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A CAREER-Enhancing Award

IPR economist wins prestigious award for rising young faculty


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Lori Beaman

IPR developmental economist Lori Beaman received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award in March 2013. The highly competitive award program recognizes promising young scholars with a demonstrated talent for integrating their research with educational activities.

Beaman, who joined IPR and Northwestern in 2009 following her postdoctoral program as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar, is using the five-year award to investigate how social networks affect economic behavior in developing countries in two key areas—labor markets and agricultural technology adoption.

In examining the links between labor markets and social networks, Beaman is building upon her previous research to examine how social network referrals might affect hiring decisions. Previous research has shown that up to 50 percent of U.S. jobs are obtained through informal channels including employee referrals, and Beaman has shown social networks are similarly important in developing countries, in particular among a sample of poor men in Kolkata, India.

In a field experiment looking at gender differences in job referrals in Malawi, Beaman and her colleagues evaluated a nongovernmental organization’s recruitment drive to add 200 positions, for which they were particularly interested in hiring women. Two rounds of interviews were held. In the first, 826 candidates were given mock interviews to assess their skills and abilities. At the end of their interviews, candidates were told they could receive a fee for referring someone else. Then candidates were randomly assigned conditions for the referral’s gender and a finder’s fee: They could refer anyone, only refer a woman, or only refer a man, in addition to receiving either fixed finder’s fees or a performance-based fee, contingent on the referral qualifying for the position. In the second round, the referrals were evaluated in the same way as the initial candidates. A key consideration moving forward is whether referrals reinforce inequalities in labor market outcomes by further isolating those with smaller, poorer quality social networks. Through two experiments in Malawi, she seeks to specifically examine how women, who earn less than men in countries all over the world, could be disadvantaged by job hiring through social networks, in addition to the underlying mechanisms.

Preliminary findings reveal that among applicants who were allowed to refer anyone, only 30 percent of referrals were women—10 percent fewer than the percentage of women who applied through traditional recruitment channels. This was overwhelmingly driven by the fact that men tended to refer other men. However, women systematically referred less qualified candidates.

“They also highlight how some of the easiest policy responses to the gender gap in wages—improving women’s skills and knowledge, for example—will not be enough to eliminate the gap,” Beaman said.These findings provide early evidence that such informal hiring processes do, in fact, lead to distinct job market disadvantages for women.

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Lori Beaman (back center) meets with women in a farming
village in Mali.

Beaman will use the award to further analyze how men and women screen each other in the experiment. She will also conduct a follow-up experiment to understand additional underlying mechanisms, such as testing the observation that women might be referring less qualified women to avoid competitive environments.

As part of the educational outreach for her project, Beaman will develop and run a training program in rigorous evaluation and applied econometrics for scholars and program evaluators in Mali.For the second part of her project, Beaman is focusing on a major puzzle in development economics: Why do small-scale farmers not adopt simple, profit-enhancing technologies? She is particularly interested in how social networks can be harnessed to spread information about agricultural technologies and how they can encourage the adoption of more efficient ones in developing areas. In three projects taking place in either Mali or Malawi, she and her colleagues will examine a few aspects of how farmers learn from one another and information diffuses through social networks. The agricultural technologies range from input-intensive irrigated rice agriculture to conservation agricultural techniques such as crop residue management.

“I am committed to building the capacity of local researchers and evaluators in Africa, where many positions often go to international candidates,” Beaman said.

“Policymakers can rarely alter people’s social networks,” Beaman continued. “But my research on agricultural technology adoption is to find ways in which policymakers can use the deep social networks that exist in developing country contexts to improve the effectiveness of policy—in particular to increase the adoption of simple agricultural technologies that can raise incomes and reduce poverty.”

Beaman joins the ranks of three other IPR fellows who have won the award—sociologists Monica Prasad and Celeste Watkins-Hayes, also a scholar of African American studies, in 2009 and biological anthropologist Thomas McDade in 2002. 

Lori Beaman is assistant professor of economics and an IPR fellow.