NEUDC 2022: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead

by Jillian Stallman
December 14, 2022

An economist speaking to a groupIf a large and diverse consortium of economists could be said to share a single feeling, it was that the North East Universities Development Consortium (NEUDC) Conference had serious Zoom fatigue. The last two NEUDC conferences had been hosted virtually and with great success by Dartmouth (2020) and Boston University (2021). This allowed for the conference to continue despite the pandemic and achieve a greater geographical reach, but at the cost of extending participants’ stays in their screen-worlds.

When I joined the Yale-based planning committee as a student organizer in summer 2022, the group was hoping to be able to host an in-person conference. Most of my peers had never presented to an external audience, and my professors clearly missed opportunities to share tips with the up-and-comers around the snacks table.

We made the decision to turn off the webcams, and I think this paid off. The conference center was abuzz with early-career economists playfully locking horns over the finer points of their papers. The weather was unseasonably warm for a New Haven November, allowing many of these debates to take place on a carpet of fallen leaves. Meanwhile, a resourceful crew of staff and volunteers kept the caffeine and tweets flowing.

After the event, I dug into some of the conference data to see what a NEUDC-attending economist looks like these days and what we’re thinking about.

Who we are (and where we’re going)

NEUDC 2022 received 621 unique submissions from home institutions in 42 countries. The Scientific Committee, composed of a panel of 53 professors (36% female) from around the Northeast, accepted 164 papers or 26.4% of submissions. Several remarked on the high quality of submissions they read.

134 researchers based in 20 different countries came to New Haven to present their papers on November 5 and 6. With the help of forty-odd staff and volunteers, we welcomed around 250 participants.

Watch "Lessons Learned on Poverty Measurement through Household Panel Surveys""

The plenary session of the North East Universities Development Consortium (NEUDC) 2022 featured researchers introducing datasets available for development researchers. The panel discussion took place at Yale with a live simulcast on Saturday, November 5, 2022.

Current Institutions of Submitters, Presenters, and Participants

Institutions of Submitters, Presenters, and Participants
Presenters and submitters georeferenced by institution or city, state (if relevant) and country as available from Conference Maker on 2022-11-18. Non-presenter information is georeferenced from registration information. Registered non-presenters are in medium blue, and presenters and submitters in dark blue. 621 unique submissions, of which 164 were accepted. There were 134 presenters at NEUDC and 250 participants. “North East” is here defined as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Washington, DC, with Illinois as an honorary member due to Northwestern being an NEUDC host institution.

In addition to getting geographic information from our submissions platform, we also asked our participants several demographic questions (see figure below).

A group discussing slides
Photo by Rada Pavlova

NEUDC succeeds in highlighting upcoming researchers: fully half of presenters were students or post-docs, with over 70% of presenters early in their careers. We were somewhere between at or approaching gender parity in both participants and presenters. While most of our participants came from within a few hours’ drive of New Haven, around a quarter came from outside the United States.

Geographically, presentations focused mainly on Sub-Saharan Africa (with heavy emphasis on Kenya and Uganda) and South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal), while Brazil, China, and Indonesia were also present. There were almost no papers focusing on the Middle East, Central Asia, or North Africa. With the exception of Indonesia, other parts of Southeast Asia were also rare.

Countries Studied in Papers Presented at NEUDC 2022

"Countries Studied in Papers Presented at NEUDC 2022"
If five or fewer countries were compared in a single paper, each is displayed. 118 papers involved one country; 10 papers involved 2-5 countries, and 6 papers studied more than 5 countries (not shown).

Around 40% of research papers discussed an African country, but as the graph below shows, only a handful of presenters identified as Black or African American. J-PAL’s Governance Initiative grant helped provide travel funds for two researchers based in low- or lower-middle-income countries, but it’s clear that an in-person conference in the United States will be most accessible to US-based researchers.

Demographics at a Glance

"Demographics at a glance"
250 total participants, not including around 30 volunteers. 134 total presenters, from 164 accepted submissions.

What we’re thinking about (and how)

The conference webpage has an overview of the 35 sessions, and the program has more detail along with links to the papers – though most are preliminary drafts. Almedina Music and David Evans have posted sound-bite summaries of all the papers of the conference.

Areas of Inquiry: Submissions were high in political economy, labor and demography, education, and gender. Submissions in finance, health and behavioral economics landed in the middle of the group. Few researchers described their papers as foremost relating to poverty, although poverty was a secondary distinction in 12% of the papers. Macroeconomics, agriculture, energy and environment, trade and spatial, and firms all had fewer submissions.

Scope of Study: Cross-country comparisons were few and mostly found within macroeconomics, firms, or trade and spatial. Only six papers included data from more than five countries; 88% of papers focused their analysis within one country.

Long-term studies were also relatively rare: a fifth of papers discussed interventions or policies over the span of a year or less, and two-thirds limited their analysis to five years or fewer. Our plenary panel on  household panel surveys highlighted the growing potential for longer-run studies with a focus on three panels: Mexican Family Life Survey, the Cox’s Bazar Panel Survey in Bangladesh, and the Ghana Socioeconomic Panel Survey.

Methodology: All but a handful of the papers presented had an empirical component, and 90% included either a randomized controlled trial (RCT) or natural experiment (or both). Quasi-exogenous variation provided identification in 57% of the total papers, while experimental variation totaled about 35%. Some 20-30% of the papers utilizing an RCT or natural experiment also employed a formal conceptual framework, ranging from a simple theoretical illustration of the main mechanisms to a full-blown structural model with calibration based on experimental variation. Others preferred to discuss their mechanisms with additional regressions.

A presenter speaking to a full classroom
Photo by Rada Pavlova

Looking forward

We’re pleased to announce that Harvard's Center for International Development (CID) will be hosting NEUDC 2023.

Asim Khwaja, Sumitomo-FASID Professor of International Finance and Development at Harvard Kennedy School and Director of CID, told me what this meant to him:

We at Harvard and at the Center for International Development are thrilled to be hosting NEUDC 23. I have incredibly warm memories of presenting at NEUDC as a graduate student. It was my first real external presentation and I remember both how nervous I felt but how supporting everyone was. For me NEUDC always remains one of the most inclusive and embracing of all development conferences and we hope to continue and grow on those values and support the best young talent in the field.

We at EGC couldn’t agree more, and send our best wishes to the co-organizers Asim Khwaja and Melissa Dell, Professor of Economics at Harvard.

Thank you, everyone, for your support for NEUDC 2022. I hope I’ll see you next year in Cambridge!

Participants at dinner
Photo by Maher Mahmood

Jillian Stallman is a third-year PhD student in the Yale Department of Economics interested in the intersections between development, political economy, and environment. She's currently working on projects related to the political and economic motivations behind international accords in general, and solar geoengineering in particular.

Thanks to Vestal McIntyre, Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan and Rohini Pande for their feedback on this article, Nick Ryan and Rohini Pande for co-organizing the conference, and the volunteers on our social media team who contributed paper synopses. NEUDC also wouldn’t have been possible without facilities staff, events staff lead by Shannon LeGault, the finance team, the communications team, EGC staff members, and tech volunteers.