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One of the most egregious manifestations of gender bias is the phenomenon of “missing women.” The number of missing women is projected to increase to 150 million by 2035, as a result of prenatal sex selection and excess female mortality relative to men, and is reflected in male-biased sex ratios at all ages. The economics literature identifies several proximate causes of the deficit of females, including the widespread use of prenatal sex selection in many Asian countries, which has been fueled by the diffusion of ultrasound and other fetal sex-detection technology. The use of prenatal sex selection has become even more expansive with a decline in fertility, as parents with a preference for sons are less likely to achieve their desired sex composition of children at lower levels of fertility. Gender discrimination in investments in health and nutrition also leads to excess female mortality among children through multiple channels. The deeper causes of son preference lie in the socioeconomic and cultural norms embedded in patriarchal societies, and recent literature in economics seeks to quantify the impact of these norms and customs on the sex ratio. Particularly important are the norms of patrilineality, in which property and assets are passed through the male line, and patrilocality, in which elderly parents coreside with their sons, whereas their daughters move to live with their husbands’ families after marriage. Another strand of the literature explores the hypothesis that the devaluing of women has roots in historical agricultural systems: Societies that have made little use of women’s labor are today the ones with the largest female deficits. Finally, economic development is often associated with a decline in son preference, but, in practice, many correlates of development, such as women’s education, income, and work status, have little impact on the sex ratio unless accompanied by more extensive social transformations. A number of policies have been implemented by governments throughout the world to tackle this issue, including legislative bans on different forms of gender discrimination, financial incentives for families to compensate them for the perceived additional costs of having a daughter, and media and advocacy campaigns that seek to increase the inherent demand for daughters by shifting the norm of son preference. Quantitative evaluations of some of these policies find mixed results. Where policies are unable to address the root causes of son preference, they often simply deflect discrimination from the targeted margin to another margin, and in some cases, they even fail in their core objectives. On the other hand, the expansion of social safety nets has had a considerable impact in reducing the reliance of parents on their sons. Similarly, media and advocacy campaigns that aim to increase the perceived value of women have also shown promise, even if their progress appears slow. Analysis of the welfare consequences of such interventions suggests that governments must pay close attention to underlying sociocultural norms when designing policy.

Article

Gilles Duranton and Anthony J. Venables

Urbanization is a central challenge of our times. At its core, it is an urban development challenge that requires addressing transportation and housing in cities. Transport improvements can reduce travel times and improve the spatial reach of urban dwellers. But these improvements may be crowded out by latent demand for travel and may lead to worse congestion, pollution, and other negative externalities associated with urban traffic. To evaluate the effects of transport improvements, direct travel effects must be measured. Then, an improvement in traffic conditions somewhere may spill over to other areas. Firms and residents may also relocate, so economic growth close to a transport improvement may just result from a displacement of economic activity from other areas. Conversely, better accessibility is expected to foster agglomeration effects and increase productivity. Valuing these changes is difficult, as it requires being able to quantify many externalities such as congestion delays, scheduling gains, and greater job accessibility. Housing policies present different challenges. More fundamental policies seek to enable housing construction by offering more secure property rights, up-to-date land registries, and competent land-use planning—all complex endeavors and all necessary. Other housing policies rely on heavy government interventions to provide housing directly to large segments of the urban population. These policies often flop because governments fail to link housing provision with job accessibility and appropriate land-use planning. Housing is also an expensive asset that requires significant initial funding, while credit constraints abound in the urbanizing world. Policymakers also need to choose between small improvements to extremely low-quality informal housing, retrofitting modern housing in already-built urban areas, or urban expansion. All these options involve sharp trade-offs, subtle induced effects, and complex interactions with transport. All these effects are difficult to measure and challenging to value.

Article

This article explores knowledge spillovers, positive externalities that augment the information set of an economic agent, and reviews the evidence on such spillovers in the context of international economic transactions. The entry discusses trade channels of knowledge transfer associated with purchases from abroad (imports) and sales to abroad (exports). Another focus is on the foreign direct investment (FDI) channel through purchases from abroad (inward FDI) and sales to abroad (outward FDI). The entry also distinguishes knowledge flows from foreign to domestic agents and from domestic to foreign agents. The entry underlines the importance of empirical methodology and data characteristics that determine the quality of econometric identification. Even though spillovers are by their very nature—as externalities—difficult to identify, over recent decades a number of advances have produced robust evidence that both trade and foreign direct investment lead to sizable knowledge spillovers. These advances have been both conceptual as well as in the areas of empirical methodology and new data.

Article

Moussa P. Blimpo, Admasu Asfaw Maruta, and Josephine Ofori Adofo

Well-functioning institutions are essential for stable and prosperous societies. Despite significant improvement during the past three decades, the consolidation of coherent and stable institutions remains a challenge in many African countries. There is a persistent wedge between the de jure rules, the observance of the rules, and practices at many levels. The wedge largely stems from the fact that the analysis and design of institutions have focused mainly on a top-down approach, which gives more prominence to written laws. During the past two decades, however, a new strand of literature has emerged, focusing on accountability from the bottom up and making institutions more responsive to citizens’ needs. It designs and evaluates a mix of interventions, including information provision to local communities, training, or outright decentralization of decision-making at the local level. In theory, accountability from the bottom up may pave the way in shaping the institutions’ nature at the top—driven by superior localized knowledge. The empirical findings, however, have yielded a limited positive impact or remained mixed at best. Some of the early emerging regularities showed that information and transparency alone are not enough to generate accountability. The reasons include the lack of local ownership and the power asymmetry between the local elites and the people. Some of the studies have addressed many of these constraints at varying degrees without much improvement in the outcomes. A simple theoretical framework with multiple equilibria helps better understand this literature. In this framework, the literature consists of attempts to mobilize, gradually or at once, a critical mass to shift from existing norms and practices (inferior equilibrium) into another set of norms and practices (superior equilibrium). Shifting an equilibrium requires large and/or sustained shocks, whereas most interventions tend to be smaller in scope and short-lived. In addition, accountability at the bottom is often neglected relative to rights. If norms and practices within families and communities carry similar features as those observed at the top (e.g., abuse of one’s power), then the core of the problem is beyond just a wedge between the ruling elite and the citizens.

Article

Jari Eloranta and Jari Ojala

The Finnish economy has experienced a relative late growth and catch-up process in relation to many other advanced Western economies. During this growth period, Finland also experienced a rapid structural change from an agrarian society to a developed service society. In a small open economy, the export industries have played a vital role in this development. Over several centuries, the forest industries have had a dominating impact in exports, along with the metal industries; however, the latter, as well as the electronics industry, with Nokia as the flagship company, gained more importance in the late 20th century in aggregate exports. The egalitarian educational system has to a large extent been pivotal respective of this change in the industrial structure and also in the growth of services. The demographic changes underlying these processes have been focal in these development processes, namely, the steady population growth in the 19th and early 20th centuries, followed by migration to urban centers, especially during the latter part of the 20th century; and, from the turn of the millennium, the emerging challenges of the welfare society followed by the aging of the population.

Article

Kevin Kuruc, Mark Budolfson, and Dean Spears

Nearly all large policy decisions influence not only the quality of life for existing individuals but also the number—and even identities—of yet-to-exist individuals. Accounting for these effects in a policy evaluation framework requires taking difficult stances on concepts such as the value of existence. These issues are at the heart of a literature that sits between welfare economics and philosophical population ethics. Despite the inherent challenges of these questions, this literature has produced theoretical insights and subsequent progress on variable-population welfare criteria. A surprisingly bounded set of coherent alternatives exists for practitioners once a set of uncontroversial axioms is adopted from the better-studied welfare criteria for cases where populations are assumed to be fixed. Although consensus has not yet been reached among these remaining alternatives, their recommendations often agree. The space has been sufficiently restricted and well explored that applications of the theoretical insights are possible and underway in earnest. For reasons both theoretical and empirical, the applied literature studying optimal policy and its robustness to welfare criteria has documented a surprising degree of convergence between recommendations under quite different ethical stances on existence value. This convergence has appeared even in cases where population size itself is the choice variable. Although it may not always be the case that policy recommendations are invariant to population welfare criteria, tools have been developed that allow researchers to easily and transparently move between such criteria to study the robustness in their context of interest. The broader point is that the remaining theoretical uncertainties need not prevent population ethics from playing a role in policy evaluation—the tools are available for determining whether and which policies are broadly supported among a range of ethical views.

Article

Eric A. Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann

Economic growth determines the future well-being of society, but finding ways to influence it has eluded many nations. Empirical analysis of differences in growth rates reaches a simple conclusion: long-run growth in gross domestic product (GDP) is largely determined by the skills of a nation’s population. Moreover, the relevant skills can be readily gauged by standardized tests of cognitive achievement. Over the period 1960–2000, three-quarters of the variation in growth of GDP per capita across countries can be accounted for by international measures of math and science skills. The relationship between aggregate cognitive skills, called the knowledge capital of a nation, and the long-run growth rate is extraordinarily strong. There are natural questions about whether the knowledge capital–growth relationship is causal. While it is impossible to provide conclusive proof of causality, the existing evidence makes a strong prima facie case that changing the skills of the population will lead to higher growth rates. If future GDP is projected based on the historical growth relationship, the results indicate that modest efforts to bring all students to minimal levels will produce huge economic gains. Improvements in the quality of schools have strong long-term benefits. The best way to improve the quality of schools is unclear from existing research. On the other hand, a number of developed and developing countries have shown that improvement is possible.

Article

Enrique Fatas, Nathaly Jiménez, Lina Restrepo-Plaza, and Gustavo Rincón

Violent conflict is a polyhedric phenomenon. Beyond the destruction of physical and human capital and the economic, political, and social costs war generates, there is an additional burden carried by victims: persistent changes in the way they make decisions. Exposure to violence generates changes in how individuals perceive other individuals from their group and other groups, how they discount the future, and how they assess and tolerate risk. The behavioral consequences of violence exposure can be documented using experiments in which participants make decisions in a controlled, incentive-compatible scenario. The external validity of experiments is reinforced when the studies are run in postconflict scenarios, for example, in Colombia, with real victims of conflict. The experimental tasks, therefore, may map risk attitudes among victims and nonvictims of the conflict who share a common background, and distinguish between different types of exposure (direct versus indirect) and different sources of violence (conflict-related versus criminal violence). The experimental evidence collected in Colombia is consistent with a long-lasting and substantial effect of conflict exposure on risk attitudes. Victims are more likely to take risks and less likely to make safe choices than nonvictims, controlling for demographic, socioeconomic, and attitudinal factors. The effect is significant only when the source of violence is conflict (exerted by guerrilla or paramilitary militias) and when violence is experienced directly by individuals. Indirect conflict exposure (suffered by close relatives) and criminal violence leave no significant mark on participants’ risk attitudes in the study.

Article

Ola Honningdal Grytten

Since Norway’s formation as an independent sovereign state in 1814, its small open economy has, like its neighboring countries, experienced significant economic growth. During the last several decades petroleum has made the country one of the wealthiest in the world. The main reason for the long-term growth seems to have been the ability to meet international demand by utilizing rich natural resources, adopting efficient technology, and drawing on the labor force in order to gain high productivity. Historical national accounts reveal that Norway’s wealth was close to the Western European average during the early 19th century. From the 1840s to the mid-1870s, Norwegian growth rates were clearly better than average. This period was followed by relative stagnation until the 1890s, when the country saw rapid industrialization based on hydroelectricity. After the two World Wars Norway adopted a social democratic rule, with a high degree of economic planning, called the Nordic model. This has contributed to a large public sector and evenly distributed wealth and resources. The discovery of oil and gas on the Norwegian continental shelf marked a new era, when Norway experienced higher growth rates than most Western economies. This has made it the country with the highest score in the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) during the two first decades of the 21st century, despite a slowdown in growth after the financial crisis in 2008.

Article

Jeanet Sinding Bentzen

Economics of religion is the application of economic methods to the study of causes and consequences of religion. Ever since Max Weber set forth his theory of the Protestant ethic, social scientists have compared socioeconomic differences across Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, and Christians, and more recently across different intensities of religiosity. Religiosity refers to an individual’s degree of religious attendance and strength of beliefs. Religiosity rises with a growing demand for religion resulting from adversity and insecurity or a surging supply of religion stemming from increasing numbers of religious organizations, for instance. Religiosity has fallen in some Western countries since the mid-20th century, but has strengthened in several other societies around the world. Religion is a multidimensional concept, and religiosity has multiple impacts on socioeconomic outcomes, depending on the dimension observed. Religion covers public religious activities such as church attendance, which involves exposure to religious doctrines and to fellow believers, potentially strengthening social capital and trust among believers. Religious doctrines teach belief in supernatural beings, but also social views on hard work, refraining from deviant activities, and adherence to traditional norms. These norms and social views are sometimes orthogonal to the general tendency of modernization, and religion may contribute to the rising polarization on social issues regarding abortion, LGBT rights, women, and immigration. These norms and social views are again potentially in conflict with science and innovation, incentivizing some religious authorities to curb scientific progress. Further, religion encompasses private religious activities such as prayer and the particular religious beliefs, which may provide comfort and buffering against stressful events. At the same time, rulers may exploit the existence of belief in higher powers for political purposes. Empirical research supports these predictions. Consequences of higher religiosity include more emphasis on traditional values such as traditional gender norms and attitudes against homosexuality, lower rates of technical education, restrictions on science and democracy, rising polarization and conflict, and lower average incomes. Positive consequences of religiosity include improved health and depression rates, crime reduction, increased happiness, higher prosociality among believers, and consumption and well-being levels that are less sensitive to shocks.