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Worrisome topics, such as climate change, economic crises, or pandemics including Covid-19, are increasingly present and pervasive due to digital media and social networks. Do worries triggered by such topics affect the cognitive capacities of young adults? In an online experiment during the Covid-19 pandemic (N=1503), we test how the cognitive performance of university students responds when exposed to topics discussing (i) current adverse mental health consequences of social restrictions or (ii) future labor market hardships linked to the economic contraction. Moreover, we study how such a response is affected by a performance goal. We find that the labor market topic increases cognitive performance when it is motivated by a goal, consistent with a ‘tunneling effect’ of scarcity or a positive stress effect. However, we show that the positive reaction is mainly concentrated among students with larger financial and social resources, pointing to an inequality-widening mechanism. Conversely, we find limited support for a negative stress effect or a ‘cognitive load effect’ of scarcity, as the mental health topic has a negative but insignificant average effect on cognitive performance. Yet, there is a negative response among psychologically vulnerable individuals when the payout is not conditioned on reaching a goal.
Combining seven years of household data from an original field experiment in villages of Jharkand, East India, with meteorological data, this paper investigates how Indian Self-Help Groups (SHGs) enable households to withstand rainfall shocks. I show that SHGs operate remarkably well under large covariate shocks. While credit access dries up in control villages one year after a bad monsoon, reflecting strong credit rationing from informal lenders, credit flows are counter-cyclical in treated villages. Treated households experience substantially higher food security during the lean season following a drought and increase their seasonal migration to mitigate expected income shocks. Credit access plays an important role, together with other SHG aspects such as peer networks. These findings indicate that local self-help and financial associations can help poor farmers to cope with climatic shocks and to implement risk management strategies.
This paper investigates the impact of informal microfinance groups (self-help groups, or SHGs) on children’s education and work in rural India. In 2002, 24 eligible villages were randomly selected for opening SHGs, and 12 others were randomly selected as a control group. Households were surveyed three times over a 5-year period, allowing for the study of medium-term outcomes. We find a robust and strong increase in secondary school enrollment rates over time, with intention-to-treat estimates of about 40%. This effect stems from a quicker grade progression, leading to lower dropout rates between primary and secondary school. Contrary to usual presumptions, we find no decrease in overall child labor (but a reorientation toward part-time domestic work) and no direct role of credit. By contrast, we show that social interactions within SHGs are very important.
We designed an experiment to estimate the socio-economic and behavioral characteristics associated with financial exclusion in a developed economy and the demand for savings products progressively trading-off flexibility for commitment. Our sample includes people in Italy living below the poverty line, stratified by migration status. Despite a large bank branch penetration in the study area, we find a high rate of financial exclusion, with households below the sample median income being unbanked at twice the rate of those above (30% vs. 15%), a difference that is especially significant for migrants. Financial exclusion is associated with poverty and social exclusion, as measured by unemployment, low food consumption, and little help from personal networks. Despite a high-declared willingness to open new accounts and a strong interest in commitment products following a financial education training seminar, actual uptake in the year to follow remains low, suggesting that demand-driven factors besides knowledge hamper access to formal financial services, namely incomes that are perceived too low to make accounts worthwhile. Yet, migrants, especially if non-Muslim, appear more willing to become financially included than non-migrants, suggesting that there are gains to be made by targeting minorities.
Despite widespread interest in the development of microfinance, spillover effects on the non-using population and redistributive issues remain largely unexplored. I study a competition game between microfinance institutions (MFIs) offering joint-liability loans and moneylenders offering individual loans in presence of adverse selection. I show that one unintended consequence of the entry of a microfinance sector in local credit markets can be to trigger an increase in the equilibrium informal interest rate, because MFIs tend to attract a disproportionately-safe share of the borrower pool away from incumbent moneylenders. The existence of such composition externality depends crucially on the size of the microfinance sector and the risk composition of the borrower pool. The model predicts a non-linearly increasing relationship between informal interest rates and MFIs' capacity in relatively safe credit markets, and no relationship in risky villages. I show evidence supporting these predictions, using a first-hand panel database that records all credit transactions over 8 years for a sample of about 1000 households living in Indian villages with extensive space and time variation in the size of their microfinance sector.
We present in this note a simple theoretical model, suitable to study the simultaneous demand for savings, credit and insurance by poor agricultural households. Simulations are reported for various prices of the three different financial instruments. They highlight a very low demand for insurance and suggest a complementarity between credit and insurance.