Ordeal Mechanisms in Targeting: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia

CID Working Paper No. 254

Rema Hanna, Vivi Alatas, Abhijit Banerjee, Benjamin A. Olken,
Ririn Purnamasari, and Matthew Wai-Poi
November 2012


This paper explores whether ordeal mechanisms can improve the targeting of aid programs to the poor ("self-targeting"). We first show that theoretically the impact of increasing ordeals is ambiguous: for example, time spent applying imposes a higher monetary cost on the rich, but may impose a higher utility cost on the poor. We examine these issues by conducting a 400-village field experiment with Indonesia’s Conditional Cash Transfer program (PKH), where eligibility is determined through an asset test. Specifically, we compare targeting outcomes from self-targeting, where villagers came to a central site to apply and take the asset test, against the status quo, an automatic enrollment system among a pool of potential candidates that the village pre-identified. Within self-targeting villages, we find that the poor are more likely to apply, even conditional on whether they would pass the asset test. Exploiting the experimental variation, we find that self-targeting leads to a much poorer group of beneficiaries than the status quo. Selftargeting also outperforms a universal asset-based automatic enrollment system that we construct using our survey data. However, while experimentally increasing the distance to the application site reduces the number of applicants, it does not differentially improve targeting. Estimating our model structurally, we show that there are large unobserved shocks in the decision to apply, and therefore increasing waiting times to 9 hours or more would be required to induce detectable additional selection. In short, ordeal mechanisms can induce self-selection, but marginally increasing the ordeal can impose additional costs on applicants without necessarily improving targeting.

Affiliated Research Program: Evidence for Policy Design