Location: Caucasus

Insights and Research Shared at the 2023 FREE Network Retreat

FREE network retreat Image from the conference

The 2023 FREE Network Retreat, an annual face-to-face event for members of the FREE Network, gathered its representatives to share and exchange research ideas and to discuss its institutes’ respective work and joint efforts within the Network. An academic session highlighted multiple overarching areas of interest and opportunities for research collaboration and included a plenary session on topics ranging from theoretical underpinning of Vladimir Putin’s regime to climate change beliefs and to consumer behaviour in credit markets. A session addressing the respective institute’s work during the last year also demonstrated the importance and relevance of the FREE Network’s joint initiatives on gender, democracy and media, and climate change and environment: FROGEE, FROMDEE and FREECE. This brief gives a short outline of the plenary session and an overview of some further topics covered during the conference.  

The Academic Day

The Academic Day consisted partly of a plenary session and partly of an academic session. The academic session was outlined to demonstrate the wide spectrum of research interests within the network and to promote and highlight the opportunities for research collaboration. Designed as a series of poster sessions, each organized around a common research theme, it allowed for an exchange of ideas between presenting researchers and the audience while displaying the overlap of the various research interests across the institutes. At the same time, the poster session combined the broad range of topics within 10 overarching subjects (trade, gender, migration and education, public economics, energy, labor, political economy and development, macro, conflict, and theory and auctions).

The plenary session further illustrated the wide variety of topics the FREE Network researchers’ work on. During the plenary session, three distinguished presentations were held, summarized in what follows.

“Why Did Putin Invade Ukraine? – A Theory of Degenerate Autocracy”

Firstly, Konstantin Sonin, Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, gave a presentation of his working paper (with Georgy Egorov, Northwestern University) in which the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine is explained through a theoretical framework on dictators’ decision-making in degenerate autocracies.

Sonin outlined how the beliefs about Ukraine in Kremlin, prior to the invasion, were factually wrong. For example, Kremlin believed that Ukraine, despite plenty of facts pointing in the opposite direction, lacked a stable government and had an incapable army. Further, it was believed that the US and Europe wouldn’t care about Ukraine and that Russian troops would be welcomed as liberators – the latter exemplified by the fact that Russia sent police and not the army during the first phase of the invasion. He also stressed that the decision to invade Ukraine is likely to have disastrous consequences for Vladimir Putin, his regime, and for Russia as a whole. This is, however, not the first example of a disastrous decision made by a leader of an autocratic regime, leading up to the question: What explains such choices that should not rationally have been made? And how can leaders make them in highly institutionalized environments where they are surrounded by councils and advisors who are supposed to possess the best expertise?

The model presented by Sonin assumes a leader in such highly institutionalized environment that wishes to stay in power and whose decisions are based on input from subordinates. The subordinates differ in level of their expertise and the leader thus chooses the quality of advice that he receives through his choice of subordinates.  In turn, while giving advice to the leader, the subordinate considers two factors: the vulnerability of the leader and their own prospects should the leader fall. In equilibrium there is a tradeoff as competent subordinates are also less loyal (since a more competent person might know when to switch alliances and have better prospects if the regime changes).

The leader also has access to repression as an instrument. Repression decreases his changes to be overthrown but raises the stakes for a potential future power struggle, as a leader with a history of repression is more likely to be repressed by his successor.

This interaction creates a feedback loop. If a dictator chooses repression, he feels more endangered, and he then chooses a more loyal subordinate who is less likely to deceive him for personal gain under a potential new regime. However, this leads to the appointment of less competent subordinates whereafter the information that flows to the leader becomes less and less reliable – as illustrated by Kremlin’s beliefs about Ukraine prior to the war.

There are three types of paths in equilibrium, Sonin explained; 1. “stable autocracy”, with leaders altering in power and choosing peaceful paths without repressions 2. “degenerate autocracy” – where the incumbent and opponent first replace each other peacefully and then slide into the repression-based change of power (until one of them dies and the story repeats), and 3. “consecutive degenerate autocracy” – where each power struggle is followed by repression.

Concluding his presentation, Sonin highlighted that in a degenerate autocracy such as Russia, individual decisions by the leader are rarely crucial due to the high level of institutionalization. However, as shown by the model, the leader is inevitably faced with a situation where he is surrounded by incompetent loyalists feeding him bad intel and setting him up to make disastrous decisions – most recently displayed in Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

“Facing the Hard Truth: Evidence from Climate Change Ignorance”

Pamela Campa, Associate Professor at Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, gave the conference’s second presentation, which detailed her work (with Ferenc Szucz, Stockholm University) on climate change skepticism.

Campa opened her talk with the current paradox regarding climate change, where, in the scientific community there is a strong consensus about the existence of climate change, but in society at large, skepticism is largely prevalent. This can be exemplified by one quarter of the US population not believing in global warming in 2023, and Europeans not believing in the fact that humans are the main driver of climate change.

According to Campa, the key question to answer is therefore “Why does ignorance about climate change persist among the public – in spite of the overwhelming evidence?”. One possible explanation may be a deficit in comprehension; people simply don’t understand the complexity of climate change and thus follow biased media and/ or politicians more or less sponsored by lobbyists. However, research have shown scientifical literacy to be quite uncorrelated with climate change denial, contradicting the above explanation. The second hypothesis, and of focus in the study, instead revolve around the concept of information avoidance. To test the hypothesis that people actively avoid climate change information, the authors key in on coal mining communities in the US having been exposed to negative shocks in the form of layoffs. These communities are of interest given their strong sense of identity and the fact that they are directly affected by the green transition. Arguably, a layoff shock would negatively affect not only their economy, but also pose a threat to their perceived identity. Given the context, it can thus be assumed that these communities to a larger extent would avoid information on climate change and information post-shock to restore the threatened identity.

The authors consider US counties experiencing mass layoff (more than 30 percent of mining jobs lost between 2014 and 2017) as treated counties, finding that in these counties, learning about climate change is 30 to 40 percent lower than in counties having experienced no mass layoffs. To account for the fact that the layoff itself may cause changes in learning, the authors also consider an instrument variable analysis in which gas prices are exploited as instrument for the layoffs – once again displaying the fact that people in affected communities believe climate change to be caused by humans to a lesser extent, when compared to counties in which no mass layoffs had occurred.

Interestingly, when controlling with other industries with somewhat similar characteristics (such as metal mining), the drop in climate change learning disappears, feeding in the notion of “identity-based information avoidance”.

The lack of support for and consensus among the public of the ongoing climate change and its drivers might pose a threat for the green transition as well as reduce personal effort to reduce the carbon footprint, Campa concluded.

“Consumer Credit with Over-Optimistic Borrowers”

In the plenary session’s last presentation, Igor Livshits, Economic Advisor and Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, presented his working paper (with Florian Exler, University of Vienna, James MacGee, Bank of Canada and Michèle Tertilt, Mannheimer University) on consumer credit and borrower’s behaviour.

There has been much debate on whether and how to regulate consumer credit products to limit misuse of credit. In 2009/2010 several initiatives and regulations (such as the 2009 Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act) were introduced with the aim of protecting consumers and borrowers from arguments that sellers of credit products exploit lack of information and cognitive capacity of borrowers. There is however a lack of evaluation of such arguments and subsequent regulations, which Livshits explained to be the motivation behind the paper.

The paper differentiates between over-optimistic borrowers (behaviour borrowers) and rational borrowers (rationalists). While both types face the same risks, behaviour borrowers are more prone to shocks and are at the same time unaware of these worse risks (i.e., they believe they are rationalists). Focusing on these types of borrowers, the paper introduces a model in which the lenders endogenously price credit based on beliefs about the borrower type. Households decide whether to spend or save and if to file for bankruptcy in an environment in which they are faced with earning shocks and expense shocks.

In this structural model of unsecured lending and default, Livshits finds that behavioral borrowers’ “risky” behaviour negatively affects rationalists since both types are pooled together and, thus rationalists are overpaying to cover for the behaviour borrowers. A calibration of the model also suggests that behavioral borrowers borrow too much and file for bankruptcy too little and too late.

Livshits argued that the model does not provide evidence of the notion that borrowers need protection from lenders, but rather that borrowers need to be protected from themselves. In fact, had behaviour borrowers been made aware of the fact that they are overly optimistic about the actual state of their future incomes, they would borrow 15 percent less.

To address the increased risks behaviour borrowers take at the cost of rationalists, policies such as default made easier, taxation on borrowing, financial literacy efforts and score-dependent borrowing limits could all be considered. Such policies may lower debt and reduce bankruptcy filings but as they may also reduce welfare and exhibit scaling difficulties.

Updates from the Institutes

During the Retreat, the respective institutes shared the previous year’s work, and updates within the FREE Network’s three joint projects were also presented. These go under the acronyms of FROMDEE (Forum for Research on Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe), FREECE (Forum for Research on Eastern Europe; Climate and the Environment) and FROGEE (Forum for Research on Gender Economics in Eastern Europe), and address areas of great relevance in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Researchers from all FREE Network institutes work on these topics, with the most recent policy paper written in coordination by SITE, KSE and CenEA (with expert Maja Bosnic, Niras International Consulting). The policy paper focuses on the gender dimension of the reconstruction of Ukraine – putting emphasis on the necessity of gender budgeting principles throughout the various parts of reconstruction.  An upcoming joint research paper will consider the effects of gasoline price increase on household income across the Network’s countries, written under the FREECE umbrella.

The three themes of gender, media and democracy, and environment and climate are not only purely research topics within the institutes. They also reflect developments and challenges that the institutes to a various extent face in the respective contexts in which they operate. The work focusing on the reconstruction of Ukraine is an excellent example of an area that encompasses all three.

Another example of the relevance of the three themes features prominently in one of the institutes’ most tangible contribution to their respective societies: their education programs. Nataliia Shapoval, Vice President for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), emphasized how KSE has – amid Russia’s war on Ukraine – managed to greatly expand. Over the past year, KSE has launched 8 new bachelor’s and master’s programs, some of which are directly targeted at ensuring postwar reconstruction competence. On a similar note, Lev Lvovskiy, Academic Director at the Belarusian Research and Outreach Center (BEROC) mentioned the likelihood of next year being able to offer students a bachelor’s program in economics and several business courses in Vilnius – BEROC’S new location. BEROC’s effort in providing quality education in economics to Belarus’ exile youth is considered a fundamental investment in the future of the country – providing a competent leading class capable of installing democracy and fair elections in Belarus once the current regime is gone. The emphasis on education was further highlighted by Salome Gelashvili, Practice Head, Agriculture & rural policy at the International School of Economics Policy Institute (ISET-PI) who not only mentioned the opening of a master’s program in Finance at ISET but also the fact that an increasing number of students who’ve recently graduated from PhD’s abroad are now returning to Georgia. Such investments into education are necessary to counter Russian propaganda in the region all three agreed, emphasizing the need to continually stem Russia’s negative influence in the region. This investment into education is also important to hinder countries from sliding away from democratic values – realized in Belarus and threatening in Georgia.

To further delve into the issues of democratic backsliding, a tendency that has been recently observed not only in the region but also more widely across the globe, FROMDEE will organize an academic conference in Stockholm on October 13th, 2023.

Concluding Remarks

The 2023 FREE Network Retreat provided a great opportunity for the Networks’ participants to jointly take part of new research and to share experiences, opportunities, and knowledge amongst each other. The Retreat also served as reminder of the importance of continuously supporting economic and democratic development, through research, policy work, and networking, in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

List of Presenters

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Lessons From the FROGEE Conference “The Playing Field in Academia: Why Are Women Still Underrepresented?”

Image of dark university area with two men representing women underrepresented in academia

Despite an increase in women’s representation since the beginning of the 20th century, women remain underrepresented in academia and other high-skilled professions. Academia has been prone to gender disparities both within and across fields as well as across academic ranks. In an endeavour to examine and address the underrepresentation of women in the academic profession, the Centre of Economic Analysis (CenEA), together with the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) and other partners of the Forum for Research on Gender Economics (FROGEE) at the FREE Network, organized the two-day conference “The playing field in academia: Why are women still underrepresented?”, in Warsaw June 21-22, 2023. This brief offers insights from the presentations and panel discussions held at the conference.

To date, there are few, if any, high-skilled professions exhibiting gender balance, and academia is no exception. Consequently, this imbalance has been subject to increased multidisciplinary research attention, exploring its origins and potential remedies. However, attaining a comprehensive understanding of gender disparities remains a challenge. For instance, much remains to be learnt about their long-run dynamics, a subject addressed by Carlo Schwarz, in one of the conference’s keynote lectures.

A Century of Progress

Carlo Schwarz (in joint work with Alessandro Iaria and Fabian Waldinger, 2022) trace the evolution of gender gaps in academia across a variety of domains at the global level throughout the 20th Century. Facilitated by an unprecedentedly large database of nearly 500,000 academics, spanning 130 countries and supplemented by publication and citation data, the authors specifically examine gender imbalances in recruitment, publishing, citation patterns, and promotions.

They find that in 1900 women constituted roughly 1 percent of all hires in academia (226 women, with only 113 hired as full professors). By 1969 the share of female academics had risen to about 6.6 percent, and by the year 2000 it had grown to approximately 17 percent. These rates varied across disciplines, institutions, and countries. For instance, teaching-centric disciplines such as pedagogy and linguistics, exhibited higher representation relative to research-oriented ones.

The research subsequently reveals a hump-shaped evolution of the gender gap in academic output – starting small before peaking at 45 percentage points fewer publications by women in 1969, thereafter declining to 20 percentage points. These publication disparities were also found to share a U-shaped relationship with the share of women in academia, indicating the interconnectedness of gender gaps.

The authors also address gender gaps in citations, identified by the use of a novel machine learning approach, forecasting a paper’s citations had it been written by a man. The results indicate a progressive reduction in the citation gap during the 20th century, decreasing from 27 percentage points (pre-WW1) to 14 percentage points (interwar) and eventually to 8 percentage points (post-WW2) fewer citations of papers by female relative to male academics. These gender gaps in academic output reiterated current evidence from Mexico, presented at the conference by Diana Terrazas-Santamaria, showing that women are associated with lower citation rates. Terrazas-Santamaria attribute the low rates to gender differences in both the number of publications and duration of academic careers.

The work by Iaria, Schwarz and Waldinger (2022) further showcase the gender disparities in career advancement in academia, which similarly decreased over the years.  At the point of the greatest gender disparity, women required an approximately 6 percentage points better publication record to have the same promotion probabilities as their male counterparts.

The Leaky, Dry Pipeline

In the conference’s second keynote, Sarah Smith highlighted how academia, much like other professional occupations, exhibits a leaky pipeline. This is a phenomenon characterized by a declining representation of women as they ascend through the academic hierarchy. When examining specific fields, Smith’s results indicate that the gender disparities in economics much more closely align with those observed in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) than other social science disciplines. Furthermore, the economics’ field illustrate a significant lack of diversity among its new entrants. This phenomenon, referred to as the dry pipeline, generates future cohort implications, as they result in less demographically representative cohorts from which future professors can be recruited (see Stewart et al., 2009).

The cross-disciplinary comparison of the dry pipeline addressed in the keynote, contest the mathematical rigor of economics as a barrier to entry, as mathematics itself demonstrated higher women representation at A-level and undergraduate levels. In a following discussion panel, which focused on ensuring a fair start in academia (comprised of Yaroslava Babych, Alessandra Casarico, Federica Braccioli and Marta Gmurek, and moderated by Maria Perrotta Berlin), the panellists acknowledged that deeply engrained social expectations, gender trained behaviours and a lack of awareness constitute some of the persistent hindrances to the (early) involvement of women in specific fields, and the academic profession in general.

Additional factors influencing the gender balance in recruitment and promotion are gendered references, and the presence or absence of shared research interests between candidates and recruitment panels. These themes were extensively investigated in the work presented by Alessandra Casarico on the conference’s opening day. Specifically, results from collaborative work with Audinga Baltrunaite and Lucia Rizzica, highlight that grindstone words (e.g., “determined”, “hardworking”, etc.) are frequently used in recommendation letters to describe female candidates, while standout words (e.g., “excellent”, “strongest” etc.) typify male candidates’ references. Compared to their male counterparts, women are also shown to be more inclined to accentuate personality traits when serving as referees. This added to a broader literature demonstrating that female candidates’ recommendation letters frequently exhibit brevity, raise doubts, carry a weak tone, and emphasize candidates’ interpersonal skills and personality traits rather than their ability. Moreover, separate results from Casarico’s work (with Piera Bello and Debora Nozza) illustrate that research similarity between the recruiting committee and the candidate predict the likelihood of recruitment. The authors argue that the relationship is indicative of a bias against women if – as shown by the authors – women are less likely to be the candidates with the highest similarity.

In her presentation, Anne Sophie Lassen offered a different factor that may contribute to the attrition in the pipeline: the influence of parenthood on academic careers. Results from her work (with Ria Ivandić) indicate that while parenthood does not significantly influence graduation rates, it extends doctoral studies by an average of 7 months for women. Moreover, Lassen highlighted a declining trend of remaining in academia after becoming a parent, particularly pronounced among women.

More Areas of Imbalance

The remaining conference presentations and panel discussions explored additional domains of gender imbalances within academia. Iga Magda showcased evidence from her joint work with Jacek Bieliński, Marzena Feldy and Anna Knapińska of gender differences in remuneration during the early stages of an academic career, substantiating a gap within a year of graduation. These disparities endure throughout respondents’ careers and are contingent on the field of study – largest among engineering and technology graduates and lowest among those from the humanities and arts fields. Furthermore, it was observed that productivity plays a negligible role in the identified pay gaps, as its impact is similar for both genders.

The panel composed of Eleni Chatzichritou, Marta Łazarowicz-Kowalik, Jesper Roine and Joanna Wolszczak-Derlacz, and moderated by Michał Myck, deliberated on exposed disparities in the application for, and the success rates in attaining research funding in Poland and Europe – as seen in the National Science Centre (NCN) and the European Research Council research grants, respectively. The discussion highlighted how quantitative measures used in the allocation of research funding are riddled with subjective criteria that often benefit male academics. They also recognized how quests to allocate funds to the most successful candidate inadvertently penalize women with career breaks.

Another panel including Lev Lvovskiy, Carlo Schwarz, Sarah Smith, Marieke Bos and Joanna Tyrowicz, and moderated by Pamela Campa, lauded the growing objective data shedding light on gender inequalities in academia. The panellists discussed current challenges in identifying and quantifying aspects of gender disparities. For instance, currently used proxies do not allow to capture more subtle disparities, like microaggressions faced by female academics from students – emphasizing the need for more individual level survey data.

The panels were further enriched by personal anecdotes and filled with retrospective advice shared by both early career and established academics. To contextualize the above, a few cases from the FREE Network countries follow.

Evidence From Within the FREE Network

Yaroslava Babych shared insights concerning women in higher education in Georgia and other countries of the South Caucasus. Preliminary findings of her study confirm the presence of gender inequality in academia, evident in disparities in access to higher education as well as gender segregation across both fields and countries. Notably, women comprise a majority of the graduates in bachelor’s and master’s of art programs, whereas higher research-level programs such as doctors of science, and top echelons of the academic hierarchy remain predominantly male. Moreover, female academic output is found to be lower than that of male counterparts.

Lev Lvovskiy discussed the case of Belarus, highlighting the influence of the Soviet legacy. A significant factor linked to this legacy is exploiting university enrolment to circumvent compulsory conscription of men, allowing male university admissions to serve a secondary purpose beyond acquiring knowledge. This increases the perceived opportunity cost of enrolling a woman. Lvovskiy further documented the academic trajectories of Belarusians, revealing a majority of women at college and doctoral levels, but being underrepresented among doctoral graduates. The results further indicate significant cross-disciplinary gender disparities, with humanities having close to 80 percent women representation and engineering and information and technology (IT) fields having less than 30 percent women representation.

Monika Oczkowska provided evidence of gender disparities in Poland. Findings from the country reveal an overrepresentation of women graduates from bachelor through doctoral levels, and relative parity at post-doctoral level, but lower proportions at habilitation, associate professor, and professor levels. These general results confirm the higher detail findings presented by Karolina Goraus-Tanska on the first day of the conference. Results from Goraus-Tanska’s work (with Jacek Lewkowicz and Krzysztof Szczygielski) suggest that the drop-off among female academics from habilitation levels is not attributed to higher output expectations for women, but rather stems from the impact of parenthood.

Oczkowska further demonstrated that female academics in Poland are characterized by fewer international collaborations and lower levels of international output. Polish female academics were also showcased to engage in more international mobility during their doctoral studies relative to men, with the converse holding true after obtaining a doctoral degree. A potential explanation for this mobility decline among female academics, could be the increased burden of familial responsibilities at the post-doctoral and higher levels. Moreover, fewer women were reported to have applied for NCN grants and were underrepresented among the beneficiaries of these calls. Lastly, female academics in Poland record significantly lower total project costs relative to their male counterparts.

‘Plugging’ the Leak

In light of the aforementioned, what measures can be taken to address the gender imbalances in academia? As summarized by Sarah Smith, early initiatives have involved tracking women representation (e.g., in admissions, progression, hiring, etc.) within departments and/or institutions to identify where in the pipeline their progress is impeded. Attempted initiatives include formulation of seminar guidelines to overcome unfair experiences, as well as using gender-blind recruiting and objective hiring criteria to equalize hiring opportunities. Some other efforts, such as diverse recruitment panels have been unsuccessfully adopted, as they seem to embolden hostile male recruiters and load female panellists with unrewarded administration tasks. Conversely, mentoring has helped women build networks, publish more, and advance professionally. Awareness raising campaigns have reduced disparities in teaching evaluations and remain vital in addressing the dry pipeline and both transparent workload allocation and rewarding of administrative tasks have been shown to reduce promotion gaps in academia. In addition to the above, initiatives such as fostering gender-neutral networking opportunities, collaborations and a more diverse faculty were also deliberated during the conference.

Concluding Remarks

The conference advanced dialogue on societal and structural constraints to gender equality in academia and provided a platform to exchange ideas on how the shared objective of a more inclusive and equitable academic environment can be achieved. While the challenges remain abundant, and the costs associated not always negligible, it remains crucial to assess achievements, such as those resulting from mentoring and awareness intervention initiatives and recognize that further opportunities to enhance equity within the profession exist.

Additional Material

Seminar Programme 21.06.2023

Seminar Participants – short bios

Conference Programme 22.06.2023

Conference Participants – short bios

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Would a Higher Minimum Wage Meaningfully Affect Poverty Levels Among Women? – A Simulation Case from Georgia

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In economic literature the effect of minimum wage on the labour market and its relevance as an anti-poverty, equality-enhancing policy tool, is a matter of vigorous debate. The focus of this policy brief is a hypothetical effect on poverty rates, particularly among women, following an increase in the minimum wage in Georgia. A simulation exercise (Babych et al., 2022) by the ISET-PI research team shows that, in Georgia, a potential increase in the minimum wage is likely to result in an overall positive albeit small reduction in poverty rates in general. At the same time, women are likely to gain more from such minimum wage policy than men. The findings are consistent with the literature claiming that a minimum wage increase alone may not result in meaningful poverty reduction. Any minimum wage increase should thus be enhanced by other policies such as training programs increasing labor force participation among women. 

Many countries around the world have enacted minimum wage laws. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) “Minimum wages can be one element of a policy to overcome poverty and reduce inequality, including those between men and women” (ILO, 2023). In economic literature, the minimum wage debate has been particularly acute, with pros and cons of the minimum wage increases, their effect on the labor market, and their relevance as an anti-poverty and equality-enhancing policy tool fiercely contested in empirical studies and simulation studies. In this policy brief, we focus on the effect of a minimum wage increase in Georgia on poverty rates, and in particular poverty rates among women.

Minimum Wage Effects

According to the European Commission (2020) a number of benefits is associated with the introduction of minimum wage. These benefits include a reduction in in-work poverty, wage inequality and the gender pay gap, among others.

International evidence, however, cautions against considering an increase in minimum wage as the silver bullet to end poverty. A 2019 report by the International Labour Organization (ILO, 2019) shows that the incidence of poverty among the working poor is comparable to the incidence of poverty among individuals outside of the labor market. Therefore, even if an increase in minimum wages would lift all working poor out of poverty, a substantial number of poor would remain.

Moreover, minimum wage can have a potential adverse effect on employment of the most vulnerable by deterring firms from hiring low-wage, low-skilled labor (Neumark, 2018).  The adverse employment effect will be stronger if current wages correspond more closely to the real productivity of labor. In such scenario companies would lose by retaining low-productivity workers and, likely respond to the increase in minimum wage by laying off workers, resulting in the loss of wages, rather than in their increase. On the other hand, if salaries are lower than the real productivity of the less productive workers, companies might still be able to profit from employing them and will not be forced to lay them off, resulting in a wage increase for low-wage workers.

Whether – and to what extent – the introduction of a minimum wage reduces poverty and/or assists low-income households then depends on how many individuals are going to lose their jobs, how many workers will maintain their jobs and receive a higher wage, and where these winners and losers are positioned along the distribution of family incomes.

With regard to employment effects, the results are not perfectly homogeneous. On the one hand, a large body of evidence suggests that minimum wages do lower the number of jobs accessible to low-skill employees (Sabia, Burkhauser and Hansen, 2012; Sotomayor, 2021; Neumark, 2018) On the other hand, some scholars argue that once the study design is changed to take into account the non-random distribution of minimum wage policies in different parts of the country in question, the “disemployment effect” of minimum wage policies (considering the example of United States) largely disappear (Allegretto et al., 2013; Dube et al., 2010).

With regards to poverty, a number of studies look at minimum wage as an anti-poverty policy tool for developing countries and consider its effectiveness in reducing poverty and/or inequality. For example, a study by Sotomayor (2021) suggests that poverty and income inequality in Brazil decreased by 2.8 and 2.4 percent respectively within three months of a minimum wage increase. Effects diminished with time, particularly for bottom-sensitive distribution measures, a process that is consistent with resulting job losses being more frequent among poorer households. The fact that the subsequent yearly increase in the minimum wage in Brazil resulted in a renewed drop in poverty and inequality shows that possible unemployment costs might be outweighed by benefits in the form of higher pay among working persons and – potentially – by positive spillover effects such as increased overall consumption.

Minimum Wage and Female Poverty

As in the case of poverty in general, there is some discrepancy in the literature on whether a minimum wage increase would help reduce poverty among women. Single mothers have been the focus of research in this regard since they are typically the most vulnerable low-wage workers, likely to be hurt by the loss of employment following an increase/ introduction of a minimum wage. Burkhauser and Sabia (2007) argue that the minimum wage increases in the U.S. (1988-2003) did not have any effect on the overall poverty rates, on the poverty rates among the working poor, or on poverty among single mothers. They argue that an increase in Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which provides a wage subsidy to workers depending on income level, tax filing status, and the number of children, would have a higher impact on poverty, in particular among single mothers.

In the meantime, Neumark and Wascher (2011) find that EITC and minimum wage reinforce each other’s positive effect for single women with children (boosting both employment and earnings), but negatively affects childless single women and minority men. Another study on the U.S. (Sabia, 2008) looked at the effect of minimum wage increases on the welfare of single mothers, finding that most of them were unaffected as they earned above-minimum wage. Single mothers with low-education levels did not see an increase in net incomes due to the negative effect on employment and hours worked: for low-skilled individuals, a 10 percent increase in minimum wage resulted in an 8.8 percent decline in employment and an 11.8 percent reduction in hours worked.

Yet another study (DeFina, 2008) focus on child poverty rates and show that minimum wage increases have a positive (reducing) impact on child poverty in female-headed families. The effect is small but significant (a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage decreases child poverty rates by 1.8 percentage points), controlling for other factors.

Ultimately, the effect of minimum wage on poverty among women or female-headed households is somewhat ambiguous. It depends on the poverty threshold used, other policy instruments (such as the EITC), existing incentives to enter employment and how, in the specific country of interest, labor laws may affect the employer’s cost of hiring (e.g. for France, see Laroque and Salanie, 2002).

The discussion is however relevant for countries like Georgia, where the wage gap between men and women is quite large, and where more women than men tend to work in low-wage and vulnerable jobs. While the overall poverty gap between men and women in Georgia is insignificant (mainly because poverty is measured at the household level), the gap becomes apparent when comparing female-headed households to male-headed ones. The poverty rates in the former case are nearly 2 percentage points higher in Georgia (20 percent vs. 18.3 percent in 2021). The poverty rates are the highest among households with only adult women (39.3 percent for all-female households vs. 20.1 percent overall in 2018).

A Simulation of a Minimum Wage Raise in Georgia

The Georgian minimum wage legislation dates back to 1999. The presidential decree N 351 from June 4, 1999 states that the minimum (monthly) wage that is to be set in Georgia is equal to 20 GEL (with some specific exceptions in the public sector). This is a non-binding threshold.  Therefore, one has to think carefully what consequences might arise from raising the minimum wage to a much higher level. In addition to previously discussed aspects, one issue to keep in mind is the different average wages across different regions in Georgia. For example, a national minimum wage increase might have more of an impact in poorer regions, where both wages and incomes are lower, while it may still be non-binding in Tbilisi.

The ISET-PI research team (Babych et al., 2022) use Georgian micro data from the Labor Force Survey (LFS) and the Household Integrated Expenditure Survey (HIES), to simulate the effect of instituting a nation-wide minimum wage on both employment and poverty rates in different regions of Georgia. One focus area of the study was to analyze the effects of a minimum wage increase on female poverty. As with any exercise using a simulation approach, this study is subject to limitations imposed by the assumptions used, e.g. how much labor demand would respond to changes in the minimum wage, etc. The study considered two hypothetical thresholds of the minimum wage; 250 and 350 GEL respectively.

Figure 1. Share of private sector employees earning below certain thresholds, by gender, 2021.

Source: Authors’ calculations based on the Labor Force Survey (Geostat, 2021).

The expected household income after the minimum wage increase was calculated and then compared to the poverty threshold (for each household in a standard way, using the “adult equivalence” scale). According to this methodology, any person who lives in a household which falls below the poverty threshold is considered to be poor. A “working poor” household is defined as a household below the poverty threshold where at least one adult is working.

Figure 1 shows that there is a substantial share of both men and women whose monthly wage income falls below the hypothetical minimum wage thresholds. In addition, women are more than two times as likely to be earning below these thresholds. However, the possible impact from an increased minimum wage on female vs. male poverty is not clear-cut. Since many women are part of larger households which include adult males, their possible income losses/gains may be counterbalanced by income gains/losses of male family members, leaving the overall effect on household income ambiguous.

In addition, poverty rates are not likely to be much affected by a minimum wage increase if most poor households are “non-working poor” (where adult family members are either unemployed or outside of the labor force), a consideration particularly relevant for Georgia. The share of poor individuals who live in “working poor” households (with at least one household member employed) is just 41 percent nationally (and 35 percent in rural areas), meaning that close to 60 percent of poor individuals nationwide (and 65 percent in rural areas) are not likely to be directly affected by minimum wage increases.

Female vs. Male Poverty: Scenarios Following a Minimum Wage Increase

As one can see in Figure 2, increased minimum wages tend to reduce poverty, but the impact is not larger than one percentage point. Not surprisingly, females benefit more than males (0.3 and 0.8 percentage points vs. 0.2 and 0.9 percentage points poverty reduction for men and women respectively, under different threshold scenarios).  The maximum positive impact on poverty reduction is observed under a higher minimum wage threshold.

Figure 2. Estimated impact on poverty rates, based on the national subsistence minimum.

Source: Authors’ calculations based on the Household Integrated Expenditure Survey (Geostat, 2021).

The impact of an increased minimum wage on the expected median consumption of households doesn’t exceed a few percentage points either, as illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Median monthly consumption per “equivalent adult” in the household under the status quo and minimum wage scenarios, 2021.

Source: Authors’ calculations based on the Household Integrated Expenditure Survey (Geostat, 2021).

The impact is greatest in urban areas other than Tbilisi (between a 2.5 percent and a 4.2 percent increase in median consumption relative to the status quo). The lower impact in Tbilisi is most likely driven by relatively higher wages, while the low impact in rural areas is likely driven by lower participation in wage employment.


In the hypothetical case of Georgia, an impact of a minimum wage increase on poverty rates is expected to be limited, in line with the literature. In our study this finding is mostly driven by the fact that only a relatively small share of poor individuals live in “working poor” households (about 40 percent, nationally). The remaining 60 percent of poor individuals will be unaffected by the reform.

The quantitative impact on female and male poverty is estimated to be low, although the female poverty rate reduction is somewhat larger than among males.

It is important to note that the analysis doesn’t consider possible differential impacts on different groups of vulnerable families, such as families with small children and single mothers with small children. Some reasons to why groups of households may or may not be affected by the hypothetical minimum wage increase, based on their employment status and other factors, have been discussed above.

Another important point is that our exercise should not be seen as an argument against an increase of the minimum wage in Georgia. Instead, it suggests that such a reform would not have much of an impact if done in isolation. Indeed, the existing literature on minimum wage seems to be in consensus on the fact that minimum wage policies would be more impactful if supplemented by the following measures:

  • Maintain and expand targeted social assistance to groups that do not benefit or that are losing jobs/incomes as a result of the minimum wage changes
  • Have job re-training programs in place to help laid-off workers
  • Have human capital investment programs in place to increase workers’ productivity, in particular for low-productivity sectors
  • Consider other support instruments targeted toward the most affected groups of the population such as single working mothers etc.

These recommendations should be incorporated in the policy making regarding minimum wages in Georgia.


We are grateful to Expertise France for financially supporting the original report (Babych et al., 2022), which features some of the results and points raised in this policy brief.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed during events and conferences are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

An Overview of the Georgian Wine Sector

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Georgia has an 8000-year-old winemaking tradition, making the country the first known location of grape winemaking in the world. In this policy brief we analyze and discuss major characteristics of the wine sector in Georgia, government policies regarding the sector and major outcomes of such policies. The brief provides recommendations on how to ensure sustainable development of the sector in a competitive, dynamic environment.


The Georgian winemaking tradition is 8000 years old, making Georgia the world’s first known location of grape winemaking. There are many traditions associated with Georgian winemaking. One of them is ‘Rtveli’ – the grape harvest that usually starts in September and continues throughout the autumn season, accompanied with feasts and celebrations. According to data from the National Wine Agency, the annual production of grapes in Georgia is on average 223.6 thousand tones (for the last ten-years), with most grapes being processed into wine (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Grape Processing (2013-2021)

Source: National Wine Agency, 2022. Note: Some producers do not participate In Rtveli and the total annual quantity of processed grape in the country might therefore be higher than the numbers presented in the figure.

Wine is one of the top export commodities for Georgia. It constituted 21 percent of the total Georgian agricultural export value in 2021 (Geostat, 2022). Since 2012 wine exports have, on average, grown 21 percent in quantitative terms, and by 22 percent in value (Figure 2). The average price per ton varies from 3 thousand USD to 3.9 thousand USD (Figure 2). Exports of still wine in containers holding 2 liters or less constitute, on average, 96 percent of the total export value.

Figure 2. Georgian Wine Exports (2012-2021)

Source: Geostat, 2022.

The main destination market for exporting Georgian wine is the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries which account for, on average, 78 percent of the export value (2012-2021). The corresponding share for EU countries is 10 percent. As of 2021, the top export destinations are Russia (55 percent), Ukraine (11 percent), China (7 percent), Belarus (5 percent), Poland (6 percent), and Kazakhstan (4 percent).  While Russia is still a top market for Georgian wine, Russia’s share of Georgian wine exports declined after Russia imposed an embargo on Georgian wines in 2006. The embargo forced market diversification and even after the reopening of the Russian market and Georgian wine exports shifting back towards Russia, its share declined from 87 percent in 2005 to 55 percent in 2021.

While there are more than 400 indigenous grape varieties in Georgia, only a few grape varieties are well commercialized as most of the exported wines are made of Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, Kisi, and Saperavi grape varieties (Granik, 2019).

Government Policy in the Wine Sector

The Government of Georgia (GoG) actively supports the wine sector through the National Wine Agency, established in 2012 under the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture (MEPA). The National Wine Agency implements Georgia’s viticulture support programs through: i) control of wine production quality and certification procedures; ii) promotion and spread of knowledge of Georgian wine; iii) promotion of export potential growth; iv) research and development of Georgian wine and wine culture; v) creation of a national registry of vineyards; and vi) promotion of organized vintage (Rtveli) conduction (National Wine Agency, 2022).

During 2014-2016, the GoG’s spending on the wine sector (including grape subsidies, promotion of Georgian wine, and awareness increasing campaigns) amounted to 63 million GEL, or 22.8 million USD (As of November 1, 2022, 1 USD = 2.76 GEL according to the National Bank of Georgia). Out of the spending, illustrated in Figure 3, around 40-50 percent was allocated to grape subsidies implemented under the activities of iv) (as mentioned above).

There are two types of subsidies used by the GoG– direct and indirect. Direct subsidies imply cash payments to producers per kilogram of grapes. As for indirect subsidies, they entail state owned companies purchase grapes from farmers.

Starting from 2017, the GoG decided to abandon the subsidiary scheme and decrease its spending on of the wine sector.  The corresponding figure reached a minimum of 9.2 million GEL (3.3 million USD) in 2018. Meanwhile, the grape production has been increasing, reaching its highest level in 2020 (317 thousand tons). In 2020, the GoG resumed subsidizing grape harvests to support the wine sector as part of the crisis plan aimed at tackling economic challenges following the Covid-19 pandemic. The corresponding spending in the wine sector increased from 16.7 million GEL (around 6 million USD) in 2019 to 113.4 million GEL (41 million USD) in 2020, out of which the largest share (91 percent) went to grape subsidies. In 2021, the GoG continued its extensive support to the wine sector and the corresponding spending increased by 44 percent, compared to 2020. The largest share again went to grape subsidies (90 percent).

Figure 3. Grape Production and Government Spending on the Wine Sector (2014-2021)

Source: Ministry of Finance of Georgia, National Statistics Office of Georgia, Author’s Calculations, 2022.

In 2022, the GoG have continued subsidizing the grape harvest to help farmers and wine producers sell their products. During Rtveli 2022, wine companies are receiving a subsidy if they purchase and process at least 100 tons of green Rkatsiteli or Kakhuri grape varieties grown in the Kakheti region, and if the company pays at least 0.90 GEL per kilogram for the fruit. If these two conditions are satisfied, 0.35 GEL is subsidized from a total of 0.9 GEL per kilogram of grapes purchased (ISET Policy Institute, 2022). Moreover, the GoG provides a subsidy of 4 GEL per kilogram for Alksandrouli and Mujuretuli grapes (unique grape varieties from the Khvanchkara “micro-zone” of the north-western Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti regions), if the buying company pays at least 7 GEL per kilogram for those varieties (Administration of the Government of Georgia, 2022). Overall, about 150 million GEL (54.2 million USD), has been allocated to grape subsidies in 2022.

Policy Recommendations

Although the National Wine Agency is supposed to implement support programs in various areas like quality control, market diversification, promotion and R&D, these areas lack funding, as most of the Agency’s funds are spent on subsidies. Given that the production and processing of grapes have increased over the years, subsidies have been playing a significant role in reviving the wine sector after the collapse of the Soviet Union (Mamardashvili et al., 2020).  However, since the sector is subsidized as of 2008, the grape market in Georgia is heavily distorted. Prices are formed, not on the bases of supply and demand but on subsidies, which help industries survive in critical moments, but overall prevent increases in quality and fair competition. They further lead to overproduction, inefficient distribution of state support and preferential treatment of industries (Desadze, Gelashvili, and Katsia, 2020). After years of subsidizing the sector, it is hard to remove the subsidy and face the social and political consequences of such action.

Nonetheless, in order to support the sustainable development of the sector, it is recommended to:

  1. Replace the direct state subsidy with a different type of support (if any), directed towards overcoming systemic challenges in the sector related to the research and development of indigenous grape varieties and their commercialization level.
  2. Further promote Georgian wine on international markets to diversify export destination markets and ensure low dependence on unstable markets like the Russian market. Although wine exporters have in recent years entered new markets, to further strengthen their positions at those markets, it is vital to:
    • ensure high quality production through producers’ adherence to food safety standards.
    • promote digitalization – e-certification for trade and distribution, block chain technology for easier traceability and contracting, e-labels providing extensive information about wine etc. – enabling producers to competitively operate in the dynamic environment (Tach, 2021)
    • identify niche markets (e.g. biodynamic wine) and support innovation within these sectors to ensure competitiveness of the wine sector in the long-term (Deisadze and Livny, 2016).


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Higher Education and Research in times of War and Peace: Key Insights from the 2022 FREE Network Conference

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More than thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe is struck with war following the Russian aggression on Ukraine. Russia’s war on Ukraine entails lost human capital, both in actual lives lost and due to major disruptions to key functions of the society, such as education and research. In light of this, the FREE Network, together with the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) and the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE), hosted the public conference “Higher Education and Research in War and Peace“ in Warsaw on the 10th of September 2022. This policy brief is based on the presentations and panel discussions held during the conference.

The large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted an entire society, including the education system, with Ukrainian schools just recently partially welcoming back students to the classrooms for the first time since the 25th of February 2022. Closing schools has severe impacts on a population, as highlighted by the recent Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown and closure of schools around the world following the virus have had and will continue to have massively negative consequences globally, with severe losses in human capital due to lost years of education. This is especially in countries where access to online education is limited or of poor quality. Inequalities also rise following the closure of schools and girls return to school in fewer numbers than their male counterparts. The disruption to the Ukrainian education system will result in lost human capital and lowered levels of knowledge among the population. The war has further restricted access to relevant information for many Ukrainians but also for Russians, making people susceptible to the increased Russian propaganda and misinformation about the war on Ukraine depicted within and outside of Russia.

In light of this, the FREE Network gathered representatives from its affiliated institutions and other relevant actors in the region to discuss the relevance and necessity of continued support for higher education and research within social sciences in Ukraine, and more broadly in Eastern Europe and post-Soviet countries. The conference and the overarching theme related back not only to the original ambition of the FREE Network, namely to support outstanding academia within economics and relate it to policy work but also to the current situation in Europe and the existing threat from Russia to this objective.

This brief will initially cover the work carried out by the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) in response to the Russian aggression, followed by thoughts on Russia’s role in the evolution of knowledge and human capital in the region. The brief continues by covering the benefits and positive outcomes of investments into education and research and lastly concludes with reflections on the role of the FREE Network.

The Kyiv School of Economics’ Response to the Russian Aggression

The war on Ukraine put the spotlight on the importance of high-quality academic institutions as a safety net for the government to maintain vital functions to society. The Vice President for Policy Research at KSE, Nataliia Shapoval, gave a brief overview of how KSE’s work has changed since the Russian war on Ukraine and its implications. Shapoval initially painted a picture of the disruption to the Ukrainian society caused by the Russian aggression, explaining how KSE stepped up during the first months of the war, in some areas doing the work of ministries. While the government has mainly taken back some duties, the KSE is still providing policy advice in areas related to the effects of sanctions, estimates of damages, and food security among others. KSE is also highly active within the areas of education and health, working with Ukrainian schools through the KSE Charitable Foundation (KSE CF) to ensure students can safely return to the classrooms.

Another important aspect of the work carried out by KSE concerns spreading knowledge about and shedding light on the situation in Ukraine. Through the various networks, by talking to colleagues within academia but also to the media, KSE is trying to explain what has happened and is still happening in Ukraine. According to Shapoval, there is a need for delivering correct information and to keep attention fixed on the situation in Ukraine such that people are kept aware of what is going on in the region.

Shapoval also regularly returned to the role of education and research for the present and future Ukraine. According to Shapoval, avoiding brain drain and ensuring Ukrainians are equipped with the necessary knowledge is key to rebuilding a future Ukraine founded on well-functioning democratic institutions. To facilitate this, the KSE is offering two programs, Memory and Conflict Studies (a multidisciplinary field concerned with how the past can be understood and remembered, and how it might impact the present transformation of societies) and Urban Studies, both aimed at covering the future need for competence within these fields. Further mentioned by Shapoval is the fact that, due to the war, many Ukrainians have left the country and are being educated elsewhere. While this partially ensures intellectual human capital is not lost, these students must be kept anchored to Ukraine through networks to ensure they will return back to help rebuild Ukraine. This is especially important in order to counter the ongoing evolution in Russia.

Thoughts on the Role of Russia in the Region

While the recent developments in Ukraine have of course disrupted education and research in more severe and tangible ways, the situation for independent researchers in Russia has also deteriorated. Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE, emphasized how several Russian colleagues in exile still collaborate with the FREE Network on policy work and research. Becker also further stressed how they will be paramount once Ukraine wins the war, as will the role of partnerships for a future transformation of the Russian society. Acknowledging that there are many Russians (especially amongst academics in exile) who oppose the war, Shapoval however stressed the disturbing fact that many Russians do seem to support the Russian aggression and that the role of Russia as a destructive force in the region cannot be understated. This was seconded by Tamara Sulukhia, Director of the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET). Sulukhia argued that Russian politics slow down and disturbs the free states within the region, and hampers organizations and countries from moving in the right direction in regard to democracy, economic evolution and integration toward Europe. Both Shapoval and Sulukhia reminded the audience that even with a Ukrainian victory, and this in a war which is defining the future of democracy in the region, Russia will persist. Russia has proven time and again, by effectively occupying 23 percent of Georgia as of 2008, with the occupation of Crimea in 2014 and with the most recent war on Ukraine, to be a real military threat to post-Soviet countries. Even though Russia losing the war would shift the power dynamics in the region, the ever-present threat of Russia is not only of a military character. Russia also attempts to impact education, research and knowledge more generally by promoting a Soviet-style education and by altering reality through propaganda and false information.

While discussing the current situation of higher education within economics in Belarus, Dzmitry Kruk, Deputy Academic Director of the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), regularly came back to the negative impacts from Russia on the quality of education and research. Where the western style education is free but also differential, Soviet-style education is centred around learning how to fulfil instructions, according to Kruk. The Belarusian educational system is anchored to Russia and as a result Belarusians today have what Kruk referred to as a “spoilt mental map”. The necessity of free education and research outside the Russian alternative (which is mainly published in Russian and with a post-Marxist view of the world) is vital in order to equip people with the tools to respond to the new types of dictatorship evident in the region. Young people within academia who have experienced freedom and have had the opportunity of thinking for themselves will also be vital on the future path toward democracy. Kruk’s opinions were furthered by Shapoval stating how education must and should counter the risk of brainwashing in the region and in the world as a whole. Shapoval argued the necessity of countering propaganda with the help not only of education but also the legislation of media and social media and enforcement of international laws in general. The necessity of ensuring new values for intellectuals and students in times to come is of paramount value and, according to Shapoval, as important to halting the Russian imperialist visions today as it was some thirty years ago. Shapoval further argued that the threat from Russia’s ambitions should be met not only with education and research but also through installing a sense of hope and prosperity among young people.

Investments into Education and Research as a Safeguard and Development Driver

While countries within the turbulent region differ, not least in regard to overall political ambitions and structure, in most of them investments into education and research have been paying off. KSE’s expertise allowed it to work closely with the Ukrainian government, standing strong in their fight against Russia. The impact from investments into education and research in the region is also evident in both Georgia and Latvia.

Sulukhia argued ISET to be, and to have been, a key contributor to human capital among Georgians as well as others in the Caucasus region. Sulukhia argued this to be especially important when under occupation, mentioning how Georgia has, since the occupation of the two regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in all ways possible tried to ensure that the human capital of internally displaced people is not lost. ISET have ten folded its intake of students and is today providing world-class education in the Georgian language, effectively counteracting brain drain. Post-graduates are working in major institutions providing relevant knowledge and competence in key areas of not only the Georgian society but also other countries in the Caucasus. A similar picture was painted by Anders Paalzow, Rector at Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (SSE Riga). Paalzow specifically pointed out how the investments in education made in Latvia in the 1990s have truly paid off, with graduates having been absorbed into relevant parts of the Latvian society and the Baltics for decades.

Having previous students in key positions in society to ensure sound policy work (such as good fiscal and audit control of the countries in question etc.) is however not the only benefit of investing in education and research within the region. As emphasized by Sulukhia, institutes within the FREE Network and other networks alike are strategically vital in the sense that they ensure knowledge and evidence for policy makers and as they convey evidence-based messages for the general public. This is especially important in a time when the message of the developmental direction for the countries within the region has to be reinforced in order to stand against Russian misinformation and propaganda as well as voices questioning the benefits of European integration. Sulukhia emphasized how it is of importance that the relevance of education and research is rooted among the people and not only within academia to evade the risk of preaching to the choir. Vlad Mykhnenko, Fellow at St. Peter’s College at the University of Oxford, further argued it is necessary for academia to be much more policy oriented than what is the reality today. Researchers should comment on political events and public policy to ensure the outreach of knowledge and information, not just to help the public have a greater understanding of complex issues but also to help inform experts. According to Myhnenko, other researchers are keen on getting context-relevant knowledge and insights from economists working within the region.

The necessity of communicating the outcomes from investments within economics education and research and more broadly within social sciences was a recurring theme during the conference. Presenting the University’s engagement in various programs such as Erasmus+, Horizon Europe, The European Strategy for Universities etc., Professor Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak from the Warsaw School of Economics (WSE) outlined the importance of funding from the EU. Chłoń-Domińczak highlighted how EU support has enabled greater partnerships and internationalization and pointed out that while the transfer of knowledge and internationalization of students and researchers are of the essence, there is a need for also ensuring capacity building among other staff when building sound institutions. Internationalization through the exchange as a hedge against brain drain and as a means of improving the quality of academia was further emphasized by Michal Myck, Director of CenEA.

Chłoń-Domińczak, alongside Paalzow and the Swedish Ambassador to Poland, Stefan Gullgren, further argued the necessity to bridge between business and academia. This, especially as investments in social sciences, as compared to investments in natural sciences or technology cannot be commercialized. Additionally, the former havs payoffs in the long run which lowers investment incentives for firms making it even more crucial to communicate the large benefits to society of investments into the sphere. Ensuring consistent and continued support requires not only a good connection to businesses but also proper legal structures in place. As argued by Gullgren, the Swedish model with private businesses funding about 70 percent of research and education in Sweden, is made possible largely thanks to the fact that many investments are funnelled through foundations that are exempt from taxation when set up to finance research grants and education. Thus, one should consider not only business, academia and investors when thinking about future funding for research and education, but the legislative framework as well, especially in contexts such as the future rebuild of Ukraine.

As for how the benefits from investments into social sciences best are communicated, opinions shifted among participants throughout the day. On the one hand, Becker’s argument of being visible not only in traditional media but on social media alike was met by Shapoval, highlighting the need for a regulatory framework for both platforms. On the other hand, Myhnenko’s argument for more policy oriented and outreaching research was met by Kruk claiming there is a risk of researchers within economics deviating too far from research within the field. Kruk also addressed the argument of being available on social media by countering that in his view, researchers should refrain from work based on what generates clicks or reads.

The Relevance of the FREE Network in times of War

Considering the evidence brought forth during the conference by colleagues within the FREE Network, be it the suppression of BEROC in their efforts of founding a School of Economics in Belarus, the effects on the KSE from the war on Ukraine, or the rise of anti-European expressions in Georgia, the necessity of the network was at the end of the day perhaps clearer than ever. As highlighted by virtually all speakers during the conference, internationalization through networks such as the FREE Network fosters open minds, allows for improvements within all aspects of academia, and enables the exchange of thoughts, ideas and experiences. Although the heterogeneity of the region should not be overlooked and investments made in accordance with this, the similarities between the countries within the FREE Network outnumber the differences. The immediate threat from Russia must be met with knowledge and fact-based information as well as high-quality education and research being made available among the population in the region as a whole. To ensure a continued transition within the region, the risk of brain drain must be evaded through continuous support to the social sciences, as these have the power to truly transform nations.

Concluding Remarks

The FREE Network public conference in Warsaw was the first in-person conference since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The benefits of meeting in person were however overshadowed by the ongoing Russian aggression on Ukraine and ultimately on democratic ideals, including those of independent academia. We hope to welcome all FREE Network institutes to next year’s conference in Kyiv, to further discuss how outstanding education and research can help rebuild a sovereign Ukraine.

List of Participants

  • Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE
  • Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak, Professor at WSE
  • Stefan Gullgren, Swedish Ambassador to Poland
  • Dzmitry Kruk, Deputy Academic Director, BEROC
  • Michal Myck, Director of CenEA
  • Vlad Mykhnenko, Fellow, St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford
  • Anders Paalzow, Rector SSE Riga
  • Nataliia Shapoval, Vice President for Policy Research at KSE
  • Tamara Sulukhia, Director of ISET

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic: Vaccination Efforts in FREE Network Countries

Preparing Covid Vaccine on Pink Surface representing COVID-19 vaccination

There are great expectations that vaccinations will enable a return to normality from Covid-19. However, there is massive variation in vaccination efforts, vaccine access, and attitudes to vaccination in the population across countries. This policy brief compares the situation in a number of countries in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, the Caucasus region, and Sweden. The brief is based on the insights shared at a recent webinar “Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic: Vaccination efforts in FREE Network countries” organized by the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics.


As of February 16, 2021, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths across the globe has reached 2.45 million according to Our World in Data (2021).  Rapid implementation of vaccination programs that extend to major parts of the population is of paramount importance, not only from a global health perspective, but also in terms of economic, political, and social implications.

Eastern Europe is no exception. Although many countries in the region had a relatively low level of infections during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, all have by now been severely affected. Vaccination plays a key role for these economies to bounce back, especially as many of them depend on tourism, trade, and other sectors that have been particularly hurt by social distancing restrictions.

 Figure 1. Cumulative confirmed COVID-19 cases (top panel) and deaths per million (bottom panel) in the FREE Network region

Source: John Hopkins University CSSE COVID-19 visualizations: Ourworldindata.org/coronavirus

Against this background, the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics invited representatives of the FREE Network countries to discuss the current vaccination efforts happening in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and the Caucasus (the represented countries were Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Ukraine). This brief summarizes the main points raised in this event.

Vaccination Status

In Latvia, Poland, and Sweden, the second wave of infections started to pick up in November 2020 and peaked according to most COVID-19 impact measures in early 2021. As all three countries are members of the EU and take part in its coordinated efforts, they have all received vaccines from the same suppliers (i.e. Astra/Zeneca, Moderna, and Pfizer/BioNTech).

Latvia had problems early on with getting the vaccination process off the ground. The health minister was blamed for the slow start since he declined orders from Pfizer/BioNTech in the early stages, and was forced to resign. As of February 16, two doses per 100 people have been distributed primarily to medical staff, social care workers, and key-state officials.

Figure 2. Cumulative COVID-19 vaccination doses per 100 people

Source: Our world in data, last updated February 24th, 2021. This is counted as a single dose, and may not equal the total number of people vaccinated. Visualizations: Ourworldindata.org/coronavirus

With the first phase starting in late December, Sweden has by February 16th, 2021, fully vaccinated 1,05% of the population while experiencing serious problems with delivery and implementation. As planning and delivery of vaccines are centralized while the implementation is decided regionally, there have been some unclarities regarding who stands accountable for issues that emerge. Guidelines, issued by the Public Health Agency of Sweden, for how to prioritize different groups have been changed a couple of times. Currently, the (non-binding) recommendation is to prioritize vaccinating people living in elderly care homes, as well as personnel working with this group, followed by those above 65 years of age, health care workers, and other risk groups.

Looking at regional statistics there are significant differences in vaccinating people across regions with an average of 70% usage rate of delivered vaccines, and with lows at 40-60%, see figure 3. Reasons for this remain unclear.

Figure 3. Distributed relative to delivered vaccines across counties (län) in Sweden.

Source: Authors’ calculations based on data collected by the Public Health Agency of Sweden. Last updated February 14th, 2021.

Poland has so far been somewhat more efficient than Sweden in its vaccination efforts. Despite turbulent political events over the last couple of months, it has managed to distribute 5.7 doses per 100 people. The country has just finished the first phase of the national vaccination plan, which focused on vaccinating healthcare personnel, and has now entered the second phase with a shifted focus towards elderly care homes, people above 60 years of age, military, and teachers.

Among the countries that are not members of the EU, and thus, not taking part in its coordinated vaccination efforts, the vaccination statuses are more diverse.

Russia was fast in developing and approving the Sputnik V vaccine. The country started vaccinating in early December, although only people in the age of 18-60 in prioritized occupations such as health care workers, people living and working in nursing homes, teachers, and military. At the start of 2021, the program extended to people above 60 and, on January 16, all adults were given the possibility to register themselves and get vaccinated within one week. There are no precise data at the moment, but the fraction of the population vaccinated is likely to be higher than 1%.

Others in the region have faced greater challenges in signing contracts with vaccine suppliers. Georgia and Ukraine are still waiting to secure deliveries and have not yet started to vaccinate. Being outside the EU agreements and with public and political mistrust towards Sputnik V and Russia alternatives are being explored. Georgia has ordered vaccines through the COVAX platform (co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO) but there are concerns about potential delays in deliveries. In terms of prioritizing groups once vaccinations can start, both Ukraine and Georgia have set similar priorities as other countries, with extra focus on health-care and essential workers, age-related risk groups, and people with chronic illnesses.

While Belarus’ official figures on the death toll have been widely perceived as unrealistic from the beginning, the most accurate and recent data shows an excess deaths rate of about 20% in July. The country has no precise data on vaccinations, but some reports have emerged based on interviews with government officials in the Belarusian media. These suggest that around 20,000 imported doses of Sputnik V have been distributed mainly to medical professionals and an additional 120,000-140,000 doses have been promised by Russia.

Main Challenges

The discussion during the Q&A session at the webinar concerned the economic and political implications of vaccinations in the region.

Pavlo Kovtoniuk, the Head of Health Economics Center at KSE in Ukraine, stressed the importance of a coordinated vaccination effort in Europe with regards to geopolitics. There is a clear EU vs Non-EU divide in the vaccination status across European countries. The limited vaccine availability in Non-EU countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus offers opportunities for more influential nations like Russia and China to pressure and affect domestic policy in these countries.

Also highlighting the fact that no one is safe until everybody is safe, Lev Lvovskiy, Senior Research Fellow at BEROC in Minsk, noted that vaccination efforts in Europe are important for recovery in small open economies like Belarus as many of its trade partners currently have imposed temporary import restrictions.

Similar to the political crisis happening alongside the pandemic in Belarus, the challenges we see in Poland – protests against the recent developments regarding abortion rights and attempts by the government to limit free media – have deflated the urgency to vaccinate in terms of its future economic and political implications, according to Michal Myck, director of CenEA in Szczecin.

Looking forward, another major challenge for the region is vaccine skepticism. Not only do many countries have to build proper infrastructure that can administer vaccines at the required scale and pace, but also make sure that people actually show up. In Latvia, Poland, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine, polls show that less than 50% of the population are ready to vaccinate. Sergejs Gubin, Research Fellow at BICEPS in Riga, highlighted that there can be systematic variation in the willingness to vaccinate within countries as e.g. Russian-speaking natives in Latvia have been found to be less prone to vaccinate on average. Also, most of the skepticism in Georgia has been more directed towards the Chinese and Russian vaccine than towards those approved by the EU, according to Yaroslava Babych who is lead economist at ISET in Tbilisi.

Even though vaccine skepticism is an issue in Russia too, Natalya Volchkova, Director of CEFIR at New Economic School in Moscow, pointed to the positive impact of “bandwagon effects” in vaccination efforts. When one person gets vaccinated, that person can spread more accurate information about the vaccine to their social circle, resulting in fewer and fewer people being skeptical as the share of vaccinated grows. In such a scenario vaccine skepticism can fade away over time, even if initial estimates suggest it is high in the population.

Concluding Remarks

Almost exactly a year has passed since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic. The economic and social consequences have been enormous. Now vaccines – developed faster than expected – promise a way out of the crisis. But major challenges, of different types and magnitudes across the globe, still remain. As the seminar highlighted, there are important differences across transition countries. Some countries (such as Russia) have secured vaccines by developing them, but still face challenges in producing and distributing vaccines. Others have secured deliveries through the joint effort by the EU, but this has also had its costs in terms of a somewhat slower process (compared to some of the countries acting on their own) and sharing within the EU. For some other countries, like Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia, the vaccination is yet to be started. All in all, the choice and availability of vaccines across the region illustrates how economic and geopolitical questions remain important. Finally, for many of the region countries vaccine skepticism and information as well as disinformation are important determinants in distributing vaccines. Summing up, the combination of these factors once again reminds us that how to best get back from the pandemic is truly a multidisciplinary question.

List of Participants

  • Iurii Ganychenko, Senior researcher at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE/Ukraine)
  • Jesper Roine, Professor at Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) and Deputy Director at the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE/ Sweden)
  • Lev Lvovskiy, Senior Research Fellow at the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC/ Belarus)
  • Michal Myck, Director of the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA/ Poland)
  • Natalya Volchkova, Director of the Centre for Economic and Financial Research  ­New Economic School (CEFIR NES/ Russia)
  • Pavlo Kovtoniuk, Head of Health Economics Center at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE/Ukraine)
  • Sergej Gubin, Research Fellow at the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies (BICEPS/ Latvia)
  • Yaroslava V. Babych, Lead Economist at ISET Policy Institute (ISET PI/ Georgia)

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Video of the FREE Network webinar “Addressing the Covid-19 Pandemic: Vaccination Efforts in Free Network Countries

Addressing the Covid-19 Pandemic: Vaccination Efforts in Free Network Countries

COVID-19 mask and vaccine bottle representing vaccination efforts

COVID-19 vaccination efforts are now starting in several countries around the globe and many believe that this is the way out of the pandemic crisis. The Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) in collaboration with the FREE Network is delighted to invite you to a webinar to share insights and knowledge about how countries in Eastern Europe and around the Baltics are handling the vaccination efforts against the COVID-19 crisis.

How Are Countries in Eastern Europe, Around the Baltic Sea, and in the Caucasus Managing Vaccination Efforts?

With the pandemic still ongoing around the world and in many cases having entered both a second and third wave of infections and deaths—vaccination is urgently needed. Since the first vaccines against COVID-19 were approved, governments around the world are now pushing forward with the vaccination efforts – all with different strategies and methods. How are countries in Eastern Europe, around the Baltic Sea region and in the Caucasus region managing vaccination efforts in their countries and what are the key factors of success and failure? How different are the strategies?

Since the FREE Network includes research and policy institutes in Belarus (BEROC)Latvia (BICEPS)Russia (CEFIR at NES)Poland (CenEA)Georgia (ISET PI)Ukraine (KSE) and Sweden (SITE) the upcoming webinar will provide a comprehensive regional perspective on the vaccination efforts of different strategies implemented in these countries. Furthermore, the webinar will also shed light on how people have responded to vaccination offers; how other countries are being portrayed in the national media; and what the current discussions focus on.

The webinar is part of a series of online discussions aiming to provide a regional overview updates as well as in-depth analysis of specific topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Join the webinar, learn more about the vaccination efforts in FREE Network countries and ask questions directly to distinguished panelists and experts:


  • Iurii Ganychenko, Senior researcher at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE/Ukraine)
  • Jesper Roine, Professor at the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE/ Sweden)
  • Lev Lvovskiy, Senior Research Fellow at the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC/ Belarus)
  • Michal MyckDirector of the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA/ Poland)
  • Natalya Volchkova, Director of the Centre for Economic and Financial Research at New Economic School (CEFIR at NES/ Russia)
  • Pavlo Kovtonyuk, Head of Health Economics Center at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE/Ukraine)
  • Sergejs Gubins, Research Fellow at the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies (BICEPS/ Latvia)
  • Yaroslava V. Babych, Lead Economist at ISET Policy Institute (ISET PI/ Georgia)


  • Torbjörn Becker, Director of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE)

Register here

RSVP Date: Thursday, February 11, 2021, 10:00am – 12:00pm (CET, Sweden)

Location: Online. A link to the webinar will be sent to you 4-5 hours ahead of the start of the webinar.

Registration: Will remain open until the start of the webinar.

Addressing the Covid-19 Pandemic: Policy Responses Across Eastern Europe

20200601 Addressing the Covid-19 Pandemic FREE. Network Image 01

The world holds its breath as Covid-19 continues to spread and challenge local health care systems as well as local economies. The focus of international media has mostly been on China and then Western Europe and the US. However, countries around the Baltic Sea, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus differ from the West with respect to their socio-economic development, trade integration, and political systems. The webinar “Addressing the Covid-19 Pandemic in Eastern Europe: Policy Responses Across Eastern Europe” hosted by the the Forum for Research on Eastern Europe and Emerging Economies (FREE) Network on May 28, 2020 aimed to fill this gap in the current discourse and give voice to experts from Latvia, Russia, Georgia, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine as well as Sweden, in order to contextualize their countries’ policy choices and experiences in the crisis. Policy recommendations can only be of preliminary nature at this point of time. Yet, it becomes clear that even though transition countries have fared relatively well during the health crisis, they will not be spared from the ensuing economic crisis and will require policy tools which are adapted to the local context.


Less than six months after the outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis in China, the pandemic has spread across the globe. The epicenter has moved from Asia to Europe and the US, and in late May 2020 some voices are warning that it is now shifting towards Latin America. While the world´s eyes have been on Milan and Paris, little has been said about how the new EU member states and countries to the East of the European Union cope with the pandemic. Some observers have claimed the emergence of a new “iron curtain” in the corona crisis; Eastern Europe, the Baltic States and the Caucasus having been relatively unscathed compared to the West. Persisting differences in trade and travel patterns, demographic and socio-economic differences, as well as differences in trust levels could account for such an observation.

Yet, the most recent statistics suggest that this may be a premature interpretation and the overall picture is much more heterogeneous. Infections in Russia seem to be rising quickly, Georgia by contrast has turned out to be one of the top students.

Figure 1: Total confirmed Covid-19 cases vs. deaths per million.

Source: Our World in Data, 2020. • CC BYa.
Note: Data includes the most recent numbers as of May 25, 2020. Both measures are expressed per million people of the country’s population. The confirmed counts are lower than the totals. The main reason for this is limited testing.

On May 28, 2020, the Forum for Research on Eastern Europe and Emerging Economies (FREE) Network hosted a webinar with its member institutes: BEROC in Belarus, BICEPS in Latvia, CEFIR@NES in Russia, CenEA in Poland, ISET-PI in Georgia, KSE in Ukraine, and SITE in Sweden to discuss how their countries have fared in the corona crisis so far. The webinar provided an opportunity to share experiences and to add some interpretations and insights to the crude statistics, which often become unintelligible in the current overflow of information.

Figure 2: FREE Network Countries.

Source: SITE 2020.

The webinar started with Torbjörn Becker, director of SITE, introducing recent developments in terms of health statistics in the region and the research being done within the framework of the FREE Network.

SITE on Sweden

Jesper Roine, Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics and SITE, then presented the case of Sweden, the country which – with regards to death rates – has surpassed all other FREE Network countries by far. The Swedish case has been very controversially discussed in international media throughout the pandemic. Yet, the common claim that in Sweden everything was “business as usual” is not true, according to Roine. Compared to its direct neighboring countries Finland, Denmark and Norway, Sweden has chosen a relatively lenient approach to Covid-19, but high schools and universities have moved to distance learning since March and working from home is highly encouraged. Mobility reports show that Swedes have reduced their movement a lot, but less so than their Scandinavian neighbors. Roine confirmed that the Swedish health policy has been dominated by the public health agency, Folkhälsomyndigheten. Even though this is the default option in Swedish law, Roine stressed that this does not mean that the government’s hands are tied.

He presented two preliminary conclusions regarding the impact of the Swedish strategy: first, Sweden’s mitigation strategy has worked relatively well; the public health system is seriously strained but not overwhelmed. Yet, Roine said that the “lack of testing [remained] a mystery”, even for advocates of the current mitigation strategy. Second, in Roine’s opinion the attempt to protect the elderly has failed. The virus has spread to numerous nursing homes and excess death rates indicate that mortality has increased sharply for citizens above 65 years of age, much less for other age groups. Geographically, Stockholm has been the center of the epidemic. Other parts of the country have been affected to a much lesser degree.

BICEPS on Latvia

Sergejs Gubins, Research Fellow at the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies (BICEPS) presented the Latvian experience of the corona crisis. A small country of about 2 million inhabitants, Latvia currently presents the second lowest Covid-19 mortality rate within the EU. Gubins related this to the Latvian government’s quick and determined policy reaction. After the first cases were reported in early March, schools and universities were closed, public gatherings forbidden, international travel halted, and a two-meter social distance rule imposed. Given the success of this strategy, Latvia has started to loosen its restrictions. A “Baltic Schengen area” was announced very recently and travel among the Baltic states is now possible again. The economic support package announced by the government amounts to 45 percent of GDP and includes a large equity investment in the airline airBaltic as well as important investments in infrastructure. According to Gubins, the current policy discussion focuses on the accessibility and size of help funds, widely deemed insufficient. Furthermore, the economic outlook of the country in terms of unemployment rates and GDP growth is bleak despite its success in containing the virus.

CEFIR on Russia

According to Natalia Volchkova, Director of the Centre for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR) at the New Economic School in Moscow, Russia has pursued a “standard European strategy” in its fight against Covid-19. Two new hospitals exclusively for Covid-19 patients were created in Moscow, the current epicenter of the pandemic, and nearby. Most money spent on health care went to these new facilities, less was transferred as bonuses to medical workers. Russia has emphasized testing: around 10 million tests were performed; close to 400,000 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed. On May 27, free antibody testing was started in Moscow and is to be extended to other parts of the country. State-financed testing will serve to measure the potential degree of immunization of the population. While cases have started to decline in Moscow, other regions of Russia lag behind and are still expected to peak.

Volchkova stressed the role of the Russian shadow economy, which has been severely hit by the crisis. The size of the informal sector makes it difficult for the Kremlin to pass efficient support packages for the economy. Another policy problem lies in the weakness of the social security net, particularly unemployment benefits are hard to obtain. Therefore, most policy measures have focused on companies. Family allowances are the government’s second heavily used tool, which to Volchkova’s mind is an efficient policy choice. She concluded that the current help measures may already amount to 3 percent of GDP.

ISET-PI on Georgia

As of May 28, 2020, Georgia had only reported 12 corona deaths. According to Yaroslava V. Babych, Lead Economist at ISET Policy Institute in Tbilisi, the key explanation for Georgia’s relative success in the corona crisis is that, as in Latvia, testing started very early. She explained that even before Georgia’s neighbor Iran confirmed an outbreak of Covid-19, passengers’ temperatures were taken at the border crossing. The government in Tbilisi then soon imposed harsh quarantine measures, local quarantines in regional hotspots, a shutdown of public transport, an evening curfew and very high fines. Compliance with the measures was very high. Orthodox Easter celebrations were allowed to take place under strict hygiene measures and did not result in a spike in infection rates.

The country, largely reliant on tourism and agriculture, is now focusing on the economic consequences of the crisis. According to Babych, Georgia holds the ambition to become the first European country to open up to international tourism again from July 1, 2020. The government is also determined to avoid another meltdown of the important construction sector, as happened in 2008 – 2009. However, similar to the Russian case, Babych identified two factors which crucially weaken the Georgian economy: the lack of automatic stabilizers in the form of unemployment benefits and the large informal sector. Policymakers have therefore resorted to monthly cash payments to those who stopped paying income tax around March and fixing prices for specific food products. While the effectiveness of these measures still has to be evaluated, the policy discourse in Georgia has moved on to the socio-economic consequences of the crisis.

BEROC on Belarus

Lev Lvovskiy, Senior Research Fellow at the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), provided an overview of the Belarusian policy measures. According to Lvovskiy, Belarus has a high number of nurses and doctors and a relatively efficient “Soviet style of fighting pandemics”. There have been hardly any restrictions to public gatherings and events, both the Orthodox and the Catholic Easter festivities were maintained, as were soccer games and the national Victory parade. Initially, the official policy was to trace and isolate cases, but this did not prove to be very efficient, supposedly due to poor enforcement. Lvovskiy said that testing is rare which is why statistics on the spread of the virus and its effects remain of questionable quality.

While Belarus disposed of a solid health care system, it was not well prepared economically, which explains why the government has not been very proactive in Lvovskiy’s opinion. The Belarusian industrial production decreased by 7 percent in April 2020 compared to the same month the year before; unemployment has started to increase, yet, there are no significant unemployment benefits. Increasing the height of unemployment pay is the key policy issue under discussion in Minsk but in the absence of international loans, the government´s hands are tied. The issue is urgent: the most recent BEROC survey suggests that 46% of individuals living in urban areas have already seen their income decrease. Lvovskiy’s preliminary conclusion is that the Belarusian policy response to the Covid-19 crisis was not as bad as expected by many international observers: the health crisis has mostly been contained. But like in the Georgian case, the socio-economic implications of the crisis are becoming more pressing now.

CenEA on Poland

Michal Myck, Director of the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) in Szczecin, explained that Poland also successfully avoided a spike in infection rates thanks to a quick policy response. Poland was one of the first countries to impose international travel restrictions and very harsh social distancing measures, yet, infection rates remain higher than in other FREE Network countries. Since the second half of April, most measures have been lifted and the spread of the virus seems under control and concentrated in the region of Silesia.

All limitations were implemented without invoking a state of emergency. Myck suggested that the government may have made this choice because the presidential elections would have been automatically postponed otherwise, an outcome the government wanted to avoid. The elections were eventually postponed, but doubts persist with regards to the constitutional validity of the way this decision was taken. Myck stressed the persisting political uncertainty. Economic policy in Poland has focused on protecting jobs and providing liquidity to enterprises. State loans have been primarily directed to SMEs and will be partly written off, conditional on continued activity and employment. In Myck’s opinion, the economic outcome for Poland will depend on whether investments from and exports to Western Europe quickly resume or not.

KSE on Ukraine

Tymofiy Mylovanov, President of the Kyiv School of Economics and former Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture, stressed that in the first few weeks of the pandemic, Ukraine enforced harsher policy measures than its neighbors. The lock down was almost complete, with only grocery stores and pharmacies allowed to open. Compliance was high during the first few weeks but then started to decline.

The government allocated 3 percent of GDP to a Covid-19 support fund, there has been a lot of deregulation on the labor market, but the central bank’s key interest rate remains at 8 percent. Pressure for a looser monetary policy increases according to Mylovanov, as GDP has fallen by 1.2 percent and unemployment is expected to reach up to 10 percent by the end of the year.

Mylovanov’s thoughts about Ukraine’s economic prospects are mixed: average salaries continue to grow during the crisis which may be explained by the fact that low-skilled employees get laid off first, suggesting a potentially long-lasting change of the composition of the workforce. At the same time, the political situation is volatile with local elections coming up in October 2020 and public pressure mounting. As Poland, Ukraine did not declare a state of emergency. While Mylovanov thinks that the policy response could have been better, he is optimistic that Ukraine was better prepared to Covid-19 than to previous crises and will not have to resort to international loans.

Preliminary Conclusions

It is too early to draw any definite conclusions, but undoubtedly, a lot can be learned from the very diverse experiences of the corona crisis in the region. The former Soviet countries have a different historical and political legacy than Western European countries and accordingly, have found different ways of handling the crisis. Some have been more successful than their Western neighbors. But even those countries which have not faced a large health crisis have been severely hit economically and are likely to suffer economic hardship in the future.

The lack of a strong tradition of unemployment benefits and automatic stabilizers renders countries like Georgia, Belarus and Russia particularly vulnerable to the economic crisis which will inevitably follow the Covid-19 outbreak. In some countries, the corona shock may also accelerate or trigger political changes. In the view of this, the FREE Network will organize a series of follow-up webinars and briefs on more specific corona-related topics, with the aim of contextualizing statistics and providing a wider picture of the socio-economic consequences and policy implications of the crisis.

Please find a full recording of the webinar below. Updates on further events will be posted on the FREE website and on social media channels (Facebook, Twitter).

List of Speakers

  • Jesper Roine, Professor at the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE / Sweden)
  • Sergejs Gubins, Research Fellow at the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies (BICEPS / Latvia)
  • Natalia Volchkova, Director of the Centre for Economic and Financial Research at New Economic School (CEFIR@NES / Russia)
  • Yaroslava V. Babych, Lead Economist at ISET Policy Institute (ISET / Georgia)
  • Tymofiy Mylovanov, President at the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE / Ukraine)
  • Lev Lvovskiy, Senior Research Fellow at the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC / Belarus)
  • Michal Myck, Director of the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA / Poland)
  • Torbjörn Becker, Director of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE)

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Addressing the Covid-19 Pandemic in Eastern Europe: Policy Responses Across FREE Network Countries

An image of a woman sitting in a public transport with a COVID-19 protection mask on the face representing the Covid-19 pandemic in Eastern Europe

The FREE Network is delighted to invite you to a webinar to share insights and knowledge about how countries around the Baltic Sea, in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus have fared in the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting everyone around the globe and leaves none of us untouched. However, much of the focus in international media has been on the most affected countries and richer countries in East Asia, the European Union and the United States with less attention given to countries around the Baltic Sea, in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Since the FREE Network includes research and policy institutes in Belarus (BEROC), Latvia (BICEPS), Russia (CEFIR@NES), Poland (CenEA), Georgia (ISET), Ukraine (KSE) and Sweden (SITE), we are uniquely placed to provide a comprehensive regional perspective on the pandemic with examples of very different strategies implemented in the countries concerned.

Many of the countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltic region differ from Western Europe in terms of successfully limiting infections and deaths resulting from the pandemic so far. At the same time, the situation in Russia has worsened rapidly over the last few weeks, despite a lockdown having been imposed. The fatality rate and the number of infections have also been high in Sweden, where, in contrast to other Baltic countries, only relatively lenient restrictions have been imposed on the population. In the same vein, the Belarusian government has taken few, mild measures in response to the pandemic, but the mortality rate seems to have remained rather low.

This webinar will provide a first overview of how countries in the region have fared in the pandemic and allow for a better understanding of what governments have done, how people have responded, how other countries are being portrayed in the national media, and what the current discussions focus on.


  • 🇸🇪 Jesper Roine, Professor at the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE / Sweden)
  • 🇱🇻 Sergejs Gubins, Research Fellow at the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies (BICEPS / Latvia)
  • 🇷🇺 Natalia Volchkova, Director of the Centre for Economic and Financial Research at New Economic School (CEFIR@NES / Russia)
  • 🇬🇪 Yaroslava V. Babych, Lead Economist at ISET Policy Institute (ISET / Georgia)
  • 🇺🇦 Tymofiy Mylovanov, President at the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE / Ukraine)
  • 🇧🇾 Lev Lvovskiy, Senior Research Fellow at the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC / Belarus)
  • 🇵🇱 Michal Myck, Director of the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA / Poland)


  • Torbjörn Becker, Director of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE / Sweden)

The webinar opens a series of online discussions aiming to provide a regional overview, updates as well as in-depth analysis of specific topics related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Follow-up webinars will focus on such topics as regional differentiation within countries, effects on the environment, the gender dimension of the pandemic, and the analytical aspects of Covid-19 statistics.

Date: Thursday, May 28th, 15.00-16:30 CET

Location: Zoom webinar, link to be provided for registered participants

RSVP: The number of participants for the webinar is limited, therefore we invite to register as soon as possible, but no later than May 25, 23:59 CET.

Registration link: Please click here to register.

Quota or not Quota? On Increasing Women’s Representation in Politics

20200504 FREE Network Policy Brief image with dozen people standing at the seaside in sunset representing Women’s Representation in Politics Image 01

All over the world, politics remains one of the most male-dominated spheres in society, in spite of the substantial progress made in achieving more gender balance in the last decades. A large number of countries worldwide have adopted some form of electoral gender quotas to accelerate this progress, but the empirical evidence on the effectiveness of such policy tools is mixed.

In this policy brief, we first discuss the potential impacts of gender quotas. Quotas may (a) increase women’s representation in political positions, or decrease it, if there are backlash effects; (b) improve or worsen the quality of selected politicians; and (c) bring about important policy changes, given the wealth of empirical evidence of gender differences in policy preferences, with, for instance, women appearing more concerned about health and the health system than men. We then provide an overview of the empirical evidence on quota impacts in the economics literature, and contextualize these findings with a special focus on the countries of the FREE (Forum for Eastern Europe and Emerging Economies) network. We end with policy advice on the design of gender quotas in the domain of politics.

Quotas in the World and in the FREE Network Region

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), 127 countries worldwide currently use quotas with the goal of increasing the presence of women in governmental institutions. Broadly speaking electoral gender quotas can be classified into seat reservation and candidate lists quotas. The former limit the competition for a governmental seat to women, whereas the latter prescribe a minimum representation of women in electoral lists. Candidate quotas can be legislated, i.e. they constitute a legal requirement, or voluntary, whereby parties adopt quotas in their internal statute.

Table 1: Share of women in national parliaments (in %) FREE Network countries

Source: World Bank Data (2020).

The popularity of gender quotas is, however, not uniformly distributed across the globe. For example, while political gender representation is far from equal in most countries of FREE network region (see e.g. table 1), out of these countries only Armenia, Poland and Sweden dispose of electoral gender quotas (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Gender quotas in the FREE Network region

Note: the FREE Network region is marked in light red, the countries in the region with quota are marked in dark red. Source: SITE, 2020.

Since 2011, Armenia has had a legislated candidate quota of 40% for its National Assembly. This quota replaced a previous quota of 15%, passed in 2005 – one of the requirements to enter the Council of Europe (Itano 2007). Poland has also had a legislated candidate quota of 35% for the Lower House (the Sejm) as well as for subnational elections since 2011 (IDEA 2020; World Bank 2019). Sweden, the fourth most gender equal country worldwide according to the 2020 ranking of the World Economic Forum, and ninth in the women’s political empowerment sub-index, does not have legislated quotas. However, political parties themselves have decided to adopt voluntary quotas: the ruling Social Democrats use a zipper system in which the two sexes alternate on party lists; the Left Party has a minimum 50% quota for women, while the Green Party has a 50% gender quota (IDEA 2020). The Swedish Moderates, Liberals, Center parties and the extreme-right Swedish Democrats currently do not have gender quotas. The Swedish Democrats entered the parliamentary elections in 2018 with the highest share of male candidates observed among the Swedish parties – 70% (SVT 2020; SVT 2018).

In spite of their popularity among policy-makers worldwide, the merits of quotas are still largely debated. Opponents of gender quotas are often concerned about their effects on the meritocratic selection of politicians. Another common criticism is that nominating more female candidates may not automatically translate into more women in powerful positions. For instance, the shares of women in the Armenian and the Polish Parliament are 24 and 29% respectively (World Bank 2019), well below the national legislated candidate quota (it bears noting, however, that these shares have been growing over the last ten years, as shown in Figure 3). The respective shares of female ministers are 7% and 23% (Government of the Republic of Armenia 2020; OECD 2020,).

Figure 2: Share of women in national parliaments (in %)

Source: The authors’ own rendering of World Bank Data (2020).

Why is increasing women’s political participation considered a policy objective of utmost importance in many countries worldwide, and how can gender quotas help achieving it? In this brief we contribute to the ongoing debate on the merits of gender quotas, by offering an overview of their potential effects and by critically reviewing the empirical evidence from the most recent academic literature.

Which Effects Can We Expect From Quotas?

The primary objective of electoral quotas is to reduce gender gaps in representation in electoral lists and in the targeted representative institutions. Quotas can also activate trickle-up mechanisms, whereby gender gaps decrease in positions that are not directly targeted by the quota. The trickle up effect occurs, for instance, if women’s networks within parties or in governmental organizations help the promotion of female leaders. Furthermore, gender quotas may help to improve the quality of politicians. As noted by, among others, Bertrand (2018), a society likely improves the quality of its leaders when it enlarges the pool where those leaders are chosen from. A critical underlying assumption in this line of argument is that there are no major differences in the distribution of “political talent” between women and men. However, even with equal distribution of political talent, if the supply of women willing to enter politics is very limited and there are not enough qualified women to fill the quota positions, the average quality of a “quota” politician may end up being lower than that of her colleagues – and quotas may have the unintended consequence of reinforcing stereotypes against female politicians. This, in turn, may ultimately imply lower promotion rates of women to key positions and/or worse electoral support of female politicians, thereby undermining women’s political empowerment at various levels.

One of the most popular arguments in favor of the adoption of gender quotas is that women’s political preferences may not be adequately represented by male-dominated political bodies. Gender quotas, by increasing female representation among politicians (and possibly among voters), can thus help closing a potential gap in substantial representation. A large body of literature has documented gender differences in policy preferences, by considering, e.g. the size and composition of government spending after the expansion of suffrage to women (Kenny and Lott 1999), voting records in referenda (Funk and Gathmann 2015), survey data (see, e.g. Bagues and Campa 2020), or women’s contributions to legislative amendments (Lippmann 2020). In this historical moment when the world is plagued by a pandemic, the most important gender difference to emphasize seems to be in the area of health. Exploiting the federal referenda held between 1981 and 2001 in Switzerland, Funk and Gathmann (2015) show that Swiss women are more likely to be in favor of health, unemployment and social security spending than men, and less likely to be in favor of military spending. Similarly, based on survey data from a sample of nearly 60,000 Spanish residents, Bagues and Campa (2020) find that women are significantly more likely than men to report that the health system is one of the problems that affects them the most. Likewise, Lippmann (2020) analyzes the contribution of French legislators to amendments and finds that women are 25% more likely than men to initiate at least one amendment related to health issues. This gender difference regarding health policy is also visible in the European Social Survey (ESS), which covers a representative sample of the population of 19 European countries. When asked to give a general opinion on the current state of health services in their country, female respondents turn out to be significantly less satisfied than male respondents on average. The difference is statistically significant, albeit not particularly large (12% of a standard deviation) and holds in most of the countries included in the ESS. One potential reason behind this noticeable difference in satisfaction with health services is that women also report lower health status than men (10% of a standard deviation and statistically significant).

Figure 3: Self-reported satisfaction with the current state of national health services

Source: The authors’ own rendering of the ESS (2018).

A natural question to ask in spring 2020 is whether a world with more women among political leaders would have had health systems better equipped to face a pandemic. While we will never have a definite answer to this question, studies of the impacts of gender quotas can help assessing whether the gender of political leaders matters for policy decisions.

What is the Empirical Evidence on the Effects of Quotas?

Quotas increase women’s representation in electoral lists, but only when they are binding and appropriately enforced (i.e. the cost for parties of not complying with the quota must be high enough). Yet, when quotas are limited to the composition of electoral lists, the strategic positioning of female candidates in “not-winning” positions tends to undermine the quota effect on the election of women (see Esteve-Volart and Bagues, 2012, and Bagues and Campa, 2020). This seems to be the case of Poland: According to Gwiazda (2017), the lack of a placement mandate obliging parties to put women in the top positions of a party list, is indeed one reason why the Polish quota has not translated into a higher share of female representatives.

The evidence on the spill-over of quotas to higher positions is mixed. Two studies find that candidate quotas in Italy and Sweden increased the probability that women reach leadership positions, above and beyond the quota mandate (De Paola et al. 2010, O’Brien and Rickne, 2016). Bagues and Campa (2020), however, fail to establish similar evidence in Spain.

In studies of developing countries, Beaman et al. (2009) find that seat reservation in India improved male voters’ perception of female leaders, as well as women’s probability of being elected once the reservation was removed. Conversely, experimental evidence from Lesotho suggests that, if anything, a quota-mandated female representative reduces women’s self-reported engagement with local politics (see Clayton, 2015).

An increasing number of studies also examine the quota impact on the quality of the elected politicians, proxied by different measures. Baltrunaite et al. (2014) find that a gender quota improved the average education of elected politicians in Italy, and Besley et al. (2017) provide similar evidence looking at a measure of labor market performance in Sweden. Bagues and Campa (2020), studying candidate quotas in Spain, fail to find an improvement in the quality of politicians, measured by their education and electoral performance; however, their assessment is that the quota did not decrease quality either, contrary to the expectation of many quota opponents. However, Chattopadhyay and Duflo (2004) find that, in the context of seat reservations in rural India, quota candidates are less educated.

Finally, the evidence on whether gender quotas bring about policy change is scarce. Chattopadhyay and Duflo (2004) show that the reservation of the most important seat in Indian villages brought policy choices closer to women’s preferences. In Spanish municipalities, Bagues and Campa (2020) fail to find significant increases in the share of “female expenditures” (issues women have been found to care more about than men, based on surveys) over two legislatures when candidate quotas were used.


Gender quotas are a popular policy tool used to close existing gender gaps in political empowerment, which are large in many countries in the FREE Network. A growing economics literature on the impacts of gender quotas helps assessing what objectives policy-makers may be pursuing when they adopt them, and under which conditions these objectives can be achieved. There is a number of lessons to be learned from this literature.

First, the design of the quota is crucial for it to achieve its primary objective, which is to increase women’s presence in the targeted political positions. Placement mandates, for instance, are particularly important in the design of candidate quotas to avoid that women are strategically placed at the end of the ballot. Second, policy-makers need to take the local context into account. Whether a candidate quota can generate spill-overs to higher-level positions likely depends on the degree of centralization of political parties for instance; where party leaders are very powerful, we may be less likely to see an increase in the share of female leaders following the adoption of a candidate quota. Third, the question when gender quotas successfully bring about policy change needs additional investigation. Different factors likely play a role, such as: the type of position targeted by the quota (legislative or executive, local or national, etc.); the extent of the increase in representation achieved; the magnitude of the gender difference in preferences; the type of decision-making process prevailing (majority voting or unanimity); how the selection of politicians is affected by the quota; and how women’s influence on policy is measured. Studies that systematically vary some of these factors will improve our understanding of this area of research. Fourth, there is no overwhelming evidence of negative effects of gender quotas in a number of dimensions, at least over a medium-term horizon.

The case for adopting and testing different forms of gender quotas, perhaps in combination with additional measures, is therefore relatively strong. Overall, our assessment is that quotas will have to remain in policy-makers’ toolbox for some time if the worldwide effort to close the persisting gender gaps in political empowerment is to continue.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.