NBER Working Papers by Melanie Morten

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Working Papers

June 2017The Aggregate Productivity Effects of Internal Migration: Evidence from Indonesia
with Gharad Bryan: w23540
We estimate the aggregate productivity gains from reducing barriers to internal labor migration in Indonesia, accounting for worker selection and spatial differences in human capital. We distinguish between movement costs, which mean workers will only move if they expect higher wages, and amenity differences, which mean some locations must pay more to attract workers. We find modest but important aggregate impacts. We estimate a 22% increase in labor productivity from removing all barriers. Reducing migration costs to the US level, a high mobility benchmark, leads to an 8% productivity boost. These figures hides substantial heterogeneity. The origin population that benefits most sees an 104% increase in average earnings from a complete barrier removal, or a 37% increase from moving to the ...
April 2016Paving the Way to Development: Costly Migration and Labor Market Integration
with Jaqueline Oliveira: w22158
How integrated are labor markets within a country? Labor mobility is key to the integration of local labor markets and therefore to understanding the efficacy of policies to reduce regional inequality. We present a comprehensive framework for understanding migration decisions, focusing on the costs of migrating. We construct and then estimate a spatial equilibrium model where mobility is determined not only by idiosyncratic tastes, but also by moving costs that are origin-destination dependent. We use rich data on the inter-municipality moves of 18 million people together with exogenous variation in the road network caused by the construction of a capital city to identify the bilateral costs of moving between two regions. The mean observed migration cost is between 0.8-1.2 times the mean w...
Temporary Migration and Endogenous Risk Sharing in Village India
When people can self-insure via migration, they may have less need for informal risk sharing. At the same time, informal insurance may reduce the need to migrate. To understand the joint determination of migration and risk sharing I study a dynamic model of risk sharing with limited commitment frictions and endogenous temporary migration. First, I characterize the model. I demonstrate theoretically how migration may decrease risk sharing. I decompose the welfare effect of migration into the change in income and the change in the endogenous structure of insurance. I then show how risk sharing alters the returns to migration. Second, I structurally estimate the model using the new (2001-2004) ICRISAT panel from rural India. The estimation yields: (1) improving access to risk sharing reduces ...
March 2012A Personal Touch: Text Messaging for Loan Repayment
with Dean Karlan, Jonathan Zinman: w17952
We worked with two microlenders to test impacts of randomly assigned reminders for loan repayments in the "text messaging capital of the world". We do not find strong evidence that loss versus gain framing or messaging timing matter. Messages only robustly improve repayment when they include the loan officer's name. This effect holds for clients serviced by the loan officer previously but not for first-time borrowers. Taken together, the results highlight the potential and limits of communications technology for mitigating moral hazard, and suggest that personal obligation/reciprocity between borrowers and bank employees can be harnessed to help overcome market failures.

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