Nearly one billion people live in urban “slums” – neighborhoods that lack adequate services and secure property rights. Most official data sources omit the poorest and most vulnerable settlements from their databases, making it difficult to generate rigorous empirical evidence from official sources. In this project, we iterate between satellite analysis and fieldwork to build an original sample of slums from three Indian cities. We conduct nearly 10,000 household surveys from over 200 slums, as well as social network census surveys from a subset of 8 neighborhoods. We draw on this extensive original database to answer multiple questions about the range of policy problems as well as coping mechanisms across urban slums. Data collection is completed but we are continuing to author papers based on this evidence.
(2019) “Combining satellite and survey data to study Indian slums: evidence on the range of conditions and implications for urban policy.” Environment and Urbanization 31(1), 267–292.
(2023). “Informal Work, Risk, and Clientelism: Evidence from 223 Slums across India.” British Journal of Political Science, 53(1), 1-24.
Most of the poor in the developing world work in the informal economy, that is, in occupations that take place outside of the legal system of taxing, spending, and regulating. This article examines how informal work impacts the policy and electoral preferences of the poor. We emphasize the importance of the risks inherent in informal employment in shaping the responsiveness of citizens to clientelism and their policy and voting preferences. Since most informal workers are not covered by (formal) social insurance, they prefer material goods and candidates that produce targeted, clientelistic benefits rather than programmatically delivered insurance that is unlikely to reach them. As a result, we argue that informal workers are more likely to rely on clientelistic relations as a means of hedging risks than are formal workers; prefer policies that are delivered clientelistically via political mediators rather than programmatic solutions; and prefer clientelistic over programmatic local candidates. Our findings elucidate why the preferences of poor informal workers often diverge from those assumed by standard models of social insurance and have important implications for the political economy of social policy in a world where billions work outside work-based tax-transfer systems.
(2020.) “Precarious gains: social mobility and volatility in urban slums.” World Development 132, 105001.
Nearly one sixth of the global population lives in urban “slums” – areas characterized by inadequate infrastructure and tenure security. This figure continues to grow as developing countries rapidly urbanize. Yet, the implications of these trends for urban poverty and social mobility are not well understood. While some argue slums provide temporary housing for rural migrants as they accumulate savings and eventually move to middle class neighborhoods, others argue slum residents are stuck in poverty traps. Deficits in longitudinal data on slums make it difficult to analyze the extent of social mobility. We iterate between satellite analysis and field knowledge to build an original sample of more than 9000 slum households across more than 200 slums from three Indian cities. To address the limitations inherent in cross-sectional data, we employ multiple methods and triangulate findings across household survey data, neighborhood focus group data, longitudinal satellite data, and in-depth qualitative interviews. While no one analysis is definitive on its own, all of these results point to the same conclusion: slum residents are neither stuck in poverty traps nor are they on a steady trajectory to joining the middle class. Movement out of neighborhoods, particularly to non-slum neighborhoods, is rare. Most households experience upward mobility within their neighborhoods, but the extent of improvement is capped at a low level, and, as opportunities increase, volatility increases in parallel. Plateauing and volatility are features present in low-end, and even more, in high-end slums. Engendering better livelihood opportunities requires reducing downward mobility while addressing the causes of plateauing upward mobility.