Alberto Alesina, Stefanie Stantcheva, Edoardo Teso, 21 June 2017

Americans are generally thought to view the economic system as fair and see wealth as a reward for ability and effort, while Europeans tend to believe that the economic system is unfair, and that wealth is the result of circumstances. This column tests this using new evidence on beliefs about intergenerational mobility in four European countries and the US, and confirms that Europeans do indeed tend to be overly pessimistic about moving up the social ladder compared to reality, while Americans are overly optimistic. These perceptions have important implications for how redistribution and equal opportunity policies will be received.

Lydia Mechtenberg, Gerd Muehlheusser, Andreas Roider, 04 June 2017

Whistle-blowing by employees is important for uncovering corporate fraud. This column studies the effectiveness of recent laws and policy recommendations that aim to enhance willingness to report incidents and to increase deterrence by improving the protection of whistle-blowers. Easily attainable protection leads to more truthful reports, but also to more fraudulent claims, which makes prosecutors less likely to investigate and hampers deterrence. More stringent requirements for protection dampen these unintended side effects.

Giovanni Facchini, Yotam Margalit, Hiroyuki Nakata, 09 January 2017

Far-right parties have made considerable electoral gains around the world lately, fuelled in part by strong anti-immigration rhetoric. This column presents the results of an experiment conducted in Japan to assess whether exposure to positive information about immigration can decrease this public hostility. Such information exposure is found to increase an individual’s likelihood of supporting immigration by between 43% and 72%. This suggests that information campaigns are a very promising avenue for policymakers aiming to redress hostility to immigration.

Martina Björkman Nyqvist, Lucia Corno, Damien de Walque, Jakob Svensson, 07 January 2017

Traditional HIV/AIDS education campaigns have not been completely effective in curtailing new infections. One potential reason behind this is that most of the infections occur among individuals who are willing to take risks when it comes to sexual behaviour, and campaigns have failed to specifically target these people. This column describes a new HIV intervention trialled in Lesotho that used a lottery to target such individuals and incentivise safer practices. HIV incidence was reduced by more than a fifth in treatment groups over the trial period. These results, combined with practical and cost advantages, suggest that such interventions could prove invaluable in the fight against HIV.

Girum Abebe, Stefano Caria, Marcel Fafchamps, Paolo Falco, Simon Franklin, Simon Quinn, 09 December 2016

Youth unemployment is a growing problem around the world, particularly in urban areas. This column assesses the impact of labour market interventions in Addis Ababa targeting two issues commonly faced by unemployed youth: job search costs and a poor ability to signal their skills. A transport subsidy and a job application workshop were both found to have significant positive effects on youth labour market outcomes, pointing to the important role policymakers can play in helping young people find satisfying employment.

Philip Oreopoulos, Uros Petronijevic, 13 November 2016

Questions over the value of a university education are underscored by negative student experiences. Personalised coaching is a promising, but costly, tool to improve student experiences and performance. This column presents the results from an experiment comparing coaching with lower cost ‘nudge’ interventions. While coaching led to a significant increase in average course grades, online and text message interventions had no effect. The benefits of coaching appear to derive from the trust-based nature of relationships and personalised attention.

Julio J. Elias, Nicola Lacetera, Mario Macis, 15 October 2016

Certain ‘repugnant’ transactions, such as the sale of organs, are prohibited on moral grounds, despite substantial potential efficiency gains. This column uses a survey-based experiment to explore public perceptions of the morality–efficiency trade-off in the context of the US kidney procurement system. Respondents are found to accept higher levels of repugnance for higher levels of efficiency. These results suggest room for efficiency concerns alongside moral and ethical considerations.

Michal Bauer, Christopher Blattman, Julie Chytilová, Joseph Henrich, Edward Miguel, Tamar Mitts, 02 July 2016

The past decade has seen rapid growth in an interdisciplinary body of research examining the legacy of war on social and political behaviour. This column presents a meta-analysis and synthesis of this research. Evidence from surveys and experiments from over 40 countries reveals a stylised fact: individual exposure to war-related violence tends to increase social cooperation, community participation, and pro-social behaviour. However, these changes are mainly directed towards people from the same community.

Ingvild Almås, Alex Armand, Orazio Attanasio, Pedro Carneiro, 26 March 2016

Most conditional cash transfer programmes around the world target women as the recipients of transfers as a means of empowering them and promoting gender equality. However, the mechanisms at work are poorly understood and empowerment is not well defined or measured. This column discusses a new measure of female empowerment in the household within the context of a national cash transfer programme in Macedonia. Whereas conventional survey questions about power and decision-making don’t reveal any empowerment effects of the programme, this new measure reveals a positive effect.

Lars Ivar Oppedal Berge, Kjetil Bjorvatn, Simon Galle, Edward Miguel, Daniel Posner, Bertil Tungodden, Kelly Zhang, 11 February 2016

Ethnic divisions have been shown to adversely affect economic performance and political stability, particularly in Africa. However, the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. Using experimental data from Kenya, this column studies whether one potential mechanism – co-ethnic bias – affects altruism. Strikingly, most tests yield no evidence of co-ethnic bias, suggesting that other mechanisms must be driving the negative association between ethnic diversity and economic and political outcomes in Africa.

Adriana Kugler, Maurice Kugler, Juan Saavedra, Luis Herrera, 28 January 2016

Vocational training programmes offer a second chance to those who drop out of the formal education system. Most studies of the success of such programmes, however, typically only analyse outcomes directly after participation. This column examines the medium- and long-term outcomes of a vocational training programme in Colombia. Results suggest that vocational training and formal education are complementary investments and that there are educational spillover effects for family members, in particular among applicants with high baseline educational attainment.

Sebastian Galiani, Camila Navajas Ahumada, Marcela Meléndez, 10 August 2015

Informality is widespread in most developing countries. A challenge for governments is to lure informal firms into the formal economy. This column presents evidence from an experiment designed to induce formalisation in Colombia. Assistance through the bureaucratic process and the removal of the fixed costs of formalising increased the likelihood of formalisation. However, this effect did not persist over time, with many firms returning to the informal sector when minimal fixed costs came back into effect.

Ginger Jin, Michael Luca, Daniel Martin, 22 July 2015

Theories of voluntary disclosure suggest that even when disclosure is voluntary, market forces can drive firms to completely reveal information about their quality. This column investigates these predictions in an experimental setting. Laboratory results suggest widespread failures of the theoretical predictions – senders do not fully disclose, and receivers are not fully sceptical about non-disclosure. This suggests a role for policymakers to help customers understand the sound of silence.

Sara Lowes, Nathan Nunn, James Robinson, Jonathan Weigel, 18 February 2015

Ethnic identity can fracture nations – it is a leading explanation of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. This column presents evidence from a psychological test that reveals how members of different ethnic groups from the Democratic Republic of the Congo form their respective ethnic identities. This Implicit Association Test reveals that people have a small, statistically significant bias towards own-group. The magnitude suggests that biases are consciously held, rather than being a conditioned response.

Erika Deserranno, 11 February 2015

We know that financial incentives can affect behaviour by increasing the payoff to completing a task. With incomplete information about a job, financial incentives can also affect potential applicants’ behaviour by conveying a signal about the nature of the job. In the context of a recruitment campaign for a new position, this column presents the first empirical evidence of the signal conveyed by incentives and its strong effect on the selection of workers and the performance of the organisation.