Research

Published and Working Papers

“Sanitation and Education” (April 2017, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics)
I explore whether the absence of school-sanitation infrastructure impedes educational attainment, particularly among pubescent-age girls, using a national Indian school latrine-construction initiative and administrative school-level data. School-latrine construction substantially increases enrollment of pubescent-age girls, though predominately when providing sex-specific latrines. Privacy and safety appear to matter sufficiently for pubescent-age girls that only sex-specific latrines reduce gender disparities. Any latrine substantially benefits younger girls and boys, who may be particularly vulnerable to sickness from uncontained waste. Academic test scores did not increase following latrine construction, however. Estimated increases in enrollment are similar across the substantial variation in Indian district characteristics.

“Educational Investment Responses to Economic Opportunity: Evidence from Indian Road Construction”
(with S. Asher and P. Novosad) (January 2020, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics)
The rural poor in developing countries, once economically isolated, are increasingly being connected to outside markets. Whether these new connections crowd out or encourage educational investment is a central question. We examine the impacts on educational choices of 115,000 new roads built under India’s flagship road construction program. We find that children stay in school longer and perform better on standardized exams. Treatment heterogeneity supports the predictions of a standard human capital investment model: enrollment increases are largest where nearby labor markets offer the highest returns to education and lowest where they imply high opportunity costs of schooling.

“Spillover Impacts on Education from Employment Guarantees” (Accepted, Education Finance and Policy)
Programs that guarantee some basic level of low-skill employment are a popular anti-poverty strategy in developing countries, with India’s employment-guarantee program (MGNREGA) annually employing adults in 23% of Indian households.  An important concern is these employment programs may discourage children’s education and, thus, more-sustained long-run income growth.  Using large-scale administrative data and household survey data, I estimate precise spillover impacts on education that reject substantive declines in children’s education from the rollout of MGNREGA.  These negative spillovers are inexpensive to counteract, and small compared to immediate effects of MGNREGA on rural employment and poverty alleviation.

“Religion and Sanitation Practices”
(with M. Alsan, K. Babiarz, J. Goldhaber-Fiebert, and L. Prince)  (October 2019World Bank Economic Review)
In India, infant mortality among Hindus is higher than among Muslims, and religious differences in sanitation practices have been cited as a contributing factor. To explore whether religion itself is associated with differences in sanitation practices, this study compares sanitation practices of Hindus and Muslims living in the same locations using three nationally representative data sets from India. Across all three data sets, the unconditional religion-specific gap in latrine ownership and latrine use declines by approximately two-thirds when conditioning on location characteristics or including location fixed effects. Further, the estimates do not show evidence of religion-specific differences in other sanitation practices, such as handwashing or observed fecal material near homes. Household sanitation practices vary substantially across areas of India, but religion itself has less direct influence when considering differences between Hindus and Muslims within the same location.

 

Other Writings: Policy Briefs, Op-Eds, Blog Posts

India’s National Education Policy: A need to look beyond the classroom to improve resultsVoxDev, November 2019.

How sanitation facilities in schools can improve educational outcomes, Ideas for India, August 2018.

Promoting Education through School SanitationWorld Bank Development Impact, March 2014.

“The Impact of the Financial Crisis on Tertiary Education World Wide” (with B. Long.) World Bank, September 2009.

“The Broadmoor Project New Orleans Community Engagement Initiative: Progress Report” (with D. Ahlers, M. Blakley, L. Cole, M. El Dahshan, A. Hodari, H. Ko, J. Maeso, A. Noble, D. Radcliffe, M. Richards, C. Valentine, A. Van, D. Walsh, A. Watson, A. Woods, C. Wood, J. Wright, K. Yang). Harvard Kennedy School – Broadmoor Initiative, March 2007.