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Essays in Empirical Development Economics


This dissertation encompasses three empirical studies in the economics of western Kenya. In Chapter 1, I estimate the impacts of secondary school on human capital, occupational choice, and fertility for young adults in Kenya. Probability of admission to government secondary school rises sharply at a score close to the national mean on a standardized 8th grade examination, permitting me to estimate causal effects of schooling in a regression discontinuity framework. I combine administrative test score data with a recent survey of young adults to estimate these impacts. My results show that secondary schooling increases human capital, as measured by performance on cognitive tests included in the survey. For men, I find a drop in the probability of low-skill self-employment, as well as suggestive evidence of a rise in the probability of formal employment. The opportunity to attend secondary school also reduces teen pregnancy among women.

In Chapter 2, I investigate whether a large-scale deworming intervention aimed at primary school pupils in western Kenya had long-term effects on young children in the region, exploiting positive externalities from the program to estimate the impact on younger children who did not receive treatment directly. I find large cognitive effects---equivalent to half a year of schooling---for children who were less than one year old when their communities received mass deworming treatment. I also find modest positive effects on stature. Because mass deworming was administered through schools, I also estimate effects among children who were likely to have older siblings in school to receive the treatment directly; in this subpopulation, effects are twice as large.

In Chapter 3, Pamela Jakiela and I measure the economic impacts of social pressures to share income with kin and neighbors in rural Kenyan villages. We conduct a lab experiment in which we randomly vary the observability of investment returns to test whether subjects reduce their income in order to keep it hidden. We find that women adopt an investment strategy that conceals the size of their initial endowment in the experiment, though that strategy reduces their expected earnings. This effect is largest among women with relatives attending the experiment, who invest 22 percent less when income is observable. At the village level, the extent to which experimental subjects engage in income hiding within the experiment is negatively associated with the probability of skilled employment and the value of household assets.

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