GDP Center Round-Up: Human Capital Initiative Fall 2021 Research

Singapore. Photo by Charles Postiaux via Unsplash.

By Emanne Khan

The mission of the Human Capital Initiative (HCI) is to advance interdisciplinary research on the role of human capital in human development to inform policy solutions to global challenges including poverty, women’s empowerment and sustainable economic growth through investments in education and health. In Fall 2021, HCI’s Core Faculty Members published a suite of new research on a variety of topics ranging from voter information campaigns and women’s control of wealth, to the impact of national labor quotas in Saudi Arabia, changing knowledge and attitudes towards HIV treatment-as-prevention and a counterfactual approach to measuring the unmet family planning needs. 

Below, see a roundup and summary of HCI’s latest research:

Ignorance is Not Bliss: Experimental Evidence on Voter Information and Political Selection in India

When democratic societies hold elections, voters face the task of collecting information on candidates and deciding who to support at the polls. In an ideal world, this system would filter out “bad” candidates, but yet, in India—the world’s most populous democracy—approximately 34 percent of elected national legislators face criminal charges, and nearly ten percent of Indian legislators face charges for violent crimes. Furthermore, legislators with a criminal record appear to have electoral advantages, despite evidence that they hamper economic growth and increase poverty and crime in their constituencies. In a recent working paper, HCI Core Faculty Member Siddharth George and coauthors examined whether informing voters about candidates’ criminal records affects share of the vote. To test this theory, the authors ran a large-scale, mobile-based voter information campaign around the 2017 state assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. The treatment involved sending more than 450,000 mobile service subscribers living across roughly 3,500 villages text and voice messages informing recipients about the characteristics and criminal history of candidates in their constituency. Their study found that voters shifted support away from criminal candidates towards other candidates when presented with information about candidates’ criminal records. Read the working paper and read the blog.

Labor Market Nationalization Policies and Exporting Firm Outcomes: Evidence from Saudi Arabia

While the United States struggles to address its most severe labor shortage on record, across the globe, Saudi Arabia faces a very different challenge. As of 2020, 72.4 percent of its population is of working age. In order to provide opportunities for its robust domestic labor supply and combat high levels of unemployment, the Saudi government has engaged in various versions of an ongoing scheme for decades, known as “Saudization,” or Nitaqat. This policy dictates Saudi firms must fill a certain number of positions with Saudi nationals before hiring foreign employees, of which there are a large number in the Kingdom. With its prominence in government plans, the policy is sure to play a role in determining the survival of firms based on their compliance with the quotas. In a recent working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, HCI Associate Director Patricia Cortés and coauthors explored how Nitaqat affected the outcomes of exporting firms, the most productive sector of the non-oil economy, within the last decade. The authors found that whereas the policy was successful in increasing the employment of Saudi nationals, it came at a high cost to these firms in the form of competitiveness and worker productivity. Read the working paper and read the blog summary.

Changing Knowledge and Attitudes Towards HIV Treatment-as-Prevention and “Undetectable = Untransmittable”: A Systematic Review

Treatment-as-prevention (TasP) refers to the strategy of treating HIV-positive individuals with antiretroviral therapy (ART) to prevent sexual transmission of the disease to others. A landmark 2011 study by the HIV Prevention Trials Network that monitored transmission amongst mixed HIV status couples (in which one partner was HIV-positive and one HIV-negative) provided conclusive evidence that ART eliminates the risk of transmission in virally suppressed people living with HIV. Despite the positive implications this research has for millions of people living with HIV worldwide, major disparities remain in terms of knowledge, awareness and attitudes towards TasP. In a recent journal article published in AIDS and Behavior, Human Capital Initiative Core Faculty Member Jacob Bor and 13 coauthors conducted a systematic review of the scientific literature on TasP knowledge, awareness and attitudes in different populations around the world. Their review found a clear need for important scientific discoveries to be coupled with thoughtful public information strategies in order to increase the general public’s awareness and ability to live better and healthier lives. Read the journal article and read the blog summary.

Culture, Capital and the Political Economy Gender Gap: Evidence from Meghalaya’s Matrilineal Tribes

What does the relationship between social norms and political representation look like in places where norms channel wealth to women? In remote Meghalaya in northeast India, the Khasi, Garo and Jaintiya tribes practice matriliny, where customs mandate wealth and property travel from mothers to daughters. Living side-by-side are patrilineal groups, which pass wealth from fathers to sons. Both sets of groups share the same political system and laws, allowing researchers to isolate the impact of lineage norms on political action. Employing surveys, behavioral experiments and extensive qualitative research in Meghalaya, a recent journal article by Rachel Brulé and Nikhar Gaikwad investigated whether political engagement varied by respondent gender and community norms about wealth control. Their study found that when women have economic power, the gender gap in political participation across cultural groups flips. Traditional wealth owners—men in patrilineal communities, like men in most of the world, but also women in matrilineal communities—are more politically engaged than their culturally-excluded genders. In all, women are more likely to vote, trust their political institutions and parties and hold their political representatives accountable. Read the journal article and read the blog summary.

Measurement of Unmet Need for Family Planning: A Counterfactual Approach

Estimates vary of the number of unintended pregnancies that occur worldwide each year, but recent data puts the number over 100 million, or nearly half of all annual pregnancies, with the World Health Organization noting unintended pregnancies can present numerous risks for both mother and child, from unsafe abortions, to higher vulnerability and risk of poverty. Accurately and efficiently measuring the number of women who are not currently using contraception but wish to limit or space pregnancies—in other words, measuring unmet contraceptive need—is a crucial step in reducing the myriad risks that unintended pregnancies present to women of reproductive age across the world. How then, can unmet need be measured? A recent working paper from Human Capital Initiative Associate Director Mahesh Karra proposes a new methodology for measuring unmet contraceptive need that differs from the methodologies currently utilized by the United States Agency for International Development’s Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Program.  Read the working paper and read the blog summary.

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