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July 4, 2013

New Research from the American Economic Review

By Alicia Brindisi

The American Economic Association (AEA) recently released the Papers and Proceedings issue of its journal American Economic Review, which presents selected papers from the AEA's annual meeting. The AER is one of the premier economics journals and has very broad coverage. For instance, you can learn everything you never knew you wanted to know about income and church attendance in nineteenth century Prussia. Happily, this volume also includes a number of papers relating to mobile money, credit, savings, and insurance.

Mobile Money

In their study, William Jack, Adam Ray, and Tavneet Suri investigate how households using M-PESA interact with and exploit their informal networks when making transactions. The authors find M-PESA users have more remittance activity, make transfers over distances greater than 100 km, and have more reciprocal transactions than non-users.

While Jack et al. looked at volume of transactions, David Weil and Isaac Mbiti used aggregate data in their research on the velocity of mobile money. One of the more intriguing findings is that withdrawals are made frequently and in small amounts, even though users can reduce fees if they group withdrawals. As the use of mobile money grows in other countries (M-PESA recently launched in India, for instance) it will be interesting to see how similar these (and previous) findings are in different cultural contexts.

Gender and Finance

Using data from over 30,000 firms in 90 developing countries, Elizabeth Asiedu, Isaac Kalonda-Kanyama, Leonce Ndikumana, and Akwasi Nti-Adde analyze whether gender is a determinant in financing constraints and access to credit for firms. They find that indeed, female-owned firms are more likely to be financially constrained than male-owned counterparts but only in the sub-Saharan African region. There is no gender gap in other regions but small firms are more likely to be financially constrained than larger firms, and foreign-owned firms are less likely to be constrained than domestically owned firms.

Moving from the macro to the micro level, Carolina Castilla and Thomas Walker investigate gendered dynamics of intra-household financial decisions in their paper. In a field experiment in Southern Ghana, researchers conducted public and private lotteries with cash and in-kind prizes to observe the effects of these windfalls on household allocations. They found “husbands' public windfalls increase investment in assets and social capital, while there is no such effect when wives win. Private windfalls of both spouses are committed to cash (wives) or in-kind gifts (husband) which are either difficult to monitor or to reverse if discovered by the other spouse.”


We return to Kenya with Michael Kremer, Jean Lee, Jonathan Robinson, and Olga Rostapshova in their study on behavioral biases and firm behavior. Among a sample of Kenyan shopkeepers, those with lower math skills were less accepting of small-scale risk and were also less likely to have larger inventories than those with higher scores. There are some interesting observations in the paper on the connection between loss aversion and microfinance, suggesting that small business owners are less likely to access microcredit if risk averse and social safety nets could possibly help increase investment in these enterprises.

Similarly, Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak and Mark R. Rosenzweig look at risk in the context of the Indian insurance market, specifically rainfall insurance. Their findings show that when insured farmers took greater risks, wage levels increased but so did the volatility of labor demand, creating a threat to landless workers. When offered the choice, landless workers also purchased insurance when contracts were offered to farmers.


Lastly, Suresh de Mel, Craig McIntosh, and Christopher Woodruff report the findings of their field experiment in rural Sri Lanka that tested the efficacy of various methods of collecting deposits in formal bank accounts. Although their research shows frequent, face-to-face collection increases aggregate household savings, collections using community lock boxes affected the number of transactions but not the overall level of savings.

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