Working papers

The sins of the parents: Persistence of gender bias across generations and the gender gap in math performance (NEW, submitted)

with Feng Hu 

CDEP-CGEG Working Paper No. 53


While education gaps by gender have closed in many areas, they persist in STEM fields and particularly in mathematics. We study one potential explanation for this persistence: the transmission of bias from adults to children. We exploit the random assignment of children to classes in Chinese middle schools to generate plausibly exogenous variation in the proportion of peers’ parents who are biased. We present what we believe are the first causal estimates of the inter-generational transmission of gender bias and its effects on the gender gap in mathematics. An increase in the proportion of classmates whose parents believe boys are better than girls at math significantly increases the likelihood that a child holds this belief, with similar effects for boys and girls. This increased exposure to bias affects children’s perceived difficulty of math, aspirations, and academic performance, generating gains for boys and losses for girls. We find greater transmission of bias from girl peers’ parents to girls and from boy peers’ parents to boys. The negative effects of bias on girls’ test scores increase with length of exposure to peers, but diminish when a girl has more close friends in her randomly assigned classroom.


Stereotypes, role models, and the formation of beliefs (upated December 2017, submitted)

with Feng Hu

CDEP-CGEG Working Paper No. 43

(shortened from the previous title of "Role Models, Girls' Math Ability, and the Formation of Beliefs: Evidence from Random Assignment of Students in Chinese Middle Schools")


Information affects beliefs, which in turn determine investment decisions. Because human capital exhibits dynamic complementarity, early sources of information play a crucial role in its formation. We study how information from stereotypes and role models influences children's beliefs, aspirations, investment, and academic performance. A model of investment under uncertainty predicts that role models should have the greatest effect for children facing stereotypes who are also on the margin of giving up on themselves. We exploit random assignment of students to classes in a nationally-representative dataset of Chinese middle schools to test the model’s main predictions and address potential alternative explanations. 



Does primary school duration matter? Evaluating the consequences of a large Chinese policy experiment (upated December 2017, submitted)

with Feng Hu

CDEP-CGEG Working Paper No. 44

(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"; it was changed to the current title after input from a series of helpful referees)


How long should primary education last? Nearly all governments provide primary education, but little is known about how changes to its length affect educational attainment and subsequent labor market outcomes. In this paper, we study a Chinese policy which extended the length of primary school from five years to six but did not change the curriculum. We exploit the gradual rollout of the policy over 25 years to estimate its impacts on educational attainment and performance in the labor market. The policy has little effect on post-primary educational attainment, but raises average monthly income by 2.6% and is progressive, generating higher returns (5-8%) among the least educated. We estimate the policy has already reallocated 450 million years of labor from work to schooling and we generate cost-benefit estimates to quantify this tradeoff, highlighting the large public finance implications of this policy decision.

Coverage: Marginal Revolution, Economics that Matters



Work in progress


Support classes offered in rural education: The SCORE trial

This paper reports the results of a three year randomized controlled trial run in over 150 villages in regions 3 and 4 of the Gambia. An after-school remedial education program, based on that of the STRIPES Trial (Lakshminarayana et al., PLoS ONE 2013), was given to a set of entering first graders from January 2016 to April 2018. Pre-specified analysis will compare test scores in math and English between intervention and control groups as well as the effects of the intervention on time use, aspirations, and expenditure.



Private school entry and girls’ schooling outcomes in rural India

with Andrew Foster


Private primary and secondary schools are an increasingly central part of many education systems in the developing world, particularly in South Asia. A prominent criticism of this development is that the cost of private school induces poor families to pull some children out of school in order to afford fees for the others, and that girl children are the most likely to suffer as a result. We test this hypothesis using panel data from a representative sample of Indian villages spanning 1970 to 2015. We find that boys benefit disproportionately from private schools: in villages where private schools establish, the average schooling of boys increases by approximately one year while girls’ schooling stays constant. We find no evidence, however, for the claim that girls’ schooling decreases after private school entry. In addition, we find that average years of completed schooling increases by 0.8 years for girls whose older brothers are exposed to private schooling, and that this effect increases the closer in the family’s birth order the first exposed brother is to the girl. This result is consistent with a model in which families learn about school quality and allocate more resources to the production of learning (i.e. hours of their children's time) when the quality of complementary inputs increases.


Published articles


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

with Peter Boone and Diana Elbourne

The World Bank Economic Review, Volume 31, Issue 3, 1 October 2017, 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


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


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, 88:727–73

Coverage: New York Times


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