Do Online Courses Provide an Equal Educational Value Compared to In-Person Classroom Teaching? Evidence from US Survey Data using Quantile Regression, with Mohammad Arshad Rahman, Education Policy Analysis Archives, 2021 (forthcoming), EPAA Article Preprint

Education has traditionally been classroom-oriented with a gradual growth of online courses in recent times. However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated the shift to online classes. Associated with this learning format is the question: what do people think about the educational value of an online course compared to a course taken in-person in a classroom? This paper addresses the question and presents a Bayesian quantile analysis of public opinion using a nationally representative survey data from the United States. Our findings show that previous participation in online courses and full-time employment status favour the educational value of online courses. We also find that the older demographic and females have a greater propensity for online education. In contrast, highly educated individuals have a lower willingness towards online education vis-`a-vis traditional classes. Besides, covariate effects show heterogeneity across quantiles which cannot be captured using probit or logit models.

Working papers:

Hunger and Health: The Impact of Household Food Insecurity on Child and Adolescent Malnutrition in India, with Punarjit Roychowdhury and Gaurav Dhamija

Child malnutrition is remarkably high in India. The problem of food insecurity is also extremely alarming in the country. Here, we examine whether these two public health problems are related. Specifically, we ask whether household food insecurity contributes to malnutrition among Indian children. To examine this question, we use microlevel data from the Young Lives Survey, and employ several empirical strategies including ordinary least squares with comprehensive controls, matching estimators, inverse propensity score weighted estimators, and a recently developed approach that use selection on observables to assess the bias arising from selection on unobservables. All of the empirical strategies point to sizeable negative effects of food insecurity on children.s anthropometric indices for nutrition surveillance including weight-for-age-z scores and height-for-age z-score. Our results suggest that creation of policies that could effectively reduce food insecurity is vital to address the problem of malnutrition among Indian children.

Who’s your neighbour? Social influences on domestic violence, with Mehreen Mookerjee and Sanket Roy

This paper examines neighbourhood effects on physical domestic violence in a developing country. We estimate the causal impact of neighbourhood physical domestic violence on the likelihood of being exposed to physical abuse within a household. To address potential endogeneity issues in analyzing neighbourhood influences, we utilize an instrumental variables approach that compares households in the same state but different neighbourhoods and hence having a different set of neighbours. Using exogenous variation in neighbouring women’s exposure to parental violence in her natal family as an instrument for average neighbourhood domestic violence, we find that a 1 standard deviation increase in neighbourhood domestic violence leads to a 0.2 standard deviation increase in the probability of domestic violence within a household. Our heterogeneity analysis highlights that these effects vary substantially across regions, religions, and levels of women empowerment. We establish that domestic violence is not just driven by intra-household factors but also observable changes at a societal level. This lends support to policies like increasing neighbourhood vigilance to reduce domestic abuse. Evidence of neighbourhood effects implies that any policy impacting domestic violence directly will likely have spillover effects created by neighbours.

Spousal beliefs and intimate partner violence: Are we conditioned to internalize patriarchal norms? with Mehreen Mookerjee and Sanket Roy

We examine the effect of spousal beliefs about violence as a justified behaviour on the incidence of intimate partner violence using nationally representative survey data for India. Utilizing an Instrumental Variable approach, we exploit the plausibly exogenous variation in individual’s exposure to parental violence as instruments to identify the causal effects. We find that women’s inherent beliefs puts them at a greater risk of IPV in a marriage than men’s beliefs. Furthermore, the marginal effect of a woman’s beliefs appear to be independent of what her spouse feels.

Women’s ownership and access: Effects on intra-household decisions

co-authored with Mehreen Mookerjee

We examine the effect of women’s autonomy on their relative decision-making power in households. Using an instrumental variable approach, we exploit spatial distribution of women’s exposure to different forms of media as a source of exogenous variation to identify this effect. We find strong causal impacts of higher autonomy on their relative say in decision-making. However, there is evidence of diminishing marginal effect of women’s autonomy on their relative say. We further explore components of relative decision-making power and autonomy to tease out the sources through which women derive autonomy. We suggest that sole ownership of financial assets rather than physical assets are the main drivers of autonomy, resulting in changes in their bargaining positions. These effects are highlighted for older women; unemployed women; women more educated than their husbands; in families with more daughters; and in rural areas. Our results are robust to a number of econometric concerns. 

Gender gap in schooling: Is there a role for health insurance?

Health shocks can have significant consequences for human capital of future generations in countries with a poor system of health insurance. Access to health insurance may not only play a role in determining school expenditure but the differential enrollment of boys versus girls. Using two rounds of nationally representative survey data, the paper examines the impact of a cashless, paperless and portable health insurance scheme called the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) launched in 2008 in India, on schooling decisions and gender differences in education. Employing difference-in-differences and triple differences approach, the paper finds that access to RSBY is beneficial for child education as school expenditure increases after the treatment. Additionally, RSBY is found to be relatively more advantageous to girls as it reduces the existing gender gap in school enrollment. Robustness checks and sensitivity analyses support the validity of the results.

The effect of quality of education on crime: Evidence from Colombia

co-authored with Andres F. Giraldo Palomino

This paper evaluates the impact of quality of education on violence and crime using student performances on a mandatory examination as the measure of quality. The paper exploits transfers of funds from central government to municipalities for investments in education as a source of exogenous variation and finds that better education quality has a negative impact on economic crimes such as kidnapping rates, rate of theft on persons and presence of illegal armed groups. The findings are consistent with an opportunity cost effect of education, that is, high quality education increases expectations of being absorbed by the labor market and discourages engaging in criminal activities. Results also point to perhaps a pacifying effect of education such that improvement of education quality generates less violent environments, promotes social and political stability. The results are found to be robust to a number of econometric concerns and different measures of quality of education.

Intra-household consumption decisions: Evidence from NREGA

This paper studies the impact of India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act on the pattern of household consumption behaviour. NREGA guarantees employment which increases labour market opportunities, in particular, for females relative to males, which may cause a shift in household spending towards goods that are more in line with preferences of women. These shifts are likely to be amplified in regions with higher share of women employed through NREGA, in states that guarantee employment at higher minimum wages, and rice growing regions of India where females are traditionally more intensively involved in production. Using two rounds of nationally representative data, the phase wise roll-out of NREGA to districts across India is exploited to determine the programme’s impact. The paper finds exposure to NREGA to have economically and statistically significant effects on household consumption patterns and these effects are broadly suggestive of an increase in female bargaining power.

Work in Progress

“Degrees of Inequality: Why are there fewer women in undergraduate economics?”

co-authored with Priyanka Chakraborty

Evidence suggests that women do not major in quantitatively heavy fields to the same degree as their male counterparts. Given this current under-representation of women in such courses across the United States, we attempt to understand the decisions made by students to pursue a major in college. Through a randomized field experiment conducted on the sample of incoming female students to Southern Methodist University in 2016, we test whether information provided matters in women picking a field of study and if so, what kind of information and the mode of dissemination. Women are known to be more social minded than men and may be driven more by intrinsic motivations rather than extrinsic. Alternately, they might be driven by salary expectations in labor market outcomes. Using economics as an example of a math intensive field which records a marked gender gap, we try to capture whether attitudes of women towards their choice of majors are in fact affected by the kind of information they receive about the course and in the process understand the aforementioned preferences and motivations that drive women. Concomitantly, we try to quantify peer influence in driving women’s major choices by varying the source of information.