Collaborative Research: Social Norms, Trust and the Inter-generational Flow of Innovations in a Developing Country

Project: Research project

Project Details


Pareto efficiency is a convenient and often appropriate benchmark assumption for research on the intrahousehold allocation of resources. A growing literature in development economics, however, has documented the importance of information asymmetries among household members and consequent efficiency losses. This study examines the transmission of agricultural knowledge from youth who receive in-school training to their elders. Our contribution is to conceptualize and empirically examine flows of technical knowledge and the allocation of productive resources between in-school youth and their elders in a context in which social norms generate communication costs that induce strategic behavior. West Africa provides a fertile testing ground, due to its rich intergenerational social norms that vary across societies. In collaboration with the Liberian government and NGO partners, we design a two-year field experiment within an agricultural education program in 150 junior high schools. This program aims at diffusing modern agricultural knowledge to rural households through students who are typically aged 14-20. A reversal of traditional roles between youth and their elders characterizes such transmission of knowledge. Inexperienced in managing production, students lack credibility in communicating new knowledge to elders. Elders, who are uncertain about students’ learning in schools, resort to subjective perceptions when choosing their effort to learn from students; due to social norms that prescribe extra tact for teaching elders, students strategically choose their communication effort based on their perceived level of trust by elders. We hypothesize that this strategic interaction between the two sides reduces the flow of knowledge beneath the efficient level for the household. Further, socially determined norms of interaction between students and elders of different gender and age can add costs of communication and additional inefficiency. Building on qualitative field research and pilot survey data on program participants, we have designed a series of randomized student-level interventions to manipulate the credibility of students’ knowledge to elders in their household, and to correct misperceptions between the two parties. We separately measure the impact of these interventions on communication between students and elders of different gender, as well as the subsequent impacts on household production patterns; and will relate these impacts to the ethnography of different ethnic groups in Liberia. This proposal is for partial funding for field expenses from September 2020 to November 2022, as well as salary compensation for collaborators.
Effective start/end date9/1/208/31/22


  • National Science Foundation (SES-2019086)


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