Antonella Bancalari

Welcome to my website!

I'm an Assistant Professor at the School of Economics and Finance, University of St Andrews. I'm also a Research Associate at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB). 

I recently completed a PhD at the London School of Economics, Department of Social Policy. I hold a Master in Public Administration - International Development/Economic Policy from the LSE and a BSc in Economics from Universidad del Pacifico.

I'm an applied microeconomist and my research sits at the intersection of Development, Public and Health Economics. I use applied econometrics and field experiments to understand the principles underlying effective public good/service delivery in low- and middle-income countries. I also explore ways to induce people to adopt welfare-improving technologies and behaviours.

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Antonella Bancalari


Can White Elephants Kill?
The Unintended Consequences of Infrastructure Development in Peru

It has long been accepted that investing in public infrastructure promotes economic development. However, there is little awareness of the prevalence of "white elephants" and their consequences. In this paper, I study the effect of unfinished sewerage infrastructure on early-life mortality in Peru. I compile several sources of administrative panel data for 1,400 districts spanning 2005--2015, and I rely on the budgetary plans and timing of expenditure for 6,000 projects to measure unfinished projects and those completed in a given district. I document that mid-construction abandonment and delays are highly prevalent. I exploit geographical features and partisan alignment to instrument for project implementation. Surprisingly, unfinished sewerage projects increased early-life mortality, driven by lack of water availability, water-borne diseases and accidents. While unfinished projects pose hazards to the population, completed sewerage projects decrease early-life mortality, in line with studies in advanced economies during the previous centuries.

Runner up for Best JMP - Royal Economic Society Junior Symposium

Winner of "Nada es Gratis" JMP in Economics

Image by Tiago Rosado

Improving Infrastructure in Developing Cities: Experimental Evidence from India
(with A. Armand and B. Augsburg)

Poor quality of infrastructure is common in low and middle-income countries. Empirical evidence on how to promote sustained upgrades and valuation remains highly limited. This paper tackles this limitation by concentrating on mechanisms to create value for the use and maintenance of infrastructure, raising willingness to pay (WTP) for their use, and reducing free riding. We focus on shared sanitation facilities in Uttar Pradesh, India. We implement a field experiment in the slums of the two large cities of the state. A total of 110 catchment areas are randomly allocated to either a control or two treatment groups. In a first treatment, we upgraded the quality of the facility and of the service rendered by distributing grants and financial rewards to the providers.  In a second treatment, this intervention is supplemented by an intensive sensitization campaign among slum residents about the returns of a well-maintained facility. Using a wide variety of measurements, including surveys, lab-in-the-field experiments, structured community activities, and objective measurements, we study the behavior of both potential users and providers  The interventions achieved marginal improvements in infrastructure quality. Externally funded improvements crowded-out WTP, worsen attitudes in favor of free riding, and generated no increase in usage. Increased demand for public intervention in response to the interventions suggests that quality of infrastructure is not driven by market forces. A behavioural response of providers to the financial rewards, however, led to a decrease in free-riding that is sustained over time.


COVID-19, Fake News and Religious Tensions in Slums of India (with A. Armand and B. Augsburg)

One of the most, if not the most, at-risk groups of COVID-19 is the urban poor, living in overcrowded conditions with very limited access to public (health) infrastructure. We conduct phone surveys to analyse to what extent slum dwellers can and do respond to COVID-19 advise. We further run a field experiment to analyse whether social media can be successfully used to counter the spread of misinformation and fake news, as well as exploring religion bias in processing new information.


When Nature Calls: Sustaining Behavioural Change in Rural Pakistan (with B. Augsburg, Z. Durrani, M. Vaidyanathan and Z. White)

Slippage back to unsafe behaviour explains why sanitation interventions may not achieve sustained improvements in public health. We rely on a cluster-randomised experiment in rural Pakistan to evaluate the effectiveness of follow-up visits after a community total-led (CTLs) sanitation campaign. We find that follow-up activities are effective at sustaining safe behaviour, particularly when the sanitation infrastructure is prone to becoming obsolete. The intervention triggers a behavioural response that results in greater maintenance of private infrastructure.

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Effectiveness of Community Health Teams: Evidence from El Salvador
(with P. Bernal, P. Celhay and S. Martinez)

Access to high-quality preventive health care can deter mortality. Community health teams have emerged as an alternative to deficient formal health care provision in low- and middle-income countries, but the evidence on their effectiveness is inconclusive. Using quasi-experimental techniques and a fine-grain panel dataset of health records, we evaluate the effectiveness of a nation-wide reform in El Salvador that mobilized communities to access preventive healthcare. We find that the reform improved preventive behavior and reduced hospitalizations and deaths caused by diseases amenable to health access and quality.

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Work in Progress

Municipal revenues and public employment:
The role of royalties from natural resources

The political economy of `white elephants':
Re-election incentives and completion of infrastructure projects

Financing health providers: 
The case of universal health insurance in Peru

(with Juan Pablo Rud)

(with Claudio Ferraz and Gabriel Granato)

(with Gabriela Smarrelli and Marcos Vera-Hernandez )

Image by AbsolutVision

Media and Blogs

Vox Dev
Can ‘white elephants’ kill? Evidence from infrastructure development in Peru

Has COVID-19 ‘infected’ infrastructure development in Peru?

IGC and I4I
COVID-19 and the willingness to vaccinate: Evidence from India

Reuters Foundation
The global sanitation challenge: Is there a silver bullet?

World Bank Development Impact Blog
Can White Elephants Kill? Evidence from Infrastructure Development in Peru

El Comercio
El coronavirus “infecta” la ejecución de obras públicas

Semana Ecómica
¿Pueden matar los elefantes blancos?


Antonella Bancalari
Curriculum Vitae


Research Associate
Institute for Fiscal Studies


Prof Orazio Attanasio

Prof Oriana Bandiera

Prof Stephen Jenkins

Prof Robin Burgess

Dr Berkay Ozcan

Dr Joan Costa-Font

Teacher Writing a Formula on a Blackboard


London School of Economics

Social Economics - LSE Teaching Excellence Award 2019

University of St Andrews

Health and Education Economics



Antonella Bancalari

School of Economics and Finance
University of St Andrews
The Scores
St Andrews
KY16 9AZ

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