Can a 1-minute self-recorded video boost children’s aspirations?

By Raffaella Dimastrochicco

Aspiration trap

There is large evidence in the literature that low aspirations are a common issue among people coming from fragile socio-economic backgrounds. This tendency to under-aspire is detrimental for poor people, as it prevents them from investing in education and ultimately condemns them to lower wages, thereby reinforcing their poverty status (Appadurai, 2004; Ray, 2006; La Ferrara, 2019).

Several interventions have been tested and implemented to break this vicious circle – known as “aspiration trap” – and increase aspirations, which range from organizing tutoring programs and academic counselling (Carlana et al., 2017) to institutional changes in the political rules (Beaman, 2012) and the provision of statistical information on the benefits of investing in education (Nguyen, 2008). One further option involves the exposure of children to role models, with both in-person interventions (Porter and Serra, 2019) and showcasing inspirational movies (Riley, 2017). This latest option, in particular, is a cheap and easy to replicate treatment. To which extent can the length and complexity of the video be reduced while still generating a significant treatment effect?

Experimental setting

To answer this question, we conducted a RCT in Naples (Italy) in May 2021, on a sample of 295 primary and secondary school students from fragile families. We showed a very short (1 minute) self-recorded motivational video, in which a young immigrant adult who grew up in Naples told the story of how, starting from a situation of difficulty, they eventually managed to find their passion and this led to happiness and satisfaction with their lives, against all odds. The video was shown on a tablet during face-to-face interviews conducted by trained enumerators. The main goal of the video is to boost self-confidence and encourage students to find their passion, by aiming at what they really wanted to do in life regardless of their precarious conditions.

This picture represents one enumerator while interviewing a primary school student and reporting the answers on a tablet.
Face-to-face interview

Aspirations were measured by asking the students two open questions: “Which school, if any, would you like to attend when you grow up?” and “What would you like to become when you grow up”. Self-confidence was measured through a series of closed questions on a 4-level agreement scale. Data on students’ self-confidence and school and career aspirations were collected right after they watched the video.

Results

Results from the experiment are promising: we detect a significant increase in the self-confidence measure among the treated students by 29% s.d.. When looking at school aspirations, the video treatment increases the likelihood the respondent chooses the “academic track” by 28.5% a s.d., as hoped for. At the same time, there is also a positive effect of the video on career aspirations: among treated students, significantly more children aspire to the most prestigious of the 7 categories of jobs we identified; this category includes jobs as sportsmen, politicians, artists, etc. These results are robust to controls on gender, school level, and nationality.

Limitations and conclusion

There are two main limitations. First, by design, collected data allow us to measure only the short-term effects of the treatment; it would be interesting to measure whether these effects persist over the medium- to long-term.

Second, there may be a form of Hawthorne effect. One other interpretation suggests that children update their aspirations based on the role model experience, without tailoring it to their own situation and passion. Both qualitative and quantitative data collected during the interviews point out in this direction: children seem to lack information to make informative choices, and when provided with an example of a career path that goes beyond their everyday experience, they tend to follow it. In light of these results, it emerges the importance of providing children with a variety of examples about available career paths that are not those they can encounter in their everyday life.

Nonetheless, results suggest that the treatment is effective in boosting aspirations and self-confidence.

I am a MSc student in Economic and Social Sciences, and this article draws from a larger study constitutes my master thesis. If interested in the topic, do not hesitate to get in touch at raffaella.dimastrochicco@unibocconi.it, I will be happy to have an exchange with you.

References

Appadurai, A. (2004). “The Capacity to Aspire: Culture and the Terms of Recognition” . Culture and Public Action, edited by V. Rao and M. Walton. World Bank, pp. 59-84.

Beaman, L., E. Duflo, R. Pande, and P. Topalova (2012). “Female Leadership Raises Aspirations and Educational Attainment for Girls: A Policy Experiment in India.” Science, 335, 582–586.

La Ferrara, E. (2019). “Aspirations, Social Norms and Development”. European Economic Association Presidential Address. Cologne.

Nguyen, T. (2008). “Information, Role Models and Perceived Returns to Education: Experimental Evidence from Madagascar”. MIT Job Market Paper.

Porter, C. and D. Serra (2019). “Gender Differences in the Choice of Major: The Importance of Female Role Models”. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 12(3): 226-54, 2020

Ray, D. (2006). “Aspirations, Poverty and Economic Change”. Understanding Poverty, edited by A. Banerjee, R. Benabou, and D. Mookherjee. Oxford University Press.

Riley, E. (2017). “Increasing students’ aspirations: the impact of Queen of Katwe on students’ educational attainment”. In CSAE Working Paper WPS/2017-13.

The Impact of Networks on Integration and Social Norms of Migrant Women in Denmark

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is prevalent worldwide even when measures of gender disparity are considered. For example, despite Denmark having the second-lowest Gender Inequality Index score in the UNDP ranking, IPV is still prevalent: in 2014, national rates were not distinctly different from global proportions of 1/3 (FRA, 2014). Immigrant women disproportionately composed this statistic. While only 11.8% of women were classified as immigrants nationally, 42% of women’s shelter stays were non-Danish in 2019 (LOKK, 2020). In March 2021, we are awarded the LEAP student grant to explore these differences further and understand the role of norms in driving these statistics.

The research that motivates our proposal is by Alesina, Brioschi and La Ferrara (2021). Specifically, this paper showed that contemporaneous rates of IPV acceptance were higher amongst women that descended from historically patrilocal ethnicities, suggesting information and social protection influence incidences of violence. Our proposal aims to build on the emphasized persistence of IPV in Alesina et. al (2021) to understand whether attitudes, and subsequently incidences, are malleable when exposed to a contrasting perspective. The aim of our research is to develop on the economic and anthropological literature to understand to what extent social networks influence the norms of native and non-native women victim of IPV.

Hypotheses on the benefits of support networks are manyfold. Native-to-native and migrant-to-migrant bonds could help connect women with someone who has similar experiences, and background, which they can relate to and share. For the latter, if these women are less integrated in Danish society, there is likely a higher risk of being marginalized, leaving fewer means to cope with and overcome domestic violence. The relationship between migrants and natives could help migrants integrate into Denmark, providing legal, economic and social guidance to help them assimilate with the local culture, markets and processes. On the other hand, natives could also benefit by diversifying their social networks outside of those that her perpetrator is familiar with. We then plan to study the impact of such networks on a multitude of socio-economic outcomes, such as employment and job search, social security and health, both mental and physical and aim to conduct a survey through the registry to collect information on norms.

In order to analyse the causal effect of interactions among women of a matching or a different ethnicity, we exploit several sources of exogenous variation in the ethnic composition of the shelter population. At the national level, a variety of measures have been imposed to increase contact between natives and non-natives, and, in particular, we focus on a refugee dispersal policy introduced in the 1980s that allocated migrants as evenly as possible throughout the country to reduce formation of “ethnic enclaves”. At the shelter level, we plan to leverage the fact that women are randomly assigned to different floors, so that the “ethnic composition” of each floor is exogenous. Hence exposure to co-nationals or to women of different ethnicity, and consequently the likelihood of bonding with them, is also randomly determined. As there may be endogenous room switches, we have reached out to several shelters across the country about the possibility of a more robust experimental design to explore how contact with different perspectives can shape social norms.

Given shelters collect the social security numbers of residents, the shelter stays can be combined with the national administrative data. This has provided us access to a rich dataset, which we have purchased through our LEAP grant, containing information on a plethora of dimensions, including health-related information, criminal records, job market outcomes, and social security benefits, about all women between 18 and 65 years old living in Denmark for the last 15 years, along with eventual partners and children.

We have recently received the data and are in the process of cleaning them. We have started conducting a preliminary analysis to understand the socio-economic correlates of shelter stays. We look forward to disseminating our results in due course.

References:

European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014. Violence against Women: An EU-wide Survey. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Alesina, A., Brioschi, B., & La Ferrara, E. (2021). Violence against women: a cross‐cultural analysis for Africa. Economica, 88(349), 70-104.