Cynthia Kinnan

Assistant Professor of Economics


Cynthia Kinnan's research focuses on how households and small firms in developing countries use financial products (e.g., credit, insurance, savings) and informal insurance networks to finance investments, save, and cope with risk. She is particularly interested in the causes of missing markets, in the interaction between risk and household investment, in social networks, and in microfinance.

She is a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), an affiliate of the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD), and an affiliate of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab. She was a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government for the 2013–14 academic year.

Current Projects

Impacts of Financial Access in Southern India and Tanzania. In a project with Emily Breza of Harvard University, Kinnan is studying India’s 2010 “microfinance crisis” as a natural experiment to examine the effects of microcredit in general equilibrium. A significant portion of the effects of credit access operate via changes in labor markets and wages; these impacts cannot be detected in most randomized control trials (RCTs). In a related project with Breza and Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, both of MIT, Kinnan is evaluating whether impacts of microcredit persist once loans are no longer available, and studying heterogeneity in long-term impacts. In another project with Alfredo Burlando of University of Oregon and Silvia Prina of Case Western, she is examining how access to mobile-linked savings accounts affects social networks in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Consequences of Internal Migration in China. Kinnan, joint with Shing-Yi Wang of the University of Pennsylvania and Yongxiang Wang of the University of Southern California, is using survey data and portfolio choice theory to understand how increased access to internal migration in China affects the production and consumption choices of non-migrating family members. The researchers find that internal migration increases investment by non-migrating household members in riskier economic activities, while consumption becomes less risky. In sum, access to migration acts as a form of insurance.

Health Access in India. Kinnan, along with Anup Malani and Alessandra Voena of the University of Chicago and Gabriella Conti of University College London, is evaluating the demand for, and impact of, inpatient health insurance in Karnataka, India. 

Financial Networks in Thailand. Using detailed panel data, Kinnan, Robert Townsend of MIT, and Krislert Samphantharak of the University of California, San Diego, are analyzing how informal relationships relate to the functioning of formal credit markets in Thailand and how different types of interpersonal financial networks overlap. 

Selected Publications

Banerjee, A., E. Duflo, R. Glennerster, and C. Kinnan. 2015. The miracle of microfinance? Evidence from a randomized evaluation. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 7(1): 22–53.

Kinnan, C., and R. Townsend. 2012. Kinship and financial networks, formal financial access and risk reduction. American Economic Review 102(3): 289–93.