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Falling living standards during the COVID-19 crisis: Quantitative evidence from nine developing countries

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Science Advances  05 Feb 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 6, eabe0997
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe0997
  • Fig. 1 Evolution of key indicators over time.

    This figure shows the percentage difference from baseline for several indicators in rural Kenya and Sierra Leone during the COVID-19 global pandemic relative to the pre–COVID-19 or early COVID-19 levels. The Kenya sample is representative of all households and enterprises across 653 rural villages in three subcounties taking part in an unconditional cash transfer program. The Sierra Leone sample is representative of households in 195 rural towns across all 12 districts of Sierra Leone. Surveys in Kenya were conducted in two rounds. During the first round (weeks 1 through 8), 8594 households were interviewed. During the second round (week 11), 1394 households were surveyed, of which 1123 were interviewed for a second time. Surveys in Sierra Leone were conducted across 2439 households. The pre–COVID-19 levels are from questions that recall data from February (A1) and March (A2 to C2) or from a previous survey conducted in November 2019 (D2). The post–COVID-19 levels are from questions that recall data from the prior 7 days (A to D2 and C to D1), prior 2 weeks (A1 and E1), and a combination (prior 7 days for food and prior 2 weeks for nonfood expenditures in B1). The weeks on the horizontal axis refer to the start of the recall period for each observation rather than the period during which the data were collected. The dotted lines in A1 and A2 show the linear trend from the pre-COVID baseline to the first observation for each respective time series. Baseline level for D1 is 1.3 days out of seven for adults and 0.72 for children. Baseline level for D2 is 35% of adults missing any meals in prior 7 days and 25% of children. Baseline level for E1 is 8% of adults experiencing violence in the prior 7 days and 20% of children. *P < 0.05.

  • Fig. 2 Food insecurity in Bangladesh and Nepal.

    Food insecurity in Bangladesh and Nepal with 95% confidence intervals. (A) Monthly rates of food insecurity among landless agricultural households in northern Bangladesh from sample BGD5. Food insecurity is defined as missing a meal or reducing portions for at least 15 days in a month. Note that this is a more stringent criterion than that reported in Table 2; in this figure, we restrict to cases of frequently missed meals. The 2020 rates come from an April phone survey, and “Previous year” reflects retrospective survey data spanning January 2018 through May 2019 collected in two survey rounds in February and June 2019. (B) Data from agricultural households in western Terai, Nepal, from sample NPL1. The index of food insecurity is constructed using two questions on how often households had to worry about not having enough food or had to reduce portion sizes. The data points in late 2019 and early 2020 come from six rounds of contemporaneous phone survey, and “Previous year” reflects respondents’ recollection about a prior “typical year” reported during the April–May 2020 phone survey round.

  • Table 1 Description of household survey data samples used in the analysis.

    Country and COVID eventsProjectsHouseholdsSurvey dates
    Bangladesh
    First case: March 8
    Total cases (July 1): 149,258
    Schools closed: March 17–August 6
    Lockdown: March 26–May 30
    BGD1. Rural sample: Rural households in villages participating in a
    project that aimed to increase access to the justice system
    2229May 2–12
    BGD2. Rohingya refugees from Myanmar: Refugee camp households in
    Cox’s Bazar district reported in (35)
    367April 11–17
    BGD3. Communities living near refugee camps: Host community
    households in Cox’s Bazar district
    532April 11–17
    BGD4. Participants in a lottery for agricultural work permits in Malaysia:
    Applicants for a temporary work program in 2013 in Chittagong and
    Dhaka Divisions
    2936April 16–20
    BGD5. Landless Rural Agricultural Laborers: Landless agricultural
    households in Northern Bangladesh first reported in (36, 37)
    294May 31–June 2
    Burkina Faso
    First case: March 9
    Total cases (July 1): 962
    Schools closed: March 26
    Lockdown: March 21
    BFA1. National sample (RECOVR): All adults with mobile phone numbers1357June 6–26
    Colombia
    First case: March 6
    Total cases (July 1): 95,043
    Schools closed: March 24
    Lockdown: March 24–July 1
    COL1. National sample (RECOVR): All adults with mobile phone numbers1507May 8–15
    Ghana
    First case: March 12
    Total cases (July 1): 17,741
    Schools closed: March 17–August 6
    Lockdown: March 16–July 31
    GHA1. National sample (RECOVR): All adults with mobile phone
    numbers
    1633May 6–22
    Kenya
    First case: March 13
    Total cases (July 1): 6366
    Schools closed: March 20
    Curfew: March 27
    KEN1. Rural households in NGO cash transfer study: Households across
    653 rural villages in NGO cash transfer study in Siaya County
    8572April 11–June 27
    KEN2. UNHCR refugees: All refugees and Shona stateless population
    with mobile phone numbers in Kenya
    1332May 14–July 3
    KEN3. Combined national sample: Phone numbers from the Kenya
    Integrated Household Budget Survey 2015/6 and all adults with mobile
    phone numbers
    4052May 14–July 3
    Nepal
    First case: January 23
    Total cases (July 1): 13,564
    Schools closed: March 19
    Lockdown: March 24+
    NPL1. Agricultural households in western Terai: Rural households in the
    bottom half of the wealth in Kailali and Kanchanpur districts
    1945April 1–29
    Philippines
    First case: January 30
    Total cases (July 1): 37,514
    Schools closed: March 17+
    Lockdown: March 15+
    PHL1. National sample (RECOVR): All adults with mobile phone numbers1389June 18–July 2
    Rwanda
    First case: March 14
    Total cases (July 1): 1205
    Schools closed: March 16
    Lockdown: March 21–April 1
    RWA1. National sample (RECOVR): All adults with mobile phone
    numbers
    1482June 4–12
    Sierra Leone
    First case: March 31
    Total cases (July 1): 1462
    Schools closed: March 31
    Lockdown: April 5–7, May 3–5
    SLE1. Candidate towns for rural electrification: Rural households taking
    part in an electrification program that installs solar mini-grids, described
    in (38)
    2439April 30–July 11
    SLE2. National sample (RECOVR): All adults with mobile phone numbers1304May 27–June 15
  • Table 2 Change in living standards during the COVID-19 crisis in nine developing countries.

    This table shows statistics from 16 household survey samples in nine countries. Columns denote the share of households or individuals experiencing a (1) drop in income, (2) drop in employment, (3) reduced access to markets, (4) having health care access delayed, (5) having to reduce or miss the amount of meals, and (6) receiving NGO or government support. Column (7) shows the total number of households surveyed in each sample. Column (7) shows the maximum number of observations available for analysis in each study though specific measures are sometimes based on smaller samples. The division of respondents in each sample into “higher” and “lower” socioeconomic status is based on that respondent’s status within each sample, based on baseline consumption expenditure (BGD1–4, KEN1, and SLE1), baseline household income (BGD5, KEN2–3, and NPL1), and a Poverty Probability Index (others). Data from KEN1 are restricted to the first round of surveys. Blank cells denote that no data were available. These results are reproduced with standard errors in Appendix in the Supplementary Materials fig. S1.

    Share of households experiencing:
    Drop in
    income
    Drop in
    employment
    Reduced
    access to
    markets
    Health
    care access
    delayed
    Missed or
    reduced
    meals
    Received NGO
    or government
    support
    Number of
    households
    (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)(7)
    Bangladesh
      BGD1. Rural sample0.810.250.040.100.022229
        Lower SES within sample0.820.160.040.110.021102
        Higher SES within sample0.800.340.040.090.021127
      BGD2. Rohingya refugees from Myanmar0.440.310.310.270.26367
        Lower SES within sample0.430.280.260.270.26175
        Higher SES within sample0.440.350.370.270.26192
      BGD3. Communities living near refugee camps0.730.160.250.230.02532
        Lower SES within sample0.820.180.270.270.03274
        Higher SES within sample0.640.140.230.180.01258
      BGD4. Participants in a lottery for
    agricultural work permits
    0.710.290.100.090.022936
        Lower SES within sample0.720.290.100.100.031440
        Higher SES within sample0.700.280.100.090.021496
      BGD5. Landless rural agricultural laborers0.790.030.690.49294
        Lower SES within sample0.700.040.740.52145
        Higher SES within sample0.870.020.640.46149
    Burkina Faso
      BFA1. National sample (RECOVR)0.630.290.490.110.280.251357
        Lower SES within sample0.690.320.560.090.350.19631
        Higher SES within sample0.560.250.420.120.200.31726
    Colombia
      COL1. National sample (RECOVR)0.870.490.680.430.590.281507
        Lower SES within sample0.950.510.710.410.750.43217
        Higher SES within sample0.860.490.670.440.560.251290
    Ghana
      GHA1. National sample (RECOVR)0.840.330.300.110.520.221633
        Lower SES within sample0.860.300.350.110.500.19654
        Higher SES within sample0.830.350.270.110.540.24979
    Kenya
      KEN1. Rural households in NGO cash
    transfer study
    0.690.130.670.480.068572
        Lower SES within sample0.690.170.660.520.073171
        Higher SES within sample0.680.110.680.460.063148
      KEN2. UNHCR refugees0.080.300.150.560.111332
        Lower SES within sample0.071.000.150.560.111084
        Higher SES within sample0.120.060.130.550.08248
      KEN3. National sample0.250.370.200.420.004052
        Lower SES within sample0.130.530.200.420.003139
        Higher SES within sample0.640.140.280.300.00913
    Nepal
      NPL1. Agricultural households in western Terai0.390.190.111945
        Lower SES within sample0.340.180.13800
        Higher SES within sample0.430.190.091145
    Philippines
      PHL1. National sample (RECOVR)0.520.420.770.350.401389
        Lower SES within sample0.580.500.810.410.43364
        Higher SES within sample0.500.380.750.320.391025
    Rwanda
      RWA1. National sample (RECOVR)0.810.410.470.140.560.081482
        Lower SES within sample0.850.410.490.150.580.08720
        Higher SES within sample0.760.430.440.130.530.09762
    Sierra Leone
      SLE1. Towns that are candidates for rural
    electrification
    0.560.050.160.060.870.342439
        Lower SES within sample0.570.070.150.060.900.30981
        Higher SES within sample0.560.050.160.060.850.371458
      SLE2. National sample (RECOVR)0.820.450.640.060.560.101304
        Lower SES within sample0.860.470.680.060.600.11806
        Higher SES within sample0.710.390.540.040.460.07498
    Median share of respondents across
    samples
    0.700.300.310.130.450.11

Supplementary Materials

  • Supplementary Materials

    Falling living standards during the COVID-19 crisis: Quantitative evidence from nine developing countries

    Dennis Egger, Edward Miguel, Shana S. Warren, Ashish Shenoy, Elliott Collins, Dean Karlan, Doug Parkerson, A. Mushfiq Mobarak, Günther Fink, Christopher Udry, Michael Walker, Johannes Haushofer, Magdalena Larreboure, Susan Athey, Paula Lopez-Pena, Salim Benhachmi, Macartan Humphreys, Layna Lowe, Niccoló F. Meriggi, Andrew Wabwire, C. Austin Davis, Utz Johann Pape, Tilman Graff, Maarten Voors, Carolyn Nekesa, Corey Vernot

    Download Supplement

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    • Tables S1 and S2
    • Figs. S1 and S2
    • Supplementary Text

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