Homepage for Richard Akresh




Contact Information:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Department of Economics

1407 West Gregory Drive

David Kinley Hall, Room 101C

Urbana, IL 61801

Office Phone: (217) 333-3467

Email: akresh@illinois.edu



·         Curriculum Vita

·         Research

·         Publications

·         Working Papers

·         Teaching

·         Other Research Affiliations


·         Burkina Faso Study Abroad Website (December 2019-next tentatively scheduled study abroad program)

·         Burkina Faso Study Abroad Photos (2014)

·         Burkina Faso Study Abroad Photos (2012)

·         Burkina Faso Study Abroad Photos (2009)

·         Burkina Faso Study Abroad Photos (2007)


·         Dissertation Fieldwork in Africa

·         Dissertation fieldwork (Photos-Burkina Faso)





Abstract: This paper reviews the evidence linking climate variability to conflict, broadly defined, and the subsequent short and long-term implications of children’s exposure to conflict. Evidence generally supports strong links between hotter temperatures, reduced rainfall, and more conflict, defined to include violence ranging from intergroup to interpersonal to intrapersonal. Individuals exposed to conflicts while in utero or childhood suffer negative health and education effects. There is less evidence about long-term impacts or how conflict exposure beyond early childhood affects children. In contrast with other types of negative shocks experienced by children, exposure to conflict is not always correlated with significant gender bias against girls, as many studies show impacts on all children. Much less is known about the mechanisms through which conflict impacts child health and education, how households cope with conflict shocks, or the impacts of conflict on other outcomes including intergenerational transmission of the shock.


Abstract: Altruism towards others can inhibit cooperation by increasing the utility players expect to receive in a non-cooperative equilibrium. To test this, we examine agricultural productivity in West African polygynous households. We find cooperation, as evidenced by more efficient production, is greater among co-wives than among husbands and wives. Using a game-theoretic model, we show this outcome can arise because co-wives are less altruistic towards each other than towards their husbands. We present a variety of robustness checks, which suggest results are not driven by selection into polygyny, greater propensity for cooperation among women, or household heads enforcing others’ cooperative agreements.


Abstract: We conducted a unique randomized experiment to estimate the impact of alternative cash transfer delivery mechanisms on household demand for routine preventative health services in rural Burkina Faso. The two-year pilot program randomly distributed cash transfers that were either conditional or unconditional and were given to either mothers or fathers. Families under the conditional cash transfer schemes were required to obtain quarterly child growth monitoring at local health clinics for all children under 60 months old. There were no such requirements under the unconditional programs. Compared with control group households, we find that conditional cash transfers significantly increase the number of preventative health care visits during the previous year, while unconditional cash transfers do not have such an impact. For the conditional cash transfers, transfers given to mothers or fathers showed similar magnitude beneficial impacts on increasing routine visits.


Abstract: Conflict between and within countries can have lasting health and economic consequences, but identifying such effects can be empirically challenging. This paper uses household survey data from Eritrea to estimate the effect of exposure to the 1998-2000 Eritrea-Ethiopia war on children’s health. The identification strategy exploits exogenous variation in the conflict’s geographic extent and timing and the exposure of different birth cohorts to the fighting. The unique survey data include details on each household’s migration history, which allows us to measure a child’s geographic location during the war and without which war exposure would be incorrectly classified. War-exposed children have lower height-for-age Z-scores, with similar effects for children born before or during the war. Both boys and girls who are born during the war experience negative impacts due to conflict. Effects are robust to including region-specific time trends, alternative conflict exposure measures, and mother fixed effects.


Abstract: Using data we collected in Burkina Faso, we explore how child ability influences parental decisions to invest in their children’s human capital. We use a direct measure of child ability for all primary school-aged children, regardless of current school enrollment. We explicitly incorporate direct measures of the ability of each child’s siblings (both absolute and relative measures) to show how sibling rivalry exerts an impact on the parent’s decision of whether and how much to invest in their child’s education. We find children with one standard deviation higher own ability are 16 percent more likely to be currently enrolled, while having a higher ability sibling lowers current enrollment by 15 percent and having two higher ability siblings lowers enrollment by 30 percent. Results are robust to addressing the potential reverse causality of schooling influencing child ability measures and using alternative cognitive tests to measure ability.


Abstract: The Nigerian civil war of 1967-70 was precipitated by secession of the Igbo-dominated south-eastern region to create the state of Biafra. It was the first civil war in Africa, the predecessor of many. We investigate the legacies of this war four decades later. Using variation across ethnicity and cohort, we identify significant long run impacts on human health capital. Individuals exposed to the war at all ages between birth and adolescence exhibit reduced adult stature and these impacts are largest in adolescence. Adult stature is portentous of reduced life expectancy and lower earnings.



Abstract: We measure the extent of language assimilation among children of Hispanic immigrants. Our identification strategy exploits test language randomization (English or Spanish) of Woodcock Johnson achievement tests in the New Immigrant Survey and lets us attribute test score differences solely to test language. Students scoring poorly may be tracked into non-honors classes and less competitive post-secondary schools, with subsequent long-term implications. Foreign born children score higher on tests in Spanish; U.S. born children score higher in English. However, foreign born children arriving at an early age or with several years in the U.S. do not benefit from testing in Spanish.


(Previous title: Civil War, Crop Failure, and the Health Status of Young Children)

Abstract: We combine Rwandan household survey data with event data on the timing and location of localized crop failure and armed conflict to examine the impact of these distinct shocks on children’s health status. The identification strategy exploits exogenous variation in the shocks’ geographic extent and the exposure of children’s birth cohorts to the shock. We find that in poor and non-poor households, boys and girls born during the conflict in regions experiencing fighting are negatively impacted with height for age z-scores 1.05 standard deviations lower. Conversely, only girls are negatively impacted by crop failure, with these girls exhibiting 0.86 standard deviations lower height for age z-scores and the impact is worse for girls in poor households. Results are robust to using alternative shock exposure measures, different geographic boundary definitions for the affected regions, and household level production and rainfall shocks as alternative measures of crop failure.


(Previous title: Risk, Network Quality, and Family Structure: Child Fostering Decisions in Burkina Faso)

Abstract: Using data I collected in Africa, this paper examines a household’s decision to adjust its size through child fostering, an institution where biological parents temporarily send children to live with other families. Households experiencing negative idiosyncratic income shocks, child gender imbalances, located further from primary schools, or with more ‘good’ quality network members (fewer subsistence farmers and unmarried individuals and more educated members) are significantly more likely to send a child. Results reject an overall symmetric fostering model across senders and receivers, but evidence of symmetry is found when the test is restricted to exogenous income shocks and gender imbalances.


Abstract: We combine household survey data with event data on the timing and location of armed conflicts to examine the impact of Burundi’s civil war on children’s health status. The identification strategy exploits exogenous variation in the war’s timing across provinces and the exposure of children’s birth cohorts to the fighting. After controlling for province of residence, birth cohort, individual and household characteristics, and province-specific time trends, we find an additional month of war exposure decreases children’s height for age z-scores by 0.047 standard deviations compared to non-exposed children. The effect is robust to specifications exploiting alternative sources of exogenous variation.


Working Papers

o   NBER Working Paper 25265

Abstract: In 1973, the Indonesian government began one of the largest school construction programs ever. We use 2016 nationally representative data to examine the long-term and intergenerational effects of additional schooling as a child. We use a difference-in-differences identification strategy exploiting variation across birth cohorts and regions in the number of schools built. Men and women exposed to the program attain more education. As adults, exposed men are more likely to be formal workers, work outside agriculture, and migrate. Women are more likely to migrate and have fewer children. Households with parents exposed to the program have improved living standards and pay more government taxes. Education benefits are transmitted to the next generation. Increased parental education has larger impacts for daughters, particularly if mothers are exposed to school construction. Intergenerational results are driven by changes in the marriage partner’s characteristics, with spouses having more education and improved labor market outcomes.


Abstract: We analyze long-term impacts of the 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War, providing the first evidence of intergenerational impacts. Women exposed to the war in their growing years exhibit reduced adult stature, increased likelihood of being overweight, earlier age at first birth, and lower educational attainment. Exposure to a primary education program mitigates impacts of war exposure on education. War exposed men marry later and have fewer children. War exposure of mothers (but not fathers) has adverse impacts on child growth, survival, and education. Impacts vary with age of exposure. For mother and child health, the largest impacts stem from adolescent exposure.


Abstract: We conducted a randomized control trial in rural Burkina Faso to estimate the impact of alternative cash transfer delivery mechanisms on education, health, and household welfare outcomes. The two-year pilot program randomly distributed cash transfers that were either conditional or unconditional and were given to either mothers or fathers. Conditionality was linked to older children enrolling in school and attending regularly and younger children receiving preventive health check-ups. Compared to the control group, cash transfers improve children’s education and health and household socioeconomic conditions. For school enrollment and most child health outcomes, conditional cash transfers outperform unconditional cash transfers. Giving cash to mothers does not lead to significantly better child health or education outcomes, and there is evidence that money given to fathers improves young children’s health, particularly during years of poor rainfall. Cash transfers to fathers also yields relatively more household investment in livestock, cash crops, and improved housing.


(Previous title: Medium-Term Health Impacts of Shocks Experienced In Utero and After Birth: Evidence from Detailed Geographic Information on War Exposure)

Abstract: We estimate the impact of exposure to conflict on health outcomes using geographic information on households’ distance from conflict sites—a more accurate measure of shock exposure—and compare the impact on children exposed in utero versus after birth. The identification strategy relies on exogenous variation in the conflict’s geographic extent and timing. Conflict-exposed children have lower height-for-age, and impacts using GPS information are 2-3 times larger than if exposure is measured at the imprecise regional level. Results are robust to addressing endogenous migration. Health service disruptions and maternal stressors are potential explanations for the negative health effects on children.


Abstract: Using data we collected in rural Burkina Faso, we examine how children’s cognitive abilities influence households’ decisions to invest in their education. To address the endogeneity of child ability measures, we use rainfall shocks experienced in utero or early childhood to instrument for ability. Negative shocks in utero lead to 0.24 standard deviations lower ability z-scores, corresponding with a 38 percent enrollment drop and a 49 percent increase in child labor hours compared with their siblings. Negative education impacts are largest for in utero shocks, diminished for shocks before age two, and have no impact for shocks after age two. We link the fetal origins hypothesis and sibling rivalry literatures by showing that shocks experienced in utero not only have direct negative impacts on the child’s cognitive ability (fetal origins hypothesis) but also negatively impact the child through the effects on sibling rivalry resulting from the cognitive differences.


Abstract: The authors conduct a randomized experiment in rural Burkina Faso to estimate the impact of alternative cash transfer delivery mechanisms on education. The two-year pilot program randomly distributed cash transfers that were either conditional or unconditional. Families under the conditional schemes were required to have their children ages 7-15 enrolled in school and attending classes regularly. There were no such requirements under the unconditional programs. The results indicate that unconditional and conditional cash transfer programs have a similar impact increasing the enrollment of children who are traditionally favored by parents for school participation, including boys, older children, and higher ability children. However, the conditional transfers are significantly more effective than the unconditional transfers in improving the enrollment of “marginal children” who are initially less likely to go to school, such as girls, younger children, and lower ability children. Thus, conditionality plays a critical role in benefiting children who are less likely to receive investments from their parents.


(Previous title: Residential Rivalry and Constraints on the Availability of Child Labor)

Abstract: Sibling rivalry occurs when siblings compete for parental investments. We examine how rivalry among biological siblings, who may not be co-resident, differs from rivalry among co-resident children and how this affects school enrollment for children in Burkina Faso. We test the hypothesis that the value of child labor in home production contributes to rivalry by comparing households that differ in their access to child fostering networks. Fostering moves child labor between residences, decoupling a child’s location from the value of their time. We find rivalry influences enrollment only in families who do not foster and are thus constrained in their ability to equalize child labor supply and demand. In those households, the relative productivity of resident children impacts time allocation decisions and subsequently enrollment. We find no evidence of rivalry in unconstrained households. Thus, sibling rivalry is better understood as residential rivalry, stemming from constraints on child labor availability.


Abstract: To examine the impact of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide on children’s schooling, we combine two cross-sectional household surveys collected before and after the genocide. The identification strategy uses pre-war data to control for an age group’s baseline schooling and exploits variation across provinces in the intensity of killings and which children’s cohorts were school-aged when exposed to the war. We find a strong negative impact of the genocide on schooling, with exposed children completing one-half year less education representing an 18.3 percent decline. The effect is robust to including control variables, alternative sources for genocide intensity, and an instrumental variables strategy.


(Previous title: Adjusting Household Structure: School Enrollment Impacts of Child Fostering in Burkina Faso)

Abstract:  Children growing up away from their biological parents may experience lower human capital investment. This paper measures the impact of child fostering on school enrollment using fixed effects regressions to address the endogeneity of fostering. Data collection by the author involved tracking and interviewing the sending and receiving household participating in each fostering exchange, allowing a comparison of foster children with their non-fostered biological siblings. Young foster children are 17.5 and 17.9 percent more likely to be enrolled after fostering than their host and biological siblings, respectively. This schooling improvement translates into a long-run improvement in educational and occupational attainment.


(Previous title: Understanding Pareto Inefficient Intrahousehold Allocations)

Abstract:  Previous research using plot-level agricultural data from Burkina Faso found that the allocation of resources within African households was Pareto inefficient, contradicting most collective models of intrahousehold bargaining.  I provide an explanation for these households' Pareto inefficient behavior and I test its robustness using an alternative dataset also collected in Burkina Faso.  Households experiencing exogenous negative rainfall shocks are less likely in that year to exhibit Pareto inefficient intrahousehold allocations.  These negative rainfall shocks are correlated with increases in labor resources allocated to the wife's plots, further confirming that in bad years, households try to avoid losses from Pareto inefficiency.


Abstract: Households are dynamic while most surveys only collect information on individuals who are present at a single point in time. We exploit a unique and thorough household membership enumeration in Burkina Faso to consider the analytical costs of the typical static household roster. We document that households are extremely fluid with 10 percent of individuals spending sometime away over a three year period, averaging 16 of the 36 months away. The residency status of persons age 16 to 24 is most in flux. A more complete enumeration offers substantial analytical richness that is especially important for the analysis of issues that are intertwined with who is present in the household, such as the measurement of income inequality and the nature of sibling interactions in education decisions. We find that evidence of sibling rivalry in Burkina Faso appears to owe to the correlation between the presence of sisters in a household and non-agricultural income. We argue for more detailed and thorough measurement of household composition in future multi-purpose household surveys.


Abstract: We consider the impact of self-reported idiosyncratic agricultural shocks on schooling decisions. We use a novel dataset from Burkina Faso that includes more detail about non-resident family members than is typical in living standards surveys. This data allows us to evaluate the importance of endogenous household composition (specifically, child mobility) and intra-family insurance in understanding the impact of shocks on schooling. We find that ex-ante insurance fails to fully buffer the impact of agricultural income shocks, especially for young children. Some children migrate when their residence experiences a shock.  This seems to protect their schooling status, but overall the extent of child migration is small enough that it has a minimal influence on estimates of the impact of shocks on schooling. Family networks seem to offer partial insurance, and the data do not reject full risk-sharing within family networks that are identified via fostering connections.


Work in Progress





Policy Papers


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Fall 2018: I am on leave in Fall 2018



Other courses:





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Other Affiliations

Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) (Link to NBER author website)


Research Affiliate, Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD)


Research Fellow, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)  (Link to IZA author website)


Senior Affiliate, Households in Conflict Network (HiCN)


Link to author website at RePEc (EconPapers)


Link to author website on Social Science Research Network


Link to Google Scholar citations page



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Last updated November 21, 2018