About Mark M. Pitt

Mark M. Pitt is Professor Emeritus of Economics and Research Professor of Population Studies. Former Director of the Population Studies and Training Center and Senior Fellow of the Bureau for Research in Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD), Pitt is a leading economic demographer. He focuses on theoretically informed analysis of demographic and health-related behaviors of households, primarily in the developing world. Issues of gender and intra-household resource allocation are central themes. Pitt’s recent research has focused on the hidden costs of arsenic contaminated water on direct measures of cognitive and physical capabilities as well as on the schooling attainment, occupational structure, entrepreneurship and incomes of the rural Bangladesh population, the effects of targeted micro-credit programs on household resource allocation; spatial and intergenerational mobility in rural Bangladesh; the household division of labor and health; and the effects of investments in children on their outcomes as adults.

 The panel data that he has been collecting in Bangladesh over the past 20+ years tracks all individuals who were ever sampled in the first (1981/82) round of the survey regardless of location. The second round of the survey in 2002-3 included all of the individuals in the 1981-2 households plus all of the individuals residing in any new households formed since the original round. In the latest 2007-8 round all of the individuals from the 2002-3 round and any new household members were included as respondents. Because of the panel survey design, which tracked all individuals who were ever sampled regardless of location, kinship relationships with other sampled individuals but residing in different households and villages are identified. In the 2007-8 round of the data the number of villages represented in the sample had grown because of migration from 14 in 1981-82 to 612.  The survey data provide more detailed information at the individual level than do most large-scale surveys. The data include individual-specific information on food intakes, observed by investigators over a 24-hour period. 

 These data have been used in his forthcoming paper in The American Economic Review to explain gender differentials in the levels and returns to human capital investments and occupational choice. These include the higher return to and level of schooling, the small effect of healthiness on wages, and the large effect of healthiness on schooling for females relative to males. The model of that paper incorporates gender differences in the level and responsiveness of brawn to nutrition in a Roy-economy setting in which activities reward skill and brawn differentially. Evidence from rural Bangladesh provides support for the model and the importance of the distribution of brawn.

His recent project on arsenic employs a newly acquired survey round of the Bangladesh panel that  includes trace-metal analysis of toenail clipping provided by survey respondents. The data indicate very high levels of arsenic concentrations, exceeding average levels measured in US respondents by almost 20 to one, with concentrations exhibiting wide individual variation but spread almost uniformly across landholding groups. Using estimation methods that use information on the measured retained arsenic of family members residing in different villages and estimates of the effects of food consumption on arsenic retention and ingestion to identify the causal effects of arsenic retention on a variety of outcomes at the individual and household level, he and his co-authors find that OLS estimates significantly understate the negative effects of retained arsenic on cognition and physical strength. They also show that the negative effects on cognition are manifested in lower schooling attainment especially for young males, who made schooling choices when arsenic effects would have begun to be manifested. They show that these results are not due to a direct correlation in genes associated with arsenic methylation and genes associated with cognition and strength by estimating correlations among the relevant genes using genomic data. Their estimates also indicate that lowering the amount of retained arsenic among Bangladesh prime-age males to those levels in uncontaminated countries would increase earnings by 9%. We find that retained arsenic also reduces the productivity of women in home production.

Pitt can be contacted via email at [email protected]  He will be out of the country for much of the 2012/2013 academic year.