Parents’ Future-Orientation and Investments in Children, Malawi

While working with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) as a research associate, I had a chance to work on a lab-in-the-field experiment that is part of a research project from the Center for Child Well-being and Development at the University of Zurich. This project is called Parents’ Future-Orientation and Investments in Children. The principal investigator is Prof. Guilherme Lichand, the PhD researcher is Juliette Thibaud, and Maite Deambrosi is a research assistant. The project investigates how parents would invest in their children now or in future and how parents make decisions about their children. It targeted 2,400 households with children from 3 to 12 years old in 80 villages in the Salima district. IPA Malawi conducted ‘Experiment 1’ of the project from November 2018 through mid-January 2019. Experiment 1 was a household survey where each of the sampled households was visited three times. We had a team of 35 enumerators and 5 supervisors. In the first visit, we identified eligible households and conducted the first part of the experiment. The two first visits were for the main part of the experiment, which was solely about decision making. In these visits, parents were asked to allocate packets of peanuts for themselves and/or for their children to eat the same day and days later. Some parents were given a chance to invite their children to participate in decision making on peanut allocation during the second visit. To enable their child to be involved, parents had to forgo some packets of peanuts which ranged from half to one packet. This was done to find out if parents would prefer involving their child in decision making on decisions that concern them even at a cost. The third visit for Experiment 1 covered a baseline survey and distribution of peanuts based on choices made in the two previous visits. To ensure that data was reliable, we designed a separate questionnaire to be administered to 10% of the households that had already been visited for Experiment 1. In this separate visit, we asked random questions from the main Experiment 1 surveys. Then we did back checking, that is, we compared the answers with those a field officer recorded during Experiment 1. To make sure that the experiment was properly executed, I monitored how the team conducted the interviews. At the village level, the recipients were very welcoming and the chiefs supported us in many ways. For instance, rounds two and three were done at a central place, that was offered to us by the chiefs. In cases where some respondents did not show up for interviews, they helped us to look for them. Now, IPA finished the Experiment 1 survey. Student Driven Solutions (SDS), an organization in Malawi, is conducting Experiment 2 of the study from March on. This experiment involves workshops that are designed to boost parents’ knowledge on how they can invest in their children’s health and education. After these workshops, IPA will do a follow up data collection in all the villages. I believe that this study will help in motivating parents in the rural areas to invest in their children’s health and education. Due to low literacy levels, parents tend to have inaccurate beliefs about which child performs better in class and how they can motivate all of their children to do better in class (Dizzon-Ross, 2016). Having results from this experiment shared, even with their different levels of education, parents will be motivated to make sure that their children have all necessities to help them perform better in class and achieve their goals.

Working on this project has been a great experience for me, firstly, because I was able to grasp the concepts and train the team well. Team members were also willing to work hard even from the training, when we had long sessions. Sometimes we would start working at 6:00 in the morning in the field and finish late, but no one complained. Sometimes it rained so much that vehicles failed to get to some villages due to mud, so field officers had to walk to the villages. Even though the schedule was tight for the first and second visits, the team managed to get good quality data. Overall, I enjoyed working on this project as it is in line with the career I want to pursue. I have gained hands on experience on how I can manage my experimental projects later on. I would like to further study economics, so this was a chance for me to get to practice and know more about the very exciting branch of experimental economics.

By Faith Millongo March 2019