generate greater value for development and present case studies substantiating these features. We argue that a key reason why the transformational value of data has not yet been realized is that suboptimal data—data not satisfying these 12 features—are being supplied. The features are that the data should be of adequate spatial and temporal coverage (complete, frequent, and timely), should be of high quality (accurate, comparable, and granular), should be easy to use (accessible, understandable, and interoperable), and should be safe to use (impartial, confidential, and appropriate).
  • Publication
    Girls’ Education at Scale
    (Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2023-04-14) Evans, David K.; Acosta, Amina Mendez; Yuan, Fei
    Many educational interventions boost outcomes for girls in settings where girls face educational disadvantages, but which of those interventions are proven to function effectively at large scale In contrast to earlier reviews, this review focuses on large-scale programs and policies—those that reach at least 10,000 students, and on final school outcomes such as completion and student learning rather than intermediate school outcomes such as enrollment and attendance. Programs and policies that have boosted school completion or learning at scale across multiple countries include school fee elimination, school meals, making schools more physically accessible, and improving the quality of pedagogy. Other interventions, such as providing better sanitation facilities or safe spaces for girls, show promising results but either have limited evidence across settings or focus on intermediate educational outcomes (such as enrollment) or post-educational outcomes (such as income earning) in their evaluations. These and other areas with limited or no evidence demonstrate many opportunities for education leaders, partners, and researchers to continue innovating and testing programs at scale. The authors discuss three considerations for incorporating evidence-based solutions into local education policies - constraints to girls’ education, potential solutions, and program costs as well as lessons for scaling programs effectively.
  • Publication
    The Impact of Private Schools, School Chains and PPPs in Developing Countries
    (Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2023-04-12) Crawfurd, Lee; Hares, Susannah; Todd, Rory
    The private school sector has expanded with almost no public intervention to educate half of primary school children in many urban centers in Africa and Asia. Simple comparisons of test scores would suggest that these private schools may provide better quality than public schools, but how much of this difference is due to selection effects is unclear. Much donor and policymaker attention has proceeded on the basis that private schools do perform better, and focused on models of public subsidy to expand access, and investment in networks or chains to encourage expansion. The authors review the evidence of the effects of private schools on learning, and how that effect translates to public-private partnerships (PPPs). The authors also study the effects of private school chains. They conduct a systematic review for eligible studies, with transparent search criteria. The search resulted in over 100 studies on low-cost private schools and PPPs, with a large majority being on low-cost private schools. Their meta-analysis shows moderately strong effects from private schooling, although the limited number of experimental studies find much smaller effects than quasi-experimental studies. This advantage, though, is not nearly enough to help most children reach important learning goals. Turning to policy goals, we find that the private school advantage has not translated to public private partnerships, which have shown limited value in improving quality. They can however represent a lower-cost means of increasing access to school. We also find that private school chains perform little better than individual private schools and have little scope for achieving meaningful scale.
  • Publication
    Quasi-Experimental Evidence on Carbon Pricing
    (Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2023-03-29) Vrolijk, Kasper; Sato, Misato
    A growing literature suggests that carbon emissions are most efficiently reduced by carbon pricing. The evidence base on the effectiveness of market-based mechanisms, however, faces three key limitations: studies often (a) predict, rather than evaluate effects, (b) show large difference in findings, and (c) cannot always infer causal relations. Quasi-experimental studies can address these challenges by using variation in policies over time, space, or entities. This paper systematically reviews this new literature, outlines the benefits and caveats of quasi-experimental methodologies, and verifies the reliability and value of quasi-experimental estimates. The overall evidence base documents a causal effect between carbon pricing and emission reductions, with ambiguous effects on economic outcomes, and there are important gaps and inconsistencies. This review underscores that estimates should be interpreted with care because of: (a) inappropriate choice of method, (b) incorrect implementation of empirical analysis (e.g., violate identifying assumptions), and (c) data limitations. More cross-learning across studies and use of novel empirical strategies is needed to improve the empirical evidence base going forward.
  • Publication
    Fears and Tears: Should More People Be Moving within and from Developing Countries, and What Stops this Movement?
    (Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2023-01-10) McKenzie, David
    Only one in seven of the world’s population have ever migrated, despite the enormous gains in income possible through international and internal movement. The author examines the evidence for different explanations given in the economics literature for this lack of movement and their implications for policy. Incorrect information about the gains to migrating, liquidity constraints that prevent poor people paying the costs of moving, and high costs of movement arising from both physical transportation costs and policy barriers all inhibit movement and offer scope for policy efforts to inform, provide credit, and lower moving costs. However, the economics literature has paid less attention to the fears people have when faced with the uncertainty of moving to a new place, and to the reasons behind the tears they shed when moving. While these tears reveal the attachment people have to particular places, this attachment is not fixed, but itself changes with migration experiences. Psychological factors such as a bias toward the status quo and the inability to picture what one is giving up by not migrating can result in people not moving, even when they would benefit from movement and are not constrained by finances or policy barriers from doing so. This suggests new avenues for policy interventions that can help individuals better visualize the opportunity costs of not moving, alleviate their uncertainties, and help shift their default behavior from not migrating.
  • Publication
    The Promise and Limitations of Information Technology for Tax Mobilization
    (Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2022-10-20) Okunogbe, Oyebola; Santoro, Fabrizio
    Tax revenue in many low- and middle-income countries is inadequate for funding investments in public goods and human capital. With high levels of informality and limited state capacity, many tax authorities have difficulty determining the true tax base and collecting taxes efficiently and equitably. Tax authorities are increasingly adopting new technologies to improve administrative processes, reduce taxpayer compliance costs, and enhance their overall effectiveness. This paper reviews the recent literature on the use of technology for tax administration. It highlights the potential of technology to improve tax collection by helping to identify the tax base, monitor compliance, and facilitate compliance. It also identifies possible limitations to the use of technology arising from inadequate infrastructure and connectivity, lack of adoption or resistance by taxpayers and tax collectors, lack of institutional mainstreaming, and an unsupportive regulatory environment.
  • Publication
    Improving the Well-Being of Adolescent Girls in Developing Countries
    (Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2022-10-13) Bergstrom, Katy; Özler, Berk
    This paper conducts a large, narrative review of interventions that might plausibly (a) increase educational attainment, (b) delay childbearing, and/or (c) delay marriage for adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Using 108 interventions from 78 studies, predominantly in LMICs, the paper summarizes the performance of 15 categories of interventions in improving these outcomes. Transfer programs emerge as broadly effective in increasing educational attainment but their effects on delaying fertility and marriage remain mixed and dependent on context. Construction of schools in underserved areas and the provision of information on returns to schooling and academic performance also increase schooling. No category of interventions is found to be categorically effective in delaying pregnancies and reducing child marriages among adolescent girls. While targeted provision of sexual and reproductive health services, including vouchers and subsidies for family planning, and increasing job opportunities for women seem promising, more research is needed to evaluate the longer-term effects of such interventions. We propose that future studies should aim to measure short-term outcomes that can form good surrogates for long-term welfare gains and should collect detailed cost information.