I am pleased to report that my paper – written with co-authors Duncan Boughton, Kyan Htoo, Aung Hein, and Ellen Payongayong – “Measuring Hope: A Quantitative Approach with Validation in Rural Myanmar” (working paper version here) is now officially forthcoming in the Journal of Development Studies. Here is the abstract:
Development economists are increasingly considering the role of hope in behaviors relating to investment, production, and consumption decisions of the poor. Although several studies have examined how the concepts of hope and aspirations may fit into economic theories, empirical studies have yet to validate a reliable measurement of hope. We adapt a quantitative approach to measure hope in the context of rural Myanmar. We present three tests of measurement validity. This study finds that hope measurements are correlated with covariates in a way supported by theory, are distinct from other psychological concepts, and are positively correlated with welfare perceptions.
Here are a few highlights from the paper:
- Before diving into details of data collection and validation, we spend special attention on carefully defining what we mean by “hope” and “aspirations”, and how these concepts different from “expectations”. To do this, we lean on the theoretical work of Travis Lybbert and Bruce Wydick in their paper “Poverty, Aspirations, and the Economics of Hope” (forthcoming, EDCC). They conceptualize hope as being a function of aspirations, agency, and avenues. (I can’t say this any other way, if you are interested in this topic read the Lybbert-Wydick paper.)
- We set out to measure these concepts directly using quantitative measurement methods used by psychologists over the past half century. To implement these methods, however, we had to spend considerable effort contextualizing and translating our survey instruments so that they were culturally and emotionally sensitive and appropriate. As such, a healthy share of this paper explains our process of contextualization and iteration in survey design. This part of the paper (I hope) will be helpful for others who want to implement similar questions in their own data collection efforts.
- Next we perform several tests of measurement validity. We find that our measurements perform relatively well to our tests of construct, concept, and empirical validity. It is important to note, however, that these results are contingent on our work contextualizing and adapting the survey instruments as well as on numerous cultural and context-specific factors found in rural Mon State, Myanmar.
- Finally, our measurement approach is not without it’s weaknesses and we mention a couple explicitly in the paper. The first is in regards to interpersonal comparability. Anytime psychological concepts are measured using Likert scales, the issue of interpersonal comparability emerges. There is simply no easy way to rule out the possibility that different people perceive the response scale in different ways. The second relates to more in-depth qualitative validation. Our paper aimed to quantify hope, but hope may be best understood qualitatively through the use of anthropological analysis. We hope future research takes on these challenges by improving upon our measurement techniques.
This paper stems from a significant piece of my MS Thesis and so represents a substantial portion of my last few years. It has been fun work. I’ve been able to travel and work with amazing colleagues. I’ve been able to implement interdisciplinary research, drawing insights from economics, psychology, anthropology, and theology. I’ve written quite a bit about this work both on this blog and in other places. I’ve listed this writing below for the ambitious reader.
- Measuring hope: Lessons from Rural Myanmar; Economics That Really Matters
- The Economics that Really Matters: Hope for Rural Smallholder Farmers; Global Food For Thought
- The Real-Life Psychological Impacts of Poverty Traps; AgriLinks
- Myanmar’s Growth, Beyond GDP
- Scarcity, Hope, and the Psychology of Poverty
- The Economics of Hope