Development Research Group
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Poverty and inequality, Social Protection, Gender, Maternal and Child Health
Development Research Group
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Last updated August 22, 2023
Berk Özler is a lead 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 World 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. He is a co-founder of and a regular contributor to the Development Impact blog.
Publication Search Results
Now showing 1 - 10 of 34
Publication(World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2004-04) Das, Jishnu ; Do, Quy-Toan ; Özler, BerkDuring the past decade, the use of conditional cash transfers to increase investment in human capital has generated considerable excitement in both research and policy forums. Such schemes are being increasingly adopted in a number of contexts and countries to improve outcomes in health, education, and child labor as they aim to balance the goals of current and future poverty reduction. In this paper, the authors define any scheme requiring a specified course of action in order to receive a benefit as a conditional cash transfer. This definition includes cash transfers based on human capital investments, but is sufficiently broad to encompass other schemes such as work-fare programs or consumption transfers. The authors examine the rationales behind, the problems with, and the tradeoffs inherent to conditional cash transfer programs. They discuss two main concerns: low participation and fungibility. Low participation refers to the problem of program uptake. If individuals do not participate in the program, whether it was designed to increase human capital investment or to target resources, the program will not be successful. The problem of fungibility, however, depends on the rationale for the particular conditional cash transfer program. When used to increase efficiency, even when program uptake is high, program effects may be less than envisioned due to behavioral responses of households that lead to changes in the consumption of close substitutes. While researchers have typically addressed these issues separately, the authors emphasize the need for policymakers to incorporate a number of different factors in a comprehensive framework to design optimal conditional cash transfer schemes.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2004-02) Elbers, Chris ; Lanjouw, Peter F. ; Mistiaen, Johan ; Özler, Berk ; Simler, KenImportant differences exist between communities with respect to their needs, capacities, and circumstances. As central governments are not able to discern these differences fully, they seek to achieve their policy objectives by relying on decentralized mechanisms that use local information. However, household and individual characteristics within communities can also vary substantially. A growing theoretical literature suggests that inequality within communities can influence policy outcomes, and that this influence could be harmful or helpful, depending on the circumstances. Empirical investigations into the impact of inequality have, to date, largely been held back by a lack of systematic evidence on community-level inequality. The authors use household survey and population census data to estimate per capita consumption inequality within communities in three developing countries: Ecuador, Madagascar, and Mozambique. Communities are found to vary markedly from one another in terms of the degree of inequality they exhibit. The authors also show that there should be no presumption that inequality is less severe in poor communities. They argue that the kind of community-level inequality estimates generated in this paper can be used in designing and evaluating decentralized antipoverty programs.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2004-10) Elbers, Chris ; Fujii, Tomoki ; Lanjouw, Peter ; Özler, Berk ; Yin, WesleyUsing recently completed "poverty maps" for Cambodia, Ecuador, and Madagascar, the authors simulate the impact on poverty of transferring an exogenously given budget to geographically defined subgroups of the population according to their relative poverty status. They find large gains from targeting smaller administrative units, such as districts or villages. But these gains are still far from the poverty reduction that would be possible had the planners had access to information on household level income or consumption. The results suggest that a useful way forward might be to combine fine geographic targeting using a poverty map with within-community targeting mechanisms.
Publication(Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2005-03-01) Das, Jishnu ; Do, Quy-Toan ; Ozler, BerkDuring the past decade, the use of conditional cash transfer programs to increase investment in human capital has generated considerable excitement in both research and policy forums. This article surveys the existing literature, which suggests that most conditional cash transfer programs are used for essentially one of two purposes: restoring efficiency when externalities exist or improving equity by targeting resources to poor households. The programs often meet their stated objectives, but in some instances there is tension between the efficiency and equity objectives. The overall impact of a program depends on the gains and losses associated with each objective.
Publication(Elsevier, 2013-07-26) Baird, Sarah ; McIntosh, Craig ; Özler, BerkDespite their explicit focus on reaching the poor, many community driven development (CDD) initiatives are only partially successful in targeting spending towards them. This paper examines Tanzania's flagship CDD program and provides new evidence on the mechanisms by which the demand-driven components of the program may undermine the goal of pro-poor funding allocations. We exploit two data sources for the analysis: a census of wards for mainland Tanzania and a census of households in 100 program villages. These data paint a consistent picture at both levels: wealth, education, access to media, and political engagement are positively correlated with the likelihood to apply for the program at the national level, and to be aware of it at the local level. Centrally dictated features of the program – namely predetermined funding allocations to districts and eligibility rules – combine with the decentralized selection process within districts to counteract this initially regressive application pattern and produce a program that is, like many other CDD programs, only mildly pro-poor. Our results suggest that sensitization and outreach prior to the application process will be a critical dimension in making CDD programs more progressive.
Publication(World Bank, 2004-09-01) Elbers, Chris ; Lanjouw, Peter F. ; Mistiaen, Johan A. ; Özler, Berk ; Simler, KenCommunities differ in important ways in their needs, capacities, and circumstances. Because central governments are not able to discern these differences fully, they seek to achieve their policy objectives by relying on decentralized mechanisms that use local information. Household and individual characteristics within communities can also vary substantially. A growing body of theoretical literature suggests that inequality within communities can influence policy outcomes in ways that are either harmful or helpful, depending on the circumstances. Until recently, empirical investigations into the impact of inequality have been held back by a lack of systematic evidence on community-level inequality. This study uses household survey and population census data to estimate per capita consumption inequality within communities in three developing economies. It finds that communities vary markedly in their degree of inequality. It also shows that there should be no presumption that inequality is less severe in poor communities. The kind of community-level inequality estimates generated here can be used in designing and evaluating decentralized antipoverty programs.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2014-03) Baird, Sarah ; Bohren, Aislinn ; McIntosh, Craig ; Özler, BerkThis paper formalizes the design of experiments intended specifically to study spillover effects. By first randomizing the intensity of treatment within clusters and then randomly assigning individual treatment conditional on this cluster-level intensity, a novel set of treatment effects can be identified. The paper develops a formal framework for consistent estimation of these effects, provides explicit expressions for power calculations, and shows that the power to detect average treatment effects declines precisely with the quantity that identifies the novel treatment effects. A demonstration of the technique is provided using a cash transfer program in Malawi.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2014-03) Baird, Sarah ; Gong, Erick ; McIntosh, Craig ; Özler, BerkAn extensive multi-disciplinary literature examines the effects of learning one's HIV status on subsequent risky sexual behaviors. However, many of these studies rely on non-experimental designs; use self-reported outcome measures, or both. This study investigates the effects of a randomly assigned home based HIV testing and counseling (HTC) intervention on risky sexual behaviors and schooling investments among school-age females in Malawi. The study finds no overall effects on HIV, Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV-2), or achievement test scores at follow-up. However, among the small group of individuals who tested positive for HIV, a large increase in the probability of contracting HSV-2 is found, with this effect stronger among those surprised by their test results. Similarly, those surprised by HIV-negative test results see a significant improvement in achievement test scores, consistent with increased returns to investments in human capital. The finding of increased HSV-2 prevalence among HIV-positive individuals suggests that the conventional wisdom that those who learn they are HIV-positive will adopt safer sexual practices should be treated with caution.
Conditional, Unconditional and Everything in Between : A Systematic Review of the Effects of Cash Transfer Programs on Schooling Outcomes(Taylor and Francis, 2014-03-06) Baird, Sarah ; Ferreira, Francisco H.G. ; Özler, Berk ; Woolcock, MichaelCash transfer programmes are a popular social protection tool in developing countries that aim, among other things, to improve education outcomes in developing countries. The debate over whether these programmes should include conditions has been at the forefront of recent policy discussions. This systematic review aims to complement the existing evidence on the effectiveness of these programmes in improving schooling outcomes and help inform the debate surrounding the design of cash transfer programmes. Using data from 75 reports that cover 35 different studies, the authors find that both conditional cash transfers (CCTs) and unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) improve the odds of being enrolled in and attending school compared to no cash transfer programme. The effect sizes for enrolment and attendance are always larger for CCTs compared to UCTs, but the difference is not statistically significant. When programmes are categorised as having no schooling conditions, having some conditions with minimal monitoring and enforcement and having explicit conditions that are monitored and enforced, a much clearer pattern emerges whereby programmes that are explicitly conditional, monitor compliance and penalise non-compliance have substantively larger effects (60% improvement in odds of enrolment). Unlike enrolment and attendance, the effectiveness of cash transfer programmes on improving test scores is small at best. More research is needed that examines longer-term outcomes such as test scores and, more generally, evaluating the impacts of UCTs.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2006-08) Araujo, M. Caridad ; Ferreira, Francisco H.G. ; Lanjouw, Peter ; Özler, BerkThis paper provides evidence consistent with elite capture of Social Fund investment projects in Ecuador. Exploiting a unique combination of data-sets on village-level income distributions, Social Fund project administration, and province level electoral results, the authors test a simple model of project choice when local political power is unequally distributed. In accordance with the predictions of the model, poorer villages are more likely to receive projects that provide excludable (private) goods to the poor, such as latrines. Controlling for poverty, more unequal communities are less likely to receive such projects. Consistent with the hypothesis of elite capture, these results are sensitive to the specific measure of inequality used in the empirical analysis, and are strongest for expenditure shares at the top of the distribution.