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Title: Coping with risk in poor rural economies
Author: Kalani, Gautam Nandu
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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Rural inhabitants of developing countries face extraordinarily risky environments, and decision-making under risk has crucial implications for the welfare of the rural poor. Therefore, obtaining a better understanding of the behaviour under risk of low-income populations is a vital step in the comprehension of human behaviour, and is important for effective policy design and evaluation, as well as for shedding light on production, investment and technology adoption decisions. In Chapter One, I analyze data collected from a laboratory experiment involving poor subjects in rural Ethiopia, in order to determine which decision models (and corresponding risk preferences) best describe the decision-making under risk of inhabitants. I find that expected utility theory (EUT) does not provide a good overall description of the decisions made by participants in the experiment; instead, there is evidence of probability weighting and loss aversion, implying that rank-dependent and reference-dependent choice models are more likely to represent the true latent decision-making process of subjects. In Chapter Two, I analyze combined experimental and survey data from rural Ethiopia in order to evaluate the determinants of risk preferences as well as assess the degree of asset integration in experimental decisions. Analyzing both EUT and non-EUT decision models and using an instrumental variable strategy, I find that household wealth negatively affects both risk aversion and loss aversion, but independent background risk has no effect on risk preferences. Further, I find evidence of narrow framing, as opposed to asset integration, suggesting that participants make decisions in the experiment in isolation from outside wealth. In Chapter Three, I analyze experimental data from Brazil to evaluate whether subjects understand decision problems that use the complex Multiple Price List (MPL) elicitation procedure, and to determine which decision models best describe observed choices. I find that the MPL decision problems of the experiment enable a finer characterization of risk preferences as compared to Ordered Lottery Selection problems (used in the Ethiopian experiment). However, I find that a significant fraction of choice patterns in the MPL problems are intransitive, and the evidence indicates that subjects did not properly understand the decision problems and thus observed choices do not reveal true risk preferences. Therefore, the relatively complex MPL procedure may not be suitable for experiments conducted with poorly-educated subjects in developing country settings. Chapter Four presents a theory outlining the relationship between rational demand for index insurance – for which the net transfer between insurer and policyholders depends only on a publicly verifiable index – and wealth. Further, the validity of this theory is tested using the experimental data from Ethiopia. In line with the theoretical model presented, due to basis risk and actuarially unfair premiums, demand for index insurance is hump-shaped – first increasing then decreasing – in wealth. The results indicate that the low take-up of this product observed among the poorest (and most risk averse) individuals in recent field studies may result from rational choice rather than credit constraints or poor decision-making.
Supervisor: Fafchamps, Marcel Sponsor: University of Oxford ; Amherst College
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Economics ; Development economics ; Microeconomics ; Psychology ; Experimental Economics ; Behavioural Economics ; Applied Microeconomics ; Decision Theory