Jonathan J. Morduch

Professor of Public Policy and Economics, Executive Director of the Financial Access Initiative

212.998.7515
The Puck Building
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Wednesday 3-4 pm. Room 3028
Jonathan Morduch

Jonathan Morduch is Professor of Public Policy and Economics at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. His research focuses on finance and poverty.

Morduch is the author with Rachel Schneider of The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty (Princeton 2017), which reports on the financial lives of 235 working Americans over the course of a year (www.usfinancialdiaries.org). With Dean Karlan, Morduch has written a new, empirically-oriented principles of economics text, Economics (McGraw-Hill 2017, 2nd ed.).

He is also co-author of Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day (Princeton 2009) and The Economics of Microfinance (MIT Press 2010). He is co-editor of Banking the World: Empirical Foundations of Financial Inclusion (MIT Press).

Morduch is a founder and Executive Director of the NYU Financial Access Initiative (www.financialaccess.org). He has taught on the Economics faculty at Harvard, and has held visiting positions at Stanford, Princeton, Hitotsubashi University and the University of Tokyo. Morduch received a BA from Brown, Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, and an honorary doctorate from the Free University of Brussels for his work on microfinance.

 

New Grants:

Ford Foundation, US Financial Diaries project.

Citi Foundation, US Financial Diaries project.

IMTFI and IGC, Mobile banking in Bangladesh

 

 

 

While some countries have achieved unprecedented rates of economic growth in the past half century, other countries have experienced set-backs. For those that have seen rapid growth, economic changes have not always translated into proportional social changes – and sometimes rapid social changes have occurred in the absence of economic growth.

This course takes up issues of economic growth and social change in a comparative perspective. The course begins by reviewing the relationships between poverty, inequality, and economic growth. In that context, attention then turns to the role of markets, with a focus on local financial markets. In the second part of the semester, attention turns to policy interventions to improve education, confront rapid population growth, reduce the burden of disease, and confront corruption.

Download Syllabus

While some countries have achieved unprecedented rates of economic growth in the past half century, other countries have experienced set-backs. For those that have seen rapid growth, economic changes have not always translated into proportional social changes – and sometimes rapid social changes have occurred in the absence of economic growth.

This course takes up issues of economic growth and social change in a comparative perspective. The course begins by reviewing the relationships between poverty, inequality, and economic growth. In that context, attention then turns to the role of markets, with a focus on local financial markets. In the second part of the semester, attention turns to policy interventions to improve education, confront rapid population growth, reduce the burden of disease, and confront corruption.

Download Syllabus

While some countries have achieved unprecedented rates of economic growth in the past half century, other countries have experienced set-backs. For those that have seen rapid growth, economic changes have not always translated into proportional social changes – and sometimes rapid social changes have occurred in the absence of economic growth.

This course takes up issues of economic growth and social change in a comparative perspective. The course begins by reviewing the relationships between poverty, inequality, and economic growth. In that context, attention then turns to the role of markets, with a focus on local financial markets. In the second part of the semester, attention turns to policy interventions to improve education, confront rapid population growth, reduce the burden of disease, and confront corruption.

Download Syllabus

While some countries have achieved unprecedented rates of economic growth in the past half century, other countries have experienced set-backs. For those that have seen rapid growth, economic changes have not always translated into proportional social changes – and sometimes rapid social changes have occurred in the absence of economic growth.

This course takes up issues of economic growth and social change in a comparative perspective. The course begins by reviewing the relationships between poverty, inequality, and economic growth. In that context, attention then turns to the role of markets, with a focus on local financial markets. In the second part of the semester, attention turns to policy interventions to improve education, confront rapid population growth, reduce the burden of disease, and confront corruption.

Download Syllabus

While some countries have achieved unprecedented rates of economic growth in the past half century, other countries have experienced set-backs. For those that have seen rapid growth, economic changes have not always translated into proportional social changes – and sometimes rapid social changes have occurred in the absence of economic growth.

This course takes up issues of economic growth and social change in a comparative perspective. The course begins by reviewing the relationships between poverty, inequality, and economic growth. In that context, attention then turns to the role of markets, with a focus on local financial markets. In the second part of the semester, attention turns to policy interventions to improve education, confront rapid population growth, reduce the burden of disease, and confront corruption.

Download Syllabus

2018

Jonathan Morduch, Ariane Szarfarz. Earning to Give: Occupational Choice for Effective Altruists.
Jonathan Morduch and Dean Karlan. Economics.
Forthcoming
Abstract

Microfinance is generally seen as a way to fix credit markets and unleash the productive capacities of poor people dependent on self-employment. The microfinance sector grew quickly since the 1990s, paving the way for other forms of social enterprise and social investment. But recent evidence shows only modest average impacts on customers, generating a backlash against microfinance. We reconsider the claims about microfinance, highlighting the diversity in evidence on impacts and the important (but limited) role of subsidy. We conclude by describing an evolution of thinking: from microfinance as narrowly-construed entrepreneurial finance toward microfinance as broadly-construed household finance. In this vision, microfinance yields benefits by providing liquidity for a wide range of needs rather than solely by boosting business income.

Jonathan Morduch. Paying in Pieces: A natural experiment on consumer demand under different payment schemes.
Under Review

2017

Jonathan Morduch. Bringing winners and losers into the classroom. Vol. 48. pp. 31-33.
Abstract

We use data from the US Financial Diaries study to relate episodic poverty to intrayear income volatility and to the availability of government transfers. The US Financial Diaries data track a continuous year’s worth of month-to-month income for 235 low- and moderate-income households, each with at least one employed member, in four regions in the United States. The data provide an unusually granular view of household financial transactions, allowing the documentation of episodic poverty and the attribution of a large share of it to fluctuations in earnings within jobs. For households with annual income greater than 150 percent of the poverty line, smoothing within-job income variability reduces the incidence of episodic poverty by roughly half. We decompose how month-to-month income volatility responds to the receipt of eight types of public or private transfers. The transfers assist households mainly by raising the mean of income rather than by dampening intrayear income variability.

Jonathan Morduch, Saravana Ravindran, Abu S. Shonchoy, and Hassan Zaman. Poverty and Migration in the Digital Age: Experimental Evidence on Mobile Banking in Bangladesh.
Jonathan Morduch. Review of We Tracked Every Dollar 235 U.S. Spent for an Entire Year and Found Widespread Vulnerability.
Jonathan Morduch, Rachel Schneider. The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty.
Robert Cull, Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, and Jonathan Morduch. The Microfinance Business Model: Modest Profit and Enduring Subsidy..
Forthcoming
Jonathan Morduch, Rachel Schneider. Why do so many American families feel so financially insecure?.

2016

Abstract

Economic analyses of household choices usually assume that money is fungible—that a dollar is a dollar, no matter how it was earned or by whom. But, in practice, families often earmark money earned by a particular family member or generated from a particular job. Viviana Zelizer’s The Social Meaning of Money thoroughly documents the importance of earmarking and the social relations that explain why and how. More recently, the US Financial Diaries project documents the frequency of earmarking in a sample of low- and moderate-income households in ten sites across America.   Earmarking income for particular purposes generally leads to spending patterns that deviate from patterns delivered by household-level optimization with full fungibility. Not surprisingly, economists have been slow to embrace notions of earmarking.  That, though, may be changing, as behavioral economics and game theory provide examples of how “anomalous” empirical results can open doors to the acceptance of richer theoretical approaches.

Jonathan Morduch. Interview with Jonathan Morduch: On the Interpretation and Methodology of RCTs in Development Economics. 2016. In Timothy Ogden, ed., Experimental Conversations. MIT Press.
Forthcoming
Abstract

Recent evidence suggests only modest social and economic impacts of microfinance. Favorable cost-benefit ratios then depend on low costs. We use proprietary data on 1335 microfinance institutions between 2005 and 2009, jointly serving 80.1 million borrowers, to calculate the costs of microfinance and other elements of the microfinance business model. We calculate that on average, subsidies amounted to $132 per borrower, but the distribution is highly skewed. The median microfinance institution used subsidies at a rate of just $26 per borrower, and no subsidy was used by the institution at the 25th percentile. These data suggest that, for some institutions, even modest benefits could yield impressive cost-benefit ratios. At the same time, the data show that subsidy is large for some institutions. Counter to expectations, the most heavily-subsidized group of borrowers are customers of the most commercialized institutions, with an average of $275 per borrower and median of $93. Customers of NGOs, which focus on the poorest customers and on women, receive far less subsidy: the median microfinance NGO used subsidy at a rate of $23 per borrower, and subsidy for the NGO at the 25th percentile was just $3 per borrower.

2015

Abstract

Muhammad Yunus, the microcredit pioneer, has proposed that access to credit should be a human right. We approach the question by drawing on fieldwork and empirical scholarship in political science and economics. Evidence shows that access to credit may be powerful for some people some of the time, but it is not powerful for everyone all of the time, and in some cases it can do damage. Yunus’s claim for the power of credit access has yet to be widely verified, and most rigorous studies find microcredit impacts that fall far short of the kinds of empirical assertions on which his proposal rests. We discuss ways that expanding the domain of rights can diminish the power of existing rights, and we argue for a right to non-discrimination in credit access, rather than a right to credit access itself.

 

Abstract

We analyze a randomized trial of an innovative anti-poverty program in South India, part of a series of pilot programs that provide “ultra-poor” households with inputs to create new, sustainable livelihoods (often tending livestock). In contrast with results from other pilots, we find no lasting net impact on income or asset accumulation in South India. We explore concerns with program implementation, data errors, and the existence of compelling employment alternatives. The baseline consumption data contain systematic errors, and income and consumption contain large outliers. Steps to address the problems leave the central findings largely intact: Wages for unskilled labor rose sharply in the area while the study was implemented, blunting the net impact of the intervention and highlighting one way that treatment effects depend on factors external to the intervention itself, such as broader employment opportunities.

Abstract

The US Financial Diaries track the daily finances of low and moderate-income households over a year. The households faced substantial swings in income from month to month. On average, they experienced 2.7 months when income fell more than 25 percent below average, and 2.7 months when income was more than 25 percent above average. The volatility is summarized by an average coefficient of variation of monthly income (within year, averaged across households) of 39 percent. The CV is greatest (55 percent) for households below the poverty line, but the CV remained relatively high (33-35 percent) and steady for households with income from 100 percent of the poverty line up to 300 percent. Thus, in the non-poor sample, greater income did not imply notably greater income stability.

2014

Abstract

We combine two datasets to examine whether the presence of banks affects the profitability and outreach of microfinance institutions.We find evidence that competition matters. Greater bank penetration in the overall economy is associated with microbanks pushing toward poorer markets, as reflected in smaller average loans sizes and greater outreach to women. The evidence is particularly strong for microbanks relying on commercial-funding and using traditional bilateral lending contracts (rather than group lending methods favored by microfinance NGOs). We consider plausible alternative explanations for the correlations, including relationships that run through the nature of the regulatory environment and the structure of the banking environment, but we fail to find strong support for these alternative hypotheses.

Abstract

We replicate and reanalyse the most influential study of microcredit impacts (Pitt and Khandker, 1998). That study was celebrated for showing that microcredit reduces poverty, a much hoped-for possibility (though one not confirmed by recent randomized controlled trials). We show that the original results on poverty reduction disappear after dropping outliers, or when using a robust linear estimator. Using a new program for estimation of mixed process maximum likelihood models, we show how assumptions critical for the original analysis, such as error normality, are contradicted by the data. We conclude that questions about impact cannot be answered in these data.

Abstract

This chapter introduces the basics of quantitative impact assessments. The context is microinsurance, but the lessons apply more broadly. The chapter covers seletion bias, control groups, randomization, statistical power, internal validity, and external validity.

2013

Abstract

Built from the ground up to focus on what matters to students in today’s high-tech, globalized world, Dean Karlan and Jonathan Morduch’s Economics represents a new generation of products, optimized for digital delivery and available with the best-in-class adaptive study resources in McGraw-Hill’s LearnSmart Advantage Suite. Engagement with real-world problems is built into the very fabric of the learning materials as students are encouraged to think about economics in efficient, innovative, and meaningful ways.

Drawing on the authors’ experiences as academic economists, teachers, and policy advisors, a familiar curriculum is combined with material from new research and applied areas such as finance, behavioral economics, and the political economy, to share with students how what they’re learning really matters. This modern approach is organized around learning objectives and matched with sound assessment tools aimed at enhancing students’ analytical and critical thinking competencies. Students and faculty will find content that breaks down barriers between what goes on in the classroom and what is going on in our nation and broader world.

By teaching the right questions to ask, Karlan and Morduch provide readers with a method for working through decisions they’ll face in life and ultimately show that economics is the common thread that enables us to understand, analyze, and solve problems in our local communities and around the world.

Abstract

About half of the world’s adults lack bank accounts. Most of these “unbanked” are deemed too expensive to serve, or not worth the hassle created by banking regulations. But what may be good business from a banker’s perspective isn’t necessarily what’s best for society. The inequalities that persist in financial access reinforce broader inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth. This is the opening for microfinance and also its challenge. Microlending has been sold as a practical means to get capital into the hands of small-scale entrepreneurs who can then earn their way out of poverty. The idea appeals to our impulse to help people help themselves and to our conviction that bottom-up development depends on the embrace of the market. By eschewing governments and traditional charities, the sector promises to sidestep the bureaucracy and inertia that have hobbled other attempts to expand the opportunities of the poor.

Abstract

Microcredit and SME finance are often pitched as alternative strategies to create employment opportunities in low-income communities. So far, though, little is known about how employment patterns compare. We integrate evidence from three surveys to show that, compared to Bangladeshi microcredit customers, typical SME employees in Bangladesh have more education and professional skills, and live in households that are notably less poor. SME jobs also require long work weeks, clashing with family responsibilities. The evidence from Bangladesh rejects the idea that SME finance more efficiently creates jobs for the population currently served by microcredit.

2012

Abstract

About 2.5 billion adults, just over half the world’s adult population, lack bank accounts. If we are to realize the goal of extending banking and other financial services to this vast “unbanked” population, we need to consider not only such product innovations as microfinance and mobile banking but also issues of data accuracy, impact assessment, risk mitigation, technology adaptation, financial literacy, and local context. In Banking the World, experts take up these topics, reporting on new research that will guide both policy makers and scholars in a broader push to extend financial markets.

The contributors consider such topics as the complexity of surveying people about their use of financial services; evidence of the impact of financial services on income; the occasional negative effects of financial services on poor households, including disincentives to work and overindebtedness; and tools for improving access such as nontraditional credit scores, financial incentives for banking, and identification technologies that can dramatically reduce loan default rates.

Abstract

We use experimental measures of time discounting and risk aversion for villagers in south India to highlight behavioral features of microcredit, a financial tool designed to reduce poverty and fix credit market imperfections. The evidence suggests that microcredit contracts may do more than reduce moral hazard and adverse selection by imposing new forms of discipline on borrowers. We find that, conditional on borrowing from any source, women with present-biased preferences are more likely than others to borrow through microcredit institutions. Another particular contribution of microcredit may thus be to provide helpful structure for borrowers seeking self-discipline.

Abstract

“Best practice” in microfinance holds that interest rates should be set at profit-making levels, based on the belief that even poor customers favor access to finance over low fees.  Despite this core belief, little direct evidence exists on the price elasticity of credit demand in poor communities.  We examine increases in the interest rate on microfinance loans in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh.  Using unanticipated between-branch variation in prices, we estimate interest elasticities from -0.73 to -1.04, with our preferred estimate being at the upper end of this range. Interest income earned from most borrowers fell, but interest income earned from the largest customers increased, generating overall profitability at the branch level. 

Abstract

More than ever, Americans need to be financially savvy. The past few years have shown that mortgages can be complicated, business-cycle downswings severe, and investing far from obvious. And, for many of us, saving is not easy. Creating a successful financial life takes a high level of know-how and stamina. Not surprisingly, efforts to increase financial literacy among Americans have won wide support

Abstract

How we think about poverty is colored by how we measure it. For economists, that often means seeing poverty through quantities measured in large, representative surveys. The surveys give a comprehensive view, but favor breadth over depth. Typical economic surveys are limited in their ability to tease out informal activity, and, while they capture yearly sums, they offer little about how the year was actually lived by families. Year-long financial diaries provide a complementary way of seeing poverty, with a focus on week by week choices and challenges. The result is a re-framing of poverty and its relationship to money, calling for greater attention to financial access and a broader notion of how finance matters.

2011

Abstract

Is credit a human right? Muhammad Yunus, the most visible leader of a global movement to provide microcredit to world’s poor, says it should be. NYU’s John Gershman and FAI’s Jonathan Morduch disagree. In their new paper, Credit is Not a Right, they ask whether a rights-based approach to microcredit will in fact be effective in making quality, affordable credit more available to poor families – and, more importantly, whether it is a constructive step in terms of the broader goal of global poverty reduction. Jonathan Morduch argues his case in this video.

Abstract

We combine two datasets to examine whether the scale of an economy’s banking system affects the profitability and outreach of microfinance institutions. We find evidence that competition matters. Greater bank penetration in the overall economy is associated with microbanks pushing toward poorer markets, as reflected in smaller average loans sizes and greater outreach to women. The evidence is particularly strong for microbanks that rely on commercial-funding, use traditional bilateral lending contracts (rather than group lending methods favored by microfinance NGOs), and take deposits. We consider plausible alternative explanations for the correlations, including relationships that run through the nature of the regulatory environment and the structure of the banking environment, but we fail to find strong support for these alternative hypotheses.

Abstract

This paper puts a corporate finance lens on microfinance.  Microfinance aims to democratize global financial markets through new contracts, organizations, and technology. We explain the roles that government agencies and socially-minded investors play in supporting the entry and expansion of private intermediaries in the sector, and we disentangle debates about competing social and commercial firm goals. We frame the analysis with theory that explains why microfinance institutions serving lower-income communities charge high interest rates, face high costs, monitor customers relatively intensively, and have limited ability to lever assets. The analysis blurs traditional dividing lines between non-profits and for-profits and places focus on the relationship between target market, ownership rights and access to external capital.

Abstract

At the beginning of 2010, the Indian microfinance sector was a hotspot for impact investors. The promise of impact investing could be seen in the number of investors lining up to participate in the IPO of SKS Microfinance. 

SKS had ballooned from 603,000 borrowers in fiscal year 2007 to 6.8 million in fiscal year 2010.  Most were women in South Indian villages. The founder of SKS, Vikram Akula, had been saluted by Time and the World Economic Forum, and his Harvard-published memoir told the story of an “unexpected quest to end poverty through profitability.” 

But by 2011, the Indian microfinance sector was mired in bad press and political controversy.  Newspapers accused lenders of putting poor villagers in debt and causing suicides. State-level legislation in late 2010 capped interest rates and scared away equity investors.  Borrowers ceased to repay, and SKS’s share price plummeted, dipping below 200 rupees in late August 2011 (from an IPO price of 985 rupees in August 2010). As summer 2011 ended, BASIX—a pioneering competitor of SKS-- very publicly searched for funding to stay afloat.

Both the achievements and challenges in India hold lessons for impact investors. 

Impact investing has been widely touted, with microfinance as a leading example.  The temptation to attract capital by promising macro-impact at a micro-cost is difficult to resist—and India continues to be one of the most important and innovative microfinance markets. But getting the equation right is more complicated than most advocates admit.

Here are seven lessons on challenges, risks and realities drawn from three decades of microfinance ups and downs.

Abstract

Roughly one-half of the world’s adults, about 2.5 billion people, have neither a bank account nor access to semiformal financial services such as “microcredit,” the growing practice in developing nations of providing small loans, typically less than US$500, to self-employed people. But what if they did? Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, a pioneering microcredit institution, argues that this lack of financial access means that the poor, especially poor women, can’t obtain the loans they need to build their businesses and get on a path out of poverty. The idea has taken hold: In 2009, for instance, Grameen Bank served 8 million customers; its average loan balance was just $127. Worldwide, microcredit advocates now claim more than 190 million customers. Proof of concept, however, is not proof of impact. Recent studies have found that some efforts to provide small loans have produced surprisingly weak results, and in this issue, Karlan and Zinman provide more evidence that we need to rethink microcredit. Their findings, from a randomized evaluation of microcredit lending in the Philippines, adds to a handful of recent results that suggest that microcredit’s effectiveness has been overstated by studies that selectively focus on success stories.

Abstract

Poor families often borrow even when they have savings sufficient to cover the loan. The practice is costly relative to drawing down one’s own savings, and it seems particularly puzzling in poor communities.  The families themselves explain that it is easier to repay a moneylender than to “repay” oneself, an explanation in line with recent findings in behavioral economics.  In this context, high interest rates on loans can help instill discipline.  While workable, the mechanism is hardly optimal; options could be improved through access to a contractual saving device that helps savers rebuild assets after a major withdrawal.

Abstract

Limited information on the size and nature of the global population using financial services limits policy makers’ abilities to identify what’s working and what’s not, and it limits financial services providers’ abilities to identify where the opportunities lie and where they could learn from current successes.

A new report, “Half the world is unbanked,” provides an improved estimate of the size and nature of the global population that does and does not use formal (or semiformal) financial services.

This paper builds on a data set compiled from existing cross-country data sources on financial access and socioeconomic and demographic characteristics to generate an improved estimate of the size and nature of the global population that does and does not use formal (or semiformal) financial services.

Abstract

Microfinance banks use group-based lending contracts to strengthen borrowers' incentives for diligence, but the contracts are vulnerable to free-riding and collusion. We systematically unpack microfinance mechanisms through ten experimental games played in an experimental economics laboratory in urban Peru. Risk-taking broadly conforms to theoretical predictions, with dynamic incentives strongly reducing risk-taking even without group-based mechanisms. Group lending increases risk-taking, especially for risk-averse borrowers, but this is moderated when borrowers form their own groups. Group contracts benefit borrowers by creating implicit insurance against investment losses, but the costs are borne by other borrowers, especially the most risk averse. 

Abstract

Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day (Princeton University Press, 2009) tackles the fundamental question of how the poor make ends meet. Over 250 families in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa participated in this unprecedented study of the financial practices of the world's poor.

These households were interviewed every two weeks over the course of a year, reporting on their most minute financial transactions. This book shows that many poor people have surprisingly sophisticated financial lives, saving and borrowing with an eye to the future and creating complex "financial portfolios" of formal and informal tools.

Indispensable for those in development studies, economics, and microfinance, Portfolios of the Poor will appeal to anyone interested in knowing more about poverty and what can be done about it.

Abstract

Answering surveys is usually voluntary, yet much of our knowledge depends on the willingness of households and institutions to answer. In this study, we explore the implications of voluntary reporting on knowledge about microfinance. We show systematic biases in microfinance institutions' choices about which survey to respond to and which specific indicators to report. The analysis focuses on data for 2,072 microfinance institutions from MixMarket and the Microcredit Summit Campaign databases for the years 2004-2006. In general, we find that financial indicators are more often reported than social indicators. The patterns of reporting correlate with the institutions' region of operation, mission, and size. The patterns in turn affect analyses of key questions on trade-offs between financial and social goals in microfinance. For example, the relationship between operational self-sufficiency and the percentage of women borrowers is positive in the Microcredit Summit Campaign data but negative in the MixMarket data. The results highlight the conditional nature of our knowledge and the value of supporting social reporting.

Jonathan Morduch, Dean Karlan and Sendhil Mullainathan. Take-Up. Financial Access Initiative Framing Note. February 2010.
Abstract

In this paper, we examine the economic logic behind microfinance institutions and consider the movement from socially oriented nonprofit microfinance institutions to for-profit microfinance. Drawing on a large dataset that includes most of the world's leading microfinance institutions, we explore eight questions about the microfinance "industry": Who are the lenders? How widespread is profitability? Are loans in fact repaid at the high rates advertised? Who are the customers? Why are interest rates so high? Are profits high enough to attract profit-maximizing investors? How important are subsidies? The evidence suggests that investors seeking pure profits would have little interest in most of the institutions we see that are now serving poorer customers. We will suggest that the future of microfinance is unlikely to follow a single path. The recent clash between supporters of profit-driven Banco Compartamos and of the Grameen Bank with its "social business" model offers us a false choice. Commercial investment is necessary to fund the continued expansion of microfinance, but institutions with strong social missions, many taking advantage of subsidies, remain best placed to reach and serve the poorest customers, and some are doing so at a massive scale. The market is a powerful force, but it cannot fill all gaps.

Abstract

About forty percent of the world's people live on incomes of two dollars a day or less. If you've never had to survive on an income so small, it is hard to imagine. How would you put food on the table, afford a home, and educate your children? How would you handle emergencies and old age? Every day, more than a billion people around the world must answer these questions. Portfolios of the Poor is the first book to explain systematically how the poor find solutions.

The authors report on the yearlong "financial diaries" of villagers and slum dwellers in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa--records that track penny by penny how specific households manage their money. The stories of these families are often surprising and inspiring. Most poor households do not live hand to mouth, spending what they earn in a desperate bid to keep afloat. Instead, they employ financial tools, many linked to informal networks and family ties. They push money into savings for reserves, squeeze money out of creditors whenever possible, run sophisticated savings clubs, and use microfinancing wherever available. Their experiences reveal new methods to fight poverty and ways to envision the next generation of banks for the "bottom billion."

2008

Morduch, J. & Collins, D.. Banking Low-Income Populations: Perspectives from South Africa. Insufficient Funds:  Savings, Assets, Credit and Banking Anomg Low-Income Households.  New York:  Russell Sage,
Abstract

To analyze the prospects for expanding financial access to the poor, bank professionals assessed 1,438 households in six provinces in Indonesia to judge their creditworthiness. About 40 percent of poor households were judged creditworthy according to the criteria of Indonesia's largest microfinance bank, but fewer than 10 percent had recently borrowed from a microbank or formal lender. Possessing collateral appeared as a minor determinant of creditworthiness, in keeping with microfinance innovations. Although these households were judged able to service loans reliably, most desired small loans. Calculations show that the bank, given its current fee structure and banking practices, would lose money when lending at the scales desired. So, while innovations have helped to extend financial access, it remains difficult to lend in small amounts and cover costs.

2007

Abstract

Microfinance promises to reduce poverty by employing profit-making banking practices in low-income communities. Many microfinance institutions have secured high loan repayment rates but, so far, relatively few earn profits. We examine why this promise remains unmet. We explore patterns of profitability, loan repayment, and cost reduction with unusually high-quality data on 124 institutions in 49 countries. The evidence shows the possibility of earning profits while serving the poor, but a trade-off emerges between profitability and serving the poorest. Raising fees to very high levels does not ensure greater profitability and the benefits of cost-cutting diminish when serving better-off customers.

Jonathan Morduch. Smart Subsidy. Chapter 5 in Bernd Balkenhol, ed., Microfinance and Public Policy: Outreach, Performance and Efficiency. Palgrave/Macmillan, 2007, pp. 72-85.
Abstract

The microfinance revolution, begun with independent initiatives in Latin America and South Asia starting in the 1970s, has so far allowed 65 million poor people around the world to receive small loans without collateral, build up assets, and buy insurance. This comprehensive survey of microfinance seeks to bridge the gap in the existing literature on microfinance between academic economists and practitioners. Both authors have pursued the subject not only in academia but in the field; Beatriz Armendáriz de Aghion founded a microfinance bank in Chiapas, Mexico, and Jonathan Morduch has done fieldwork in Bangladesh, China, and Indonesia. The authors move beyond the usual theoretical focus in the microfinance literature and draw on new developments in theories of contracts and incentives. They challenge conventional assumptions about how poor households save and build assets and how institutions can overcome market failures. The book provides an overview of microfinance by addressing a range of issues, including lessons from informal markets, savings and insurance, the role of women, the place of subsidies, impact measurement, and management incentives. It integrates theory with empirical data, citing studies from Asia, Africa, and Latin America and introducing ideas about asymmetric information, principal-agent theory, and household decision making in the context of microfinance. The Economics of Microfinance can be used by students in economics, public policy, and development studies. Mathematical notation is used to clarify some arguments, but the main points can be grasped without the math. Each chapter ends with analytically challenging exercises for advanced economics students.

2004

Morduch, J.. The Grameen Bank Rethinks Microcredit. (In Japanese), Ajiken World Trend 106 (7) (Institute of Developing Economies, Chiba), June

2003

Abstract

Increasingly international institutions like the United Nations and the World Bank are redefining their missions in terms of global public goods provision. Global public goods have benefits that spill across national borders, and priorities include constructing financial architecture, generating and spreading knowledge, peace-keeping, containing disease, and cleaning up the environment. The rhetoric of global public goods underscores the notion that sending foreign aid overseas can deliver benefits at home as well. As in standard analyses of public goods, under-supply can occur due to free-riding, and public action can improve eficiency. But other cases depart from the standard analysis. We consider cases in which the content of global public goods may be controversial, and where welfare may be a function of multiple public goods consumed simultaneously. In this setting, free-riding may be encouraged and strategic policymakers may choose the quality of public goods to either "crowd out" or "crowd in" the provision of other public goods. The formal analysis is illustrated with discussion of two recent initiatives to provide global public goods: the failed proposal to start an Asian Monetary Fund in 1997 and the World Bank's announcement in 1996 that it is becoming a "Knowledge Bank" that spreads information on international development policy.

1999

Morduch, J. & Anand, S.. Poverty and the 'Population Problem'. Population and Poverty in Developing Countries, Massimo Livi-Bacci and Gustavo de Santis, eds., Oxford University (Clarendon) Press.

1998

Abstract

The microfinance movement has built on innovations in financial intermediation that reduce the costs and risks of lending to poor households. Replications of the movement’s flagship, the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, have now spread around the world. While programs aim to bring social and economic benefits to clients, few attempts have been made to quantify benefits rigorously. This paper draws on a new cross-sectional survey of nearly 1800 households, some of which are served by the Grameen Bank and two similar programs, and some of which have no access to programs. Households that are eligible to borrow and have access to the programs do not have notably higher consumption levels than control households, and, for the most part, their children are no more likely to be in school. Men also tend to work harder, and women less. More favorably, relative to controls, households eligible for programs have substantially (and significantly) lower variation in consumption and labor supply across seasons. The most important potential impacts are thus associated with the reduction of vulnerability, not of poverty per se. The consumption-smoothing appears to be driven largely by income-smoothing, not by borrowing and lending.

The evaluation holds lessons for studies of other programs in low-income countries. While it is common to use fixed effects estimators to control for unobservable variables correlated with the placement of programs, using fixed effects estimators can exacerbate biases when, as here, programs target their programs to specific populations within larger communities.

1992

Jonathan Morduch. Reflections on Alternative Allocation Mechanisms. In Approaches to Poverty Alleviation in Indonesia. Report 136/92/255, HIID/Indonesia, November 1992.

1990

Jonathan Morduch. Risk, Production and Saving: Theory and Evidence from Indian Households. Presented at Harvard, Stanford, UC-San Diego, UC-Los Angeles, U. of Pennsylvania, Boston College, U. of Virginia, Princeton, Yale, UC-Berkeley. November 1990 (Revised June 1993).

1987

Abstract

This paper reports on a methodology designed to examine the effects of selected agricultural policies in Hungary. The purpose of the paper is twofold. The first is to explain the methodology, dubbed multi-market analysis in previous work, which is implemented on personal computers to support discussions on policy reforms.

The second is to examine wheat and maize policies in Hungary. While the model is constructed to focus on these policies, it will also be possible to outline ways to use the model to address other problems.

AIG Research Fund

2008 - 2020
Description

The purpose of the AIG Research Fund is to strengthen research at NYU Wagner on extending banking and insurance markets to poor and under-served markets and to support leading researchers in translating evidence into action through support of the Financial Access Initiative. The current study investigates how health insurance can affect the quality care available to poor households. This will include a quantitative review of the experience of insured and non-insured individuals while seeking treatment for a specific aliment.