Can provision of free school uniforms harm attendance? Evidence from Ecuador

Published in: Journal of Development Economics 103 (2013). 43-51. (with Diana Hidalgo and Mercedes Onofa and Juan Ponce)

To raise school participation, many programs in developing countries eliminate or reduce private contributions to education. Using data from a randomized experiment in Ecuador, we ironically find that announcing a free school uniform program had a negative impact on attendance. The school uniforms were distributed in only 63% of the schools that were told they would get them, thus this negative impact could have been generated by creating false expectations of free distribution, or also by a sunk cost effect on those who did actually receive the uniforms.

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