Can poverty be tackled by systematically influencing the behavior of those affected? Or does that just perpetuate it? Christian Berndt and Guilherme Lichand discuss the effects of social intervention.
In the last issue of the UZH Magazin we ran an article called “Out of the Poverty Trap by Text Message”, describing the work of UZH economist Guilherme Lichand. Lichand’s research looked into the effect that nudging parents can have on the school performance of children in Brazil. In his study, parents were sent a text message twice a week reminding them of the importance of school attendance. The success of this use of text messages to catch parents’ attention is phenomenal: The number of children needing to repeat a school year reduced by a third, and the children were three months further ahead with their schoolwork by the end of the year. Christian Berndt, professor of economic geography, doesn’t deny that such interventions can have positive effects; however, he criticizes them as being “short-sighted”. For Berndt, this form of solving problems based on behavioral economic theories is fundamentally problematic.