Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Altonji, Joseph

Abstract

In my dissertation, I examine topics related to education and health in the context of developing countries.In Chapter 1, I study the impact of a large and unique public policy in India, known as the Right to Education (RTE) Act, on the education outcomes of children. The RTE Act made education a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14 by guaranteeing free admission in a neighborhood school. It simultaneously reduced the cost of attending private school for the disadvantaged by reserving 25% of the seats in entry grades in private schools for them, and reduced accountability for schools by eliminating the existing examination system for all children in primary and secondary grades. Using variation at the cohort level in the eligibility to take advantage of the private school reservation as well as the variation in access to a private school within a cohort, I find that the policy was successful in improving learning outcomes. Mathematics outcomes improved by 0.03 s.d, and Reading outcomes improved by 0.04 s.d for children in entry grades who had access to a private school in the village. And, private school enrollment increased for these children by 24%. However, there were no differential impacts on the education outcomes of the intended beneficiaries. Further, exploiting variation in implementation at the grade level, I find that learning outcomes declined in response to a decline in the importance of school accountability. Mathematics scores declined by 0.06 s.d and Reading scores declined by 0.10 s.d, explaining about a quarter and two-thirds of the decline observed in the aggregate scores for Mathematics and Reading, respectively, after the implementation of the RTE Act. Heterogeneity analyses reveal that the impact was larger for the disadvantaged, for those residing in areas with lower school competition levels, and for those attending public schools. An exploration into the mechanisms suggests that schools responded to the decline in accountability pressures by strategically reducing quality. Thus, the policy designed with the aim of redistributing educational opportunity and preventing discrimination of children from disadvantaged backgrounds had the unintended consequence of worsening learning levels. It was, however, able to partially shield the children in entry grades by reducing the costs of attending private school for a few, resulting in schools improving their quality in equilibrium.In Chapter 2, which is joint work with Nathan Fiala, Ana Garcia-Hernandez and Nishith Prakash, we study the impact of a program that provides a bicycle to a school-going girl who lives more than 3 km from the school. We randomized whether a girl receives a bicycle with a small cost to her family to cover replacement parts, a bicycle where these costs are covered by the program and so is zero cost to the family or does not receive a bicycle and is part of the control group. We find that the bicycle reduced average commuting time to school by 35%, late arrival by 66%, decreased absenteeism by 27% in the short and medium-run, and improved perceived safety by 0.10 s.d. In terms of actual safety, the intervention was successful in reducing the the probability that a girl is teased or whistled at on the way to school by 22%, and more importantly, the intervention reduced the probability that a girl missed school or left for home early from school due to concerns of safety by 33%. We also find evidence of increased grade transition in the medium-run, improved math test scores, girls expressing higher feelings of control over their lives and, for those who received bicycles with a small cost to her family, higher levels of aspirations, self-image, and a desire to delay marriage and pregnancy. Heterogeneity analysis by distance to school shows an inverted U-shape for most of the schooling and empowerment results, suggesting those impacts are larger for girls that live further away from school. This also suggests that empowerment outcomes worked through increased attendance in school.In Chapter 3, which is joint work with Arul Mishra, Himanshu Mishra and Shelly Rathee, we study the impact of providing ambiguous information related to a patient's position in the queue on wait-time perception, pain perception as well as satisfaction in healthcare setting in India. We conduct three field studies in two separate physicians' clinics in India to provide evidence that when patients are given information about wait-times that is ambiguous and open to multiple representations as opposed to being precise, patients pay more attention to figure out their position in the queue, thereby taking their attention away from pain and the time spent waiting in line, leading to an overall increase in patient satisfaction. However, we show that ambiguity has its limits. When ambiguous information cannot be resolved, people focus less on the token sequence, leading to higher pain perception and higher wait-time perception.

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