ASNODEV - Aspirations Social Norms and Development

Eliana La Ferrara

Eliana La Ferrara
Principal Investigator

November 2016-October 2021
Grant Agreement ID: 694882


Development economists and policymakers often face scenarios in which poor people do not make choices that would help them get out of poverty due to an “aspiration failure”: the poor perceive certain goals as unattainable and do not invest towards those goals, thus perpetuating their own state of poverty. The aim of this proposal is to improve our understanding of the relationship between aspirations and socio-economic outcomes of disadvantaged individuals, in order to answer the question: Can we design policy interventions that shift aspirations in a way that is conducive to development?

In addressing the above question a fundamental role is played by social norms and by the ability of individuals to coordinate on “new” aspirations, hence the analysis of social effects is a salient feature of this proposal.

The proposed research is organized in two workpackages. The first focuses on the media as a vehicle for changing aspirations, examining both commercial TV programs and “educational entertainment”. The second workpackage examines “tailored” interventions designed to address specific determinants of aspiration failures (e.g., psychological support to reduce perceived barriers; inter-racial interaction to change stereotypes; institutional improvement to strengthen women’s rights and reduce the gender aspiration gap).

The approach will involve rigorous evaluation of several interventions directly designed to or indirectly affecting aspirations and social norms. Original data collected through survey work, large administrative datasets and media content analysis will be used.

The results of this project will advance our knowledge on the sources of aspiration failures by poor people and on the interplay between aspirations and social norms, eventually opening the avenue for a new array of anti-poverty policies.

  • “Interaction, Stereotypes and Performance. Evidence from South Africa” (with J. Burns and L. Corno), American Economic Review, 112(12), 3848-3875, 2022. 
  • Michela Carlana, Eliana La Ferrra, Paolo Pinotti, "Goals and Gaps: Educational Careers of Immigrant Children", Econometrica 2022, Vol.90, Issue 1

  • Presidential Address: Aspirations, Social Norms, and Development, Journal of the European Economic Association, Volume 17, Issue 6, December 2019, Pages 1687–1722
Working papers
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This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.