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Essays in development economics

Zipfel, Céline (2021) Essays in development economics. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004300


The first chapter of this thesis leverages micro data from 179 reproductive health surveys to shed light on a macro puzzle: fertility rates are exceptionally high in sub-Saharan Africa conditional on GDP per capita. The paper first establishes an important empirical fact: the relationship between wealth and desired fertility is, on average, steeper in sub-Saharan Africa. It then explores the links to the relative scarcity of salaried employment opportunities in these countries. A quantity-quality trade-off model of fertility choice featuring a fixed human capital requirement for entry into salaried employment predicts that a feedback loop can arise, where poorer families get stuck in a high fertility - informal occupation equilibrium in which they also under-invest in their children’s education. Rich micro data assembled from reproductive health surveys, censuses and household expenditure surveys provide empirical support for the model’s key assumptions and predictions. The findings suggest that differences in occupational choice sets across the income distribution represent an important driver of sub-Saharan Africa’s exceptional fertility trend. The second chapter exploits variation in exposure to the reform across birth cohorts and locations to evaluate the impacts of primary school fee abolition on female education, employment and fertility outcomes in Malawi, Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania. The findings suggest that fee elimination improved educational attainment among cohorts most exposed to the reform: the effects range from a 5% increase in years of schooling in Malawi to a 17% increase in Ghana. The probability of completing primary school also increased in Tanzania, Ghana and Uganda, but not Malawi, for which I find a small but negative effect. The FPE reform is also associated with an increase in employment and a reduction in fertility. In Malawi, the increase in women’s labor market participation is concentrated in the education sector, with a small share of women shifting away from agriculture. In Tanzania, employment effects are driven by increased participation in the education sector and self-employed retail. In Ghana and Uganda, the share of women engaging in self-employed non-agricultural activities increases. The employment effects are largest in Ghana, where they are driven by entry into self-employed retail, manufacturing and food/accommodation services. Correlational evidence suggests that heterogeneity in policy impact may be partly attributable to differences in schooling productivity before the reform and in how the governments accommodated the enrolment increase. The third chapter is joint work that leverages a randomized experiment to study the diffusion of the impacts of an agronomy training program through the social and geographic networks of coffee farmers in Rwanda. We find no evidence of diffusion through geographic networks or from the treatment group to the control group. Our results suggest a reinforcement of treatment effects within the treatment group, concentrated around leaf health improvements. This is driven by farmers who attended the training sessions with people to whom they already had a social connection at baseline. The program also caused a re-sorting of social networks: we find that both treatment and control group households increased social links to individuals trained in their village.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2021 Céline Zipfel
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Economics
Supervisor: Bandiera, Oriana and Bryan, Gharad and Burgess, Robin and Meager, Rachael

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