BREAD Working Paper No. 551, December 2018

Using RCTs to Estimate Long-Run Impacts in Development Economics

Adrien Bouguen, Yue Huang, Michael Kremer, Edward Miguel


We assess evidence from randomized control trials (RCTs) on long-run economic productiv- ity and living standards in poor countries. We first document that several studies estimate large positive long-run impacts, but that relatively few existing RCTs have been evaluated over the long-run. We next present evidence from a systematic survey of existing RCTs, with a focus on cash transfer and child health programs, and show that a meaningful subset can realistically be evaluated for long-run effects. We discuss ways to bridge the gap between the burgeoning num- ber of development RCTs and the limited number that have been followed up to date, including through new panel (longitudinal) data, improved participant tracking methods, alternative re- search designs, and access to administrative, remote sensing, and cell phone data. We conclude that the rise of development economics RCTs since roughly 2000 provides a novel opportunity to generate high-quality evidence on the long-run drivers of living standards.