Topics: everything, mostly micro

In progress (in some form): 

  • Illicit financial flows: concepts, measurement and evidence
  • The impact of de-mining in Cambodia (with Theo Talbot)
  • Journal access and research productivity in developing countries (with Koen Geven)



Small price incentives increase women’s access to land titles in Tanzania – Journal of Development Economics (2016)

with Daniel Ayalew Ali, Klaus Deininger, Stefan Dercon, Justin Sandefur and AndrewZeitlin

We present results from a field experiment using price incentives to address two obstacles to women’s access to formal land ownership. First, the price of formal land titles is often prohibitive, restricting access for both men and women. Second, when formal titles are issued, men are recorded as the sole owners of household land in the vast majority of cases. In theory, these problems may be in tension: requirements to grant women equal ownership may reduce the overall household demand for titling. In practice, we find no such trade-off: when residents of low-income, unplanned settlements in Dar es Salaam were offered price discounts for formal land titles, demand rose significantly. Price elasticity of demand was unchanged when price discounts were conditional on registering a woman as (co-)owner of household land. Furthermore, conditional price discounts achieved near gender parity in land ownership.

Working papers: 

Peer Effects in the Demand for Property Rights: Experimental Evidence from Urban Tanzania – World Bank Policy Research Working Paper (2017)

This paper investigates the presence of endogenous peer effects in the adoption of formal property rights. Using data from a unique land titling experiment held in an unplanned settlement in Dar es Salaam, the analysis finds a strong, positive impact of neighbor adoption on the household’s choice to purchase a land title. The paper also shows that this relationship holds in a separate, identical experiment held a year later in a nearby community, as well as in administrative data for more than 160,000 land parcels in the same city. Although the exact channel is undetermined, the evidence points toward complementarities in the reduction in expropriation risk, as peer effects are strongest between households living close to each other and there is some evidence that peer effects are strongest for households most concerned with expropriation. The results show that, within the Tanzanian context, households will reinforce each other’s decisions to enter formal tenure systems.

Do Age-of-Marriage Laws Work? Evidence from a Large Sample of Developing Countries – CGD Working Paper (2017)

with Theo Talbot

Child marriage is associated with bad outcomes for women and girls. Although many countries have raised the legal age of marriage to deter this practice, the incidence of early marriage remains stubbornly high. We develop a simple model to explain how enforcing minimum age-of-marriage laws creates differences in the share of women getting married at the legal cut-off. We formally test for these discontinuities using multiple rounds of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in over 60 countries by applying statistical tests derived from the regression discontinuity literature. By this measure, most countries are not enforcing the laws on their books and enforcement is not getting better over time. Separately, we demonstrate that various measures of age-of-marriage discontinuities are systematically related to with existing, widely-accepted measures of rule-of-law and government effectiveness. A key contribution is therefore a simple, tractable way to monitor legal enforcement using survey data. We conclude by arguing that better laws must be accompanied by better enforcement and monitoring in to delay marriage and protect the rights of women and girls.


The Impact of Anti-Money Laundering Regulation on Payment Flows: Evidence from SWIFT Data – CGD Working Paper (2016)

with Samantha Cook and Kimmo Soramäki

Regulatory pressure on international banks to fight money laundering (ML) and terrorist financing (TF) increased substantially in the past decade. At the same time there has been a rise in the number of complaints of banks denying transactions or closing the accounts of customers either based in high risk countries or attempting to send money there, a process known as de-risking. In this paper, we investigate the impact of an increase in regulatory risk, driven by the inclusion of countries on an internationally-recognized list of high risk jurisdictions, on subsequent cross-border payments. We find countries that have been added to a high risk greylist face up to a 10 percent decline in the number of cross border payments received from other jurisdictions, but no change in the number sent. We also find that a greylisted country is more likely to see a decline in payments from other countries with weak AML/CFT institutions. We find limited evidence that these effects manifest in cross border trade or other flows. Given that countries that are placed on these lists tend to be poorer on average, these impacts are likely to be more strongly felt in developing countries.


Falling Off the Map: The Impact of Formalizing (Some) Informal Settlements in Tanzania – CSAE Working Paper (2015)

with Justin Sandefur and Andrew Zeitlin

When the Tanzanian government formalized over 200,000 informal land claims by granting leasehold titles to residents of unplanned settlements in Dar es Salaam in 2004,
a few neighborhoods in the initial plan were excluded due to missing satellite photos. We examine the impact of this low-cost, large-scale titling intervention a decade later
in a regression discontinuity design using new survey data collected on either side of the arbitrary boundary created by the missing photos. We find significant, positive
effects on housing investment, and indicative but not statistically robust increases in tenure security and reductions in land sales. There is no evidence that titles improved
access to credit markets.


Tribe or title? Ethnic enclaves and the demand for formal land tenure in a Tanzanian slum (Revise and resubmit, EDCC) CSAE Working Paper (2013)

This paper examines the relationship between ethnic heterogeneity and the demand for formal land tenure in urban Tanzania. Using a unique census of two highly fractionalized unplanned settlements in Dar es Salaam, I show that households located near coethnics are significantly less likely to purchase a limited form of land tenure recently offered by the government. I attempt to address one of the chief concerns – endogenous sorting of households – by conditioning on a household’s choice of coethnics neighbors upon arrival in the neighborhood. I also find that coethnic residence predicts lower levels of perceived expropriation risk, but not perceived access to credit nor contribution to local public goods. These results suggest that close-knit ethnic groups may be less likely to accept state-provided goods due to their ability to generate reasonable substitutes, in this case protection from expropriation. The results are robust to different definitions of coethnicity and spatial cut-offs, controls for family ties and religious similarity as well as spatial fixed effects. Finally, the main result is confirmed using a large-scale administrative data-set covering over 20,000 land parcels in the city, exploiting ethnically-unique last names to predict tribal affiliation.

Slum-Upgrading in Tanzania: Public Infrastructure and Private Property Rights – IGC Working Paper (2012)

with Stefan Dercon, Simone Lombardini, Justin Sandefur and Andrew Zeitlin

This paper seeks to understand the relationship between the provision of public infrastructure and the demand for formal property rights in the unplanned urban settlements of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. We analyze take-up patterns in two adjacent settlements where residents were o↵ered the opportunity to purchase formal land titles at subsidized prices. Detailed plans for proposed infrastructure investments were drawn up for both settlements, but these infrastructure investments were only implemented in one of the two locations. We exploit this quasi-experiment to show that proximity to actual, but not hypothetical, infrastructure investment significantly increases demand for property rights, and this e↵ect appears to be driven by both increased property values and a dramatically-higher perceived risk of expropriation.