Money laundering, land tenure, peer effects, ethnicity, child health, impact evaluation, urban economics.

Up ahead:

  • Was the great land grab driven by commodity prices?
  • Is anti-money laundering regulation reducing cross-border transactions with developing countries?


Small price incentives increase women’s access to land titles in Tanzania with Daniel Ayalew Ali, Klaus Deininger, Stefan Dercon, Justin Sandefur and Andrew Zeitlin.  Journal of Development Economics.

CGD Working Paper version

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 are 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.

In English: We randomly varied the fees that people living in Tanzanian slums had to pay to get a land title and find (reassuringly) that people who face lower fees are more likely to sign up. Making it a requirement that a woman should be listed as a co-owner doesn’t dissuade people, but it does get more women listed on tiles.


Working Papers:

Does anyone pay attention to age-of-marriage laws? Discontinuity evidence from 73 developing countries (2015) – with Theo Talbot

Child marriage has long been associated with negative developmental outcomes for women and girls. In this paper, we use every available round of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) to examine whether observed behavior suggests that existing legislation is effective at inducing individuals to postpone marriage. We first develop a simple model of marriage behavior, then use a method for testing for distributional discontinuities based on the popular McCrary (2008) test to examine whether women are more likely to be married at the legal age in their country than just before. We find that very few countries appear to be enforcing existing laws on the books. We then show how this novel measure of state effectiveness covaries with a variety of country characteristics and existing rule-of-law measures. We argue that legislative means of enforcing adult marriage may be limited in many sittings and that monitoring legal efficacy using observational data provides a useful supplement to our understanding of how differences in legislation actually affect outcomes of interest.

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

Peer effects in the adoption of property rights: experimental evidence from urban Tanzania (2014)

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, I show a strong, positive impact of neighbour adoption on the household’s choice to purchase a land title. I also show that this relationship holds in a separate, identical experiment held a year later in a nearby community, as well as in administrative data for over 160,000 land parcels in the same city. While the exact channel is undetermined, evidence points towards 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, for better or for worse, households will reinforce each other’s decisions to enter formal tenure systems.

In English: People are more likely to sign up for land titles when their neighbours sign up for land titles, probably because they believe the value of the title is greater when everyone else has one.


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

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.

In English: People living near others of the same tribe are less likely to sign up for a formal land title, probably because they are already feel protected.

Persistence in the effect of birth order on child development: evidence from the Philippines (2013)

This paper investigates birth order effects on both anthropometric and education
outcomes in a longitudinal survey of children from the Philippines, the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey (CLHNS). Birth order effects are present earlyin life for both anthropometric and educational outcomes, but attenuate as children approach adulthood. There is also evidence for nonlinear birth order effects, with both first-born and last-born children holding an advantage over middle-born children. These results are at odds with prevalent theories of birth order, which predict lasting and monotonic differences in outcomes across children of different birth order.

In English: Later born children are shorter and start school later, but by the time they are adults they are the same height and have the same amount  of schooling as earlier born children. Huh?

Lining up to eat: Birth order and nutritional status in rural Ethiopia (2006) (MSc thesis)

 Slum-Upgrading in Tanzania: Public Infrastructure and Private Property Rights (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 offered 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 effect appears to be driven by both increased property values and a dramatically-higher perceived risk of expropriation.

In English: We look and see if people living in informal slums are more likely to sign up for a formal land title if they are close to areas which are receiving infrastructure investment. We find they are, but they believe that they are more likely to lose their land and expect their land prices to go up (two possible reasons they might decide to title their land).

Other writing:

Blogs I’ve written for CGD can be found here.

“How not to help Haiti” Foreign Policy, February 2010