Esther Duflo's research while affiliated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other places

Publications (209)

Article
Background: Cost-effective demand-side interventions are needed to increase childhood immunization. Multiple studies find tying income support programs (≥USD 50 per year) to immunization raises coverage. Research on maximizing impact from small mobile-based conditional cash transfers (mCCTs) (≤USD 15 per fully immunized child) delivered in lower-in...
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Human behaviour is complex and multifaceted, and is studied by a broad range of disciplines across the social and natural sciences. To mark our 5th anniversary, we asked leading scientists in some of the key disciplines that we cover to share their vision of the future of research in their disciplines. Our contributors underscore how important it i...
Article
This paper studies the long-run effects of a “ big-push” program providing a large asset transfer to the poorest Indian households. In a randomized controlled trial that follows these households over ten years, we find positive effects on consumption (0.6 SD), food security (0.1 SD), income (0.3 SD), and health (0.2 SD). These effects grow for the...
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During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) epidemic, many health professionals used social media to promote preventative health behaviors. We conducted a randomized controlled trial of the effect of a Facebook advertising campaign consisting of short videos recorded by doctors and nurses to encourage users to stay at home for the Thanksgiving a...
Preprint
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During the COVID-19 epidemic, many health professionals started using mass communication on social media to relay critical information and persuade individuals to adopt preventative health behaviors. Our group of clinicians and nurses developed and recorded short video messages to encourage viewers to stay home for the Thanksgiving and Christmas Ho...
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Importance: Social distancing is critical to the control of COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected the Black community. Physician-delivered messages may increase adherence to these behaviors. Objectives: To determine whether messages delivered by physicians improve COVID-19 knowledge and preventive behaviors and to assess the differenti...
Preprint
Full-text available
During the COVID-19 epidemic, many health professionals started using mass communication on social media to relay critical information and persuade individuals to adopt preventative health behaviors. Our group of clinicians and nurses developed and recorded short video messages to encourage viewers to stay home for the Thanksgiving and Christmas Ho...
Article
Full-text available
During the COVID-19 epidemic, many health professionals started using mass communication on social media to relay critical information and persuade individuals to adopt preventative health behaviors. Our group of clinicians and nurses developed and recorded short video messages to encourage viewers to stay home for the Thanksgiving and Christmas Ho...
Preprint
Full-text available
We evaluate a large-scale set of interventions to increase demand for immunization in Haryana, India. The policies under consideration include the two most frequently discussed tools--reminders and incentives--as well as an intervention inspired by the networks literature. We cross-randomize whether (a) individuals receive SMS reminders about upcom...
Article
Management matters for firms, but what practices are optimal in hierarchical government organizations? And can skilled managers identify them? A large-scale randomized trial conducted with the police of Rajasthan, India, tested four interventions recommended by senior police officers: limitations of transfers, rotation of duties and days off, incre...
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Background: The paucity of public health messages that directly address communities of color might contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in knowledge and behavior related to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Objective: To determine whether physician-delivered prevention messages affect knowledge and information-seeking behavior of Black...
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Using nationally representative data from India I examine the labor market effects of world's biggest and arguably most aggressive form of employment based affirmative action policy for minorities. This paper exploits the institutional features of federally mandated employment quota policy to examine its effect on two distinct minority groups. My m...
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This paper estimates the effect of access to transportation networks on regional economic outcomes in China over a twenty-year period of rapid income growth. It addresses the problem of the endogenous placement of networks by exploiting the fact that these networks tend to connect historical cities. Our results show that proximity to transportation...
Article
Can we identify highly central individuals in a network without collecting network data, simply by asking community members? Can seeding information via such nominated individuals lead to significantly wider diffusion than via randomly chosen people, or even respected ones? In two separate large field experiments in India, we answer both questions...
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Objective: Voluntary Counseling and Testing for HIV (VCT) and increasing access to male condoms are common strategies to respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Using biological and behavioral outcomes, we compared programs to increase access to VCT, male condoms or both among youth in Western Kenya with the standard available HIV prevention services wi...
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High pollution persists in many developing countries despite strict environmental rules. We use a field experiment and a structural model to study how plant emission standards are enforced. In collaboration with an Indian environmental regulator, we experimentally doubled the rate of inspection for treatment plants and required that the extra inspe...
Article
Randomized controlled trials have found only modest effects of microfinance, but these studies focus on new clients. Existing estimates may thus understate ongoing gains for more experienced borrowers and the longer‐run potential of microfinance. We estimate impacts of microfinance on experienced borrowers, using an episode when a microfinance inst...
Article
We propose strategies to estimate and make inference on key features of heterogeneous effects in randomized experiments. These key features include best linear predictors of the effects using machine learning proxies, average effects sorted by impact groups, and average characteristics of most and least impacted units. The approach is valid in high...
Article
The promise of randomized controlled trials is that evidence gathered through the evaluation of a specific program helps us—possibly after several rounds of fine-tuning and multiple replications in different contexts—to inform policy. However, critics have pointed out that a potential constraint in this agenda is that results from small “proof-of-c...
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Introduction Prenatal care is recommended during pregnancy to improve neonatal and maternal outcomes. Women of lower socioeconomic status (SES) are less compliant to recommended prenatal care and suffer a higher risk of adverse perinatal outcomes. Several attempts to encourage optimal pregnancy follow-up have shown controversial results, particular...
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Many poor children are underprepared for demanding primary school curricula. Research in cognitive science suggests that school achievement could be improved by preschool pedagogy in which numerate adults engage children's spontaneous, nonsymbolic mathematical concepts. To test this suggestion, we designed and evaluated a game-based preschool curri...
Article
We revisit the classic semiparametric problem of inference on a low dimensional parameter θ0 in the presence of high-dimensional nuisance parameters η0. We depart from the classical setting by allowing for η0 to be so high-dimensional that the traditional assumptions, such as Donsker properties, that limit complexity of the parameter space for this...
Article
As economists increasingly help governments design new policies and regulations, they take on an added responsibility to engage with the details of policy making and, in doing so, to adopt the mindset of a plumber. Plumbers try to predict as well as possible what may work in the real world, mindful that tinkering and adjusting will be necessary sin...
Article
Chernozhukov, Chetverikov, Demirer, Duflo, Hansen, and Newey (2016) provide a generic double/de-biased machine learning (DML) approach for obtaining valid inferential statements about focal parameters, using Neyman-orthogonal scores and cross-fitting, in settings where nuisance parameters are estimated using a new generation of nonparametric fittin...
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Most modern supervised statistical/machine learning (ML) methods are explicitly designed to solve prediction problems very well. Achieving this goal does not imply that these methods automatically deliver good estimators of causal parameters. Examples of such parameters include individual regression coefficients, average treatment effects, average...
Article
Laboratory studies suggest that improved cooking stoves can reduce indoor air pollution, improve health, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries. We provide evidence, from a large-scale randomized trial in India, on the benefits of a common, laboratory-validated stove with a four-year follow-up. While smoke inhalation initiall...
Article
A seven-year randomized evaluation suggests education subsidies reduce adolescent girls' dropout, pregnancy, and marriage but not sexually transmitted infection (STI). The government's HIV curriculum, which stresses abstinence until marriage, does not reduce pregnancy or STI. Both programs combined reduce STI more, but cut dropout and pregnancy les...
Article
Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) have been shown to increase human capital investments, but their standard features make them expensive. We use a large randomized experiment in Morocco to estimate an alternative government-run program, a “labeled cash transfer” (LCT): a small cash transfer made to fathers of school-aged children in poor rural comm...
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We present results from six randomized control trials of an integrated approach to improve livelihoods among the very poor. The approach combines the transfer of a productive asset with consumption support, training, and coaching plus savings encouragement and health education and/or services. Results from the implementation of the same basic progr...
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We report results from a randomized evaluation of a microcredit program introduced in rural areas of Morocco in 2006. Thirteen percent of the households in treatment villages took a loan, and none in control villages did. Among households identified as more likely to borrow, microcredit access led to a significant rise in investment in assets used...
Article
Under the Thumb of History? Political Institutions and the Scope for Action This paper discusses the two leading views of history and political institutions. For some scholars, institutions are mainly products of historical logic, while for others, accidents, leaders, and decisions have a significant impact. We argue that while there is clear evide...
Article
We examine individuals' abilities to identify the highly central people in their social networks, where centrality is defined by diffusion centrality (Banerjee et al., 2013), which characterizes a node's influence in spreading information. We first show that diffusion centrality nests standard centrality measures -- degree, eigenvector and Katz-Bon...
Article
Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) present the potential to deliver high quality education to a large number of students. But they suffer from low completion rates. This paper identifies disorganization as a factor behind failure to complete a MOOC. Students who enroll one day late are 17 percentage points less likely to earn a certificate than st...
Article
Microfinance institutions have started to bundle their basic loans with other financial services, such as health insurance. Using a randomized control trial in Karnataka, India, we evaluate the impact on loan renewal from mandating the purchase of actuarially-fair health insurance covering hospitalization and maternity expenses. Bundling loans with...
Article
This paper reports the results from a randomized evaluation of a microcredit program introduced in rural areas of Morocco starting in 2006 by Al Amana, the country’s largest microfinance institution. Al Amana was the only MFI operating in the study areas during the evaluation period. Thirteen percent of the households in treatment villages took a l...
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In this paper we discuss how comparative cost-effectiveness analyses can help inform policy in developing countries and the underlying methodological assumptions necessary for performing this kind of analysis. This paper does not suggest a single set of “correct” assumptions, because the assumptions adopted in a costeffectiveness analysis should re...
Article
In many regulated markets, private, third-party auditors are chosen and paid by the firms that they audit, potentially creating a conflict of interest. This paper reports on a two-year field experiment in the Indian state of Gujarat that sought to curb such a conflict by altering the market structure for environmental audits of industrial plants to...
Article
To study the impact of the choice of injection points in the diffusion of a new product in a society, we developed a model of word-of-mouth diffusion and then applied it to data on social networks and participation in a newly available microfinance loan program in 43 Indian villages. Our model allows us to distinguish information passing among neig...
Article
We study differences in quality in the market for third-party environmental auditors in Gujarat, India. We find that, despite the low overall quality, auditors are heterogeneous and some perform well. We posit that these high-quality auditors survive by using their good name to insulate select client plants from regulatory scrutiny. We find two pie...
Article
This paper reports on the first randomized evaluation of the impact of introducing the standard microcredit group-based lending product in a new market. In 2005, half of 104 slums in Hyderabad, India were randomly selected for opening of a branch of a particular microfinance institution (Spandana) while the remainder were not, although other MFIs w...
Article
Charging small fees dramatically reduces access to important products for the poor. Relative to free distribution, charging even very small user fees substantially reduces adoption. There is no evidence that the act of paying for a product makes a recipient more likely to use it. In general, cost-sharing does not appear to concentrate adoption on t...
Article
It is conventional wisdom that it is possible to reduce exposure to indoor air pollution, improve health outcomes, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the rural areas of developing countries through the adoption of improved cooking stoves. This belief is largely supported by observational field studies and engineering or laboratory experiments...
Article
We examine a program that enabled Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) in Kenya to hire novice teachers on short-term contracts, reducing class sizes in grade one from 82 to 44 on average. PTA teachers earned approximately one-quarter as much as teachers operating under central government civil-service institutions but were absent one day per week le...
Article
Institutions in developing countries, particularly those inherited from the colonial period, are often thought to be subject to strong inertia. This study presents the results of a unique randomized trial testing whether these institutions can be reformed through incremental administrative change. The police department of the state of Rajasthan, In...
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Exploiting a randomized natural experiment in India, we show that female leadership influences adolescent girls’ career aspirations and educational attainment. A 1993 law reserved leadership positions for women in randomly selected village councils. Using 8453 surveys of adolescents aged 11 to 15 and their parents in 495 villages, we found that, re...
Article
We examine how participation in a microfinance program diffuses through social networks. We collected detailed demographic and social network data in 43 villages in South India before microfinance was introduced in those villages and then tracked eventual participation. We exploit exogenous variation in the importance (in a network sense) of the pe...
Article
Women’s empowerment and economic development are closely related: in one direction, development alone can play a major role in driving down inequality between men and women; in the other direction, empowering women may benefit development. Does this imply that pushing just one of these two levers would set a virtuous circle in motion? This paper re...
Article
Drug trade-related violence has escalated dramatically in Mexico during the past five years, claiming 40,000 lives and raising concerns about the capacity of the Mexican state to monopolize violence. This study examines how drug traffickers' economic objectives influence the direct and spillover effects of Mexican policy towards the drug trade. By...
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Development economics has grown tremendously in the last fifteen years. It can continue to grow and improve in the next decades by focusing on three areas. First, revitalizing the tradition of applied theory which transformed development economics in the 1980s and 1990s, by giving us a better understanding of how poverty shapes individual options....
Article
This article reports the results from a randomized experiment designed to evaluate the direct and indirect (displacement) impacts of job placement assistance on the labor market outcomes of young, educated job seekers in France. We use a two-step design. In the first step, the proportions of job seekers to be assigned to treatment (0%, 25%, 50%, 75...
Article
We study the demand for household water connections in urban Morocco, and the effect of such connections on household welfare. In the northern city of Tangiers, among homeowners without a private connection to the city's water grid, a random subset was offered a simplified procedure to purchase a household connection on credit (at a zero percent in...
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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 dis-cont...
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Does completing a household survey change the later behavior of those surveyed? In three field studies of health and two of microlending, we randomly assigned subjects to be surveyed about health and/or household finances and then measured subsequent use of a related product with data that does not rely on subjects' self-reports. In the three healt...
Book
"Billions of government dollars, and thousands of charitable organizations and NGOs, are dedicated to helping the world's poor. But much of the work they do is based on assumptions that are untested generalizations at best, flat out harmful misperceptions at worst. Banerjee and Duflo have pioneered the use of randomized control trials in developmen...
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Between 1863 and 1890, phylloxera destroyed 40% of French vineyards. Using the regional variation in the timing of this shock, we identify and examine the effects on adult height, health, and life expectancy of children born in the years and regions affected by the phylloxera. The shock decreased long-run height, but it did not affect other dimensi...
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Emissions trading schemes have great potential to lower pollution while minimizing compliance costs for firms in many areas now subject to traditional command-and-control regulation. This paper connects experience with emissions trading, from programs like the U.S. Acid Rain program, to lessons for implementation of a Trading Pilot Scheme in India....
Article
In the last few years, field experiments have emerged as an attractive new tool in the effort to elaborate our understanding of economic issues relevant to poor countries and poor people. By enabling the researcher to precisely control the variation in the data, field experiments allow the estimation of parameters and testing of hypotheses that wou...
Article
This paper shows how the productive interplay of theory and experimental work has furthered our understanding of credit markets in developing countries. Descriptive facts motivated a body of theory, which in turned motivated experiments designed to test it. Results from these experiments reveal both the success and the limits of the theory, prompti...
Data
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Appendix 1: Validation of self reported data on immunisation status