Working Papers

RECONNECT: increasing student well-being after two years of COVID-19 disruption
[Working Paper]
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.

Long-term impacts of an early childhood shock on human capital: Evidence from the 1999 economic crisis in Ecuador
[Revision submitted to Health Economics]
with Jimena Pacheco

This paper provides evidence on the lasting effects of the 1999 economic crisis in Ecuador on human capital formation. We show for the population at large that the negative repercussions are still observable more than 10 years after macroeconomic recovery. Taking advantage of micro-level data collected in 2012 and 2014, we assess long-term impacts on health and education. Despite purging the data of cohort, age, time and geography fixed effects, we find that after 14-16 years the affected cohorts report height-for-age Z-scores that are 0.07 standard deviations lower and have 0.18 fewer years of schooling compared to those who were not exposed to the crisis. Girls and urban children are most adversely affected. The persistence of the negative effects points to the existence of a poverty trap suggesting that policy interventions should be extended beyond macroeconomic recovery to also counteract such long-term consequences with possible lessons for dealing with COVID-19.

The power of fast and concerted reconstruction: Evidence for education gains in the aftermath of a natural disaster
[Working Paper]
with Jimena Pacheco, Juan Ponce, John Cruzatti

The paper explores the short-term impact of fast and concerted public reconstruction in the aftermath of a natural disaster. We analyze the impacts of a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 that occurred on the coast of Ecuador on April 16, 2016. As damage was geographically concentrated, affected infrastructure and individuals could be readily identified. We implement a difference-in-difference strategy with geo-referenced data to compare affected and non-affected children identifying that the quick and large response of the government more than compensated for the earthquake-induced destruction. 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’. Pass rates for the final exam increased by almost 7 percentage points. The results are supported by placebo tests varying time and place of exposure to the earthquake. Since we employ individual level data, we can also explore heterogeneous effects across gender and income groups. We show that boys and children from the higher quintiles benefitted most from the reconstruction efforts. Importantly, we demonstrate with budgetary and night light data that an important channel for the identified gains in education was the fast and massive reconstruction efforts.

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.