Özler, Berk

Development Research Group
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Poverty and inequality, Social Protection, Gender, Maternal and Child Health
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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.
Citations 237 Scopus

Publication Search Results

Now showing 1 - 8 of 8
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    On the Unequal Inequality of Poor Communities
    (World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2004-02) Elbers, Chris ; Lanjouw, Peter F. ; Mistiaen, Johan ; Özler, Berk ; Simler, Ken
    Important 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.
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    Poverty Alleviation through Geographic Targeting: How Much Does Disaggregation Help?
    (World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2004-10) Elbers, Chris ; Fujii, Tomoki ; Lanjouw, Peter ; Özler, Berk ; Yin, Wesley
    Using 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.
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    The Heterogeneous Effects of HIV Testing
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2014-03) Baird, Sarah ; Gong, Erick ; McIntosh, Craig ; Özler, Berk
    An 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.
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    Local Inequality and Project Choice: Theory and Evidence from Ecuador
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2006-08) Araujo, M. Caridad ; Ferreira, Francisco H.G. ; Lanjouw, Peter ; Özler, Berk
    This 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.
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    Re-Interpreting Sub-Group Inequality Decompositions
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2005-08) Elbers, Chris ; Lanjouw, Peter ; Mistiaen, Johan A. ; Özler, Berk
    The authors propose a modification to the conventional approach of decomposing income inequality by population sub-groups. Specifically, they propose a measure that evaluates observed between-group inequality against a benchmark of maximum between-group inequality that can be attained when the number and relative sizes of groups under examination are fixed. The authors argue that such a modification can provide a complementary perspective on the question of whether a particular population breakdown is salient to an assessment of inequality in a country. As their measure normalizes between-group inequality by the number and relative sizes of groups, it is also less subject to problems of comparability across different settings. The authors show that for a large set of countries their assessment of the importance of group differences typically increases substantially on the basis of this approach. The ranking of countries (or different population groups) can also differ from that obtained using traditional decomposition methods. Finally, they observe an interesting pattern of higher levels of overall inequality in countries where their measure finds higher between-group contributions.
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    The Regressive Demands of Demand-Driven Development
    ( 2011-11-01) Baird, Sarah ; McIntosh, Craig ; Ozler, Berk
    Despite their explicit focus on reaching the poor, many community driven development (CDD) projects have been found to be only mildly pro-poor in their funding allocations. This paper presents evidence of an explanation that has been overlooked in the CDD literature to date: the requirement that beneficiaries must apply for projects in order to receive support. The authors first examine data on the universe of project applications and funding under Tanzania's flagship CDD program, Tanzania's Social Action Fund, and then use a census of 100 program villages to examine the determinants of both program awareness and program participation at the household level. The data paint a consistent picture at both levels: wealth, access to information, and political capital are important correlates of the ability to navigate the application process successfully. The centrally dictated features of this decentralized program appear to be the most effective mechanisms in directing funds to the poor. The results suggest that unless demand-driven projects can develop ways of soliciting engagement from a broader cross-section of the population, they are unlikely to achieve truly progressive targeting.
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    Designing Cost-Effective Cash Transfer Programs to Boost Schooling among Young Women in Sub-Saharan Africa
    ( 2009-10-01) Baird, Sarah ; McIntosh, Craig ; Ozler, Berk
    As of 2007, 29 developing countries had some type of conditional cash transfer program in place, with many others planning or piloting one. However, the evidence base needed by a government to decide how to design a new conditional cash transfer program is severely limited in a number of critical dimensions. This paper presents one-year schooling impacts from a conditional cash transfer experiment among teenage girls and young women in Malawi, which was designed to address these shortcomings: conditionality status, size of separate transfers to the schoolgirl and the parent, and village-level saturation of treatment were all independently randomized. The authors find that the program had large impacts on school attendance: the re-enrollment rate among those who had already dropped out of school before the start of the program increased by two and a half times and the dropout rate among those in school at baseline decreased from 11 to 6 percent. These impacts were, on average, similar in the conditional and the unconditional treatment arms. Although most schooling outcomes examined here were unresponsive to variation in the size of the transfer to the parents, higher transfers given directly to the schoolgirls were associated with significantly improved school attendance and progress - but only if the transfers were conditional on school attendance. There were no spillover effects within treatment communities after the first year of program implementation. Policymakers looking to design cost-effective cash transfer programs targeted toward young women should note the relative insensitivity of these short-term program impacts with respect to conditionality and total transfer size.
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    Cash or Condition? Evidence from a Cash Transfer Experiment
    ( 2010-03-01) Baird, Sarah ; McIntosh, Craig ; Ozler, Berk
    Conditional Cash Transfer programs are "...the world's favorite new anti-poverty device," (The Economist, July 29 2010) yet little is known about the specific role of the conditions in driving their success. In this paper, we evaluate a unique cash transfer experiment targeted at adolescent girls in Malawi that featured both a conditional (CCT) and an unconditional (UCT) treatment arm. We find that while there was a modest improvement in school enrollment in the UCT arm in comparison to the control group, this increase is only 43 percent as large as the CCT arm. The CCT arm also outperformed the UCT arm in tests of English reading comprehension. The schooling condition, however, proved costly for important non-schooling outcomes: teenage pregnancy and marriage rates were substantially higher in the CCT than the UCT arm. Our findings suggest that a CCT program for early adolescents that transitions into a UCT for older teenagers would minimize this trade-off by improving schooling outcomes while avoiding the adverse impacts of conditionality on teenage pregnancy and marriage.