Working papers

How important are beliefs about gender differences in math ability? Transmission across generations and impacts on child outcomes (updated May 2019, submitted)

with Feng Hu 

(formerly circulated as “The sins of the parents: Persistence of gender bias across generations and the gender gap in math performance”)

Here is a nice write-up of the paper in the World Bank’s Development Impact Blog. Here is Feng and my summary of it (and its companion paper) at the Global Development Network.


We study the transmission of beliefs about gender differences in math ability from adults to children and how this affects girls’ math performance relative to boys. We exploit randomly assigned variation in the proportion of a child’s middle school classmates whose parents believe boys are better than girls at learning math. An increase in exposure to peers whose parents report this belief increases a child’s likelihood of believing it, with similar effects for boys and girls and greater effects from peers of the same gender. This exposure also affects children’s perceived difficulty of math, aspirations, and academic performance, generating gains for boys and losses for girls. These effects are not driven by other sources of peer effects, such as peer cognitive ability, peer parent traits such as education and income, or the gender composition of the classroom.


Stereotypes, role models, and the formation of beliefs (updated April 2019, submitted)

with Feng Hu

CDEP-CGEG Working Paper No. 43

Here is a video of me presenting this paper at the University of Chicago (October 2017)


We study how information from stereotypes and role models influences children’s beliefs, aspirations, and academic performance. We use a simple, stylized model of investment under uncertainty to formalize how female math teachers may affect the beliefs of students exposed to stereotypes about the math ability of each gender. It predicts differential effects by gender, and much larger effects among children who think they are of low ability in math. We exploit random assignment of students to classes in nationally-representative data from Chinese middle schools to test these predictions. We find that being assigned a female math teacher generates large gains in beliefs, aspirations, investment, and test scores for girls who perceive themselves to have low ability in math, generates moderate harms for boys with low perceived math ability, and has no gender-specific impact on these outcomes for non-low perceived ability children. We find no evidence that female math teachers teach differently than male teachers or give different praise or attention to low perceived ability students of different genders.

Para teachers delivering supplementary lessons in rural primary schools: evidence on impact and generalizability from a cluster-randomized controlled trial in The Gambia

with Chris Frost, Alpha Camara, Baboucarr Bouy, Momodou Bah, Maitri Sivaraman, Jenny Hsieh, Chitra Jayanty, Peter Boone, Diana Elbourne

(manuscript temporarily embargoed)

Here is a video of me presenting a preliminary version of the study 


We report a cluster-randomized trial in The Gambia evaluating a literacy and numeracy intervention for primary-aged children in remote parts of poor countries. The intervention combines para teachers, frequent monitoring focusing on improving teacher practice, and scripted lesson plans to deliver after-school supplementary classes. A similar intervention previously demonstrated large learning gains in a cluster-randomized trial in rural India. After three academic years, Gambian children receiving the intervention scored 46 percentage points (3.2 SD) better on a combined literacy and numeracy test than control children. This intervention holds great promise to address low learning levels in other poor, remote settings.


Work in progress

The Potential for Large Learning Gains in Pockets of Extreme Poverty: Experimental Evidence from Guinea Bissau

with Ila Fazzio, Robin L. Lumsdaine, Peter Boone, Baboucarr Bouy, Jenny Hsieh, Chitra Jayanty, Simon Johnson, Ana Filipa Silva


Children in many extremely poor, remote regions are growing up illiterate and innumerate despite high reported school enrollment ratios. Possible explanations for such poor outcomes include demand (lack of perceived returns to education compared to opportunity cost) and supply (poor state provision and inability of parents to coordinate and finance better schooling). We conducted an RCT to understand the effectiveness and cost of supply-based interventions through the creation of simple schools that targeted primary-aged school children who were offered four years of education. At endline, children receiving the intervention score dramatically better than controls on early grade reading and math tests. Intervention children substantially outperformed their control peers across the various skills that we assessed, from letter and number recognition to two-digit subtraction with borrowing and reading comprehension. We argue that our results provide evidence that particularly needy areas may require more concerted, dramatic interventions in education than those usually considered, but that such interventions hold great potential for increasing education levels among the world’s poorest people.


Articles published in peer-reviewed journals


Does primary school duration matter? Evaluating the consequences of a large Chinese policy experiment 

with Feng Hu

Economics of Education Review 2019, Volume 70: pages 61-74

NOTE: this paper was previously circulated under the titles "The Power of Credential Length Policy: Schooling Decisions and Returns in Modern China" and "The Importance of Educational Credentials: Schooling Decisions and Returns in Modern China"

Coverage: Marginal Revolution, Economics that Matters

On minimizing the risk of bias in randomized controlled trials in economics 

with Peter Boone and Diana Elbourne

The World Bank Economic Review 2017, Volume 31:3, pages 687–707

Also Centre for Economic Performance Discussion Paper No. 1240, September 2013

NOTE: previously circulated as “Risk and Evidence of Bias in Randomized Controlled Trials in Economics”

Coverage: World Bank Impact Evaluation blogChris Blattman’s blogBerkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences


Community health promotion and medical provision for neonatal health—CHAMPION cluster randomised trial in Nagarkurnool district, Telangana (formerly Andhra Pradesh), India

with Peter Boone, Vera Mann, Rohini Mukherjee, Chitra Jayanty, Chris Frost, M Reddy Padmanabh, Rashmi Lakshminarayana and Diana Elbourne.

PLoS Medicine 2017, 14(7): e1002324

Coverage: Times of IndiaThe Hindu


The Support to Rural India’s Public Education System (STRIPES) trial: A Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial of Supplementary Teaching, Learning Material and Material Support

with Rashmi Lakshminarayana, Preetha Bhakta, Chris Frost, Peter Boone, Diana Elbourne, and Vera Mann.

PLoS ONE 2013, 8(7): e65775 

Coverage: Centrepiece


A Comparative Study to Assess the Lasting Impact of a Long-running Community-based Primary Health Care Programme on Under-5 Mortality in Jamkhed, India

with Peter Boone, Vera Mann, Chris Frost, and Ramaswamy Premkumar

Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2010, Volume 88: pages 727–73

Coverage: New York Times


Published study protocols and book chapters

Remedial After-school Support Classes Offered in Rural Gambia (The SCORE Trial): Study Protocol for a Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial

with Peter Boone, Alpha Camara, Diana Elbourne, Chris Frost, Samory Fernandes, Chitra Jayanty, Maitri Lenin, and Ana Filipa Silva

Trials 2015, 16:574


Child Mortality in Rural India: How the ASHA Programme Works, and How It Might Fail

in India’s Human Security: Lost Debates, Forgotten People, Intractable Challenges, Jason Miklian and Ashild Kolas, Editors, Routledge, New York. 2013

Support to Rural India’s Primary Education System – the STRIPES Trial

with Vera Mann, Preetha Bhakta, Rashmi Lakshminarayana, Chris Frost, Diana Elbourne and Peter Boone

Trials 2010, 11:10


Community Health and Medical Provision: Impact on Neonates (the CHAMPION trial)

with Peter Boone, Vera Mann, Tarana Mendiratta, Rohini Mukherjee, Ryan Figueiredo, Chitra Jayanty, Chris Frost, M Reddy Padmanabh and Diana Elbourne

BMC Pediatrics, 2007 7:26