Working Papers

RECONNECT: increasing student well-being after two years of COVID-19 disruption
[Working Paper submitted to Higher Education]
with Jana Vyrastekova, Sara Arts, Constantina Markou

The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown measures caused young people aged 14-25 to suffer particularly from loneliness and disconnect. We developed and tested a simple, cost-effective intervention called RECONNECT to increase student well-being. RECONNECT took place at a Dutch university in May-June 2022, and it consisted of three plenary meetings and a series of self-organized, small-group events. We perform a multivariate analysis of data from 150 students, including RECONNECT participants and non-participants. In parallel, we analyze qualitative data from six in-depth interviews as well as open feedback provided by participants. Our findings show the effectiveness of this simple intervention, which gave the students the possibility to reconnect socially with their academic peers. Prior to the intervention, participants who self-selected into RECONNECT reported heightened loneliness (1.13 points compared to the control group, p-value=0.017) and decreased well-being (5 points compared to the control group, p-value<0.001). The intervention improved self-reported well-being, with Satisfaction With Life increasing by 1.886 points (p-value<0.01). Though our study was conducted against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, it offers a broader insight: improving student well-being within a self-selected group is achievable in a relatively short time and with a low budget. The present study serves as a proof-of-concept for similar future efforts.

The power of fast and concerted reconstruction: Evidence for education gains in the aftermath of a natural disaster
[Under Review with Journal of Human Resources]
with Jimena Pacheco & Juan Ponce

The paper explores the short-term impact of reconstruction in the aftermath of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurring in Ecuador in April 2016. We implement a difference-in-difference strategy with geo-referenced data to compare affected and non-affected children identifying that students in earthquake-affected schools score –depending on the specification– 0.24-0.26 points (out of 10) higher in the standardized school-leaving exam ‘Ser Bachiller’. The results are supported by placebo tests varying time and place of exposure to the earthquake.  We demonstrate with budgetary and night light data that the quick and large response of the government more than compensated for the earthquake-induced destruction.

Experiential marketing of clean drinking water: Experimental evidence for Kenya and Rwanda
[Under Review with Review of Development Economics]
with Rachel Howell and Kinsuk Mani Sinha

To date limited work investigates why and how consumers in emerging markets make consumption decisions. With the rise in demand for clean drinking water in sub-Sahara Africa, a field experiment was conducted on non-consumers of two socially oriented drinking water companies providing low cost re-usable bottled drinking water in Kenya and Rwanda. Non-consumers were randomly divided into two groups to address whether the provision of purchase-related information and exposure to a physical experience (free sample) increase purchase. For both countries, information motivated purchase (49% for Kenya, 67% for Rwanda) but purchase was even higher among those who received the free sample (67% for Kenya, 78% for Rwanda, p-value<5%). Similarly, planned future purchase and the purchase frequency were significantly increased in the treatment group. The results suggest that similar to consumers in developed markets, emerging market consumers may not only consume on the basis of price, but rather having an experience with a product can minimize purchase risk.