Tag: policy

Russian Wheat Policies and Georgia’s Strategic Trade Policies

20240310 Wheat Policies Trade Policies Image 01

Russia is known for periodically halting its grain exports to impact global wheat prices. This has become a significant policy concern in recent years, most notably during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Georgia heavily depends on wheat imports, and over 95 percent of its wheat has historically been sourced from Russia. Despite Russia’s periodic bans and restrictions on wheat exports occurring every 2-3 years, Georgia is yet to effectively diversify its sources of wheat imports. This policy brief analyses the impact of Russia’s most recent wheat policies on Georgia’s wheat market, examines Georgia’s response, and provides policy recommendations in this regard.

In June 2023, the Georgian government introduced a temporary import duty on wheat flour imported from Russia in response to requests from the Georgian Flour Producers Association. The association began advocating for an import duty after Russia, in 2021, imposed a so-called “floating tariff” on wheat which made it relatively more expensive to import wheat in comparison to wheat flour. As a result of the “floating tariff” on wheat, wheat flour imports skyrocketed and almost fully substituted wheat imports. Eventually, many Georgian mills shut down and local wheat producers struggled to sell domestically produced wheat. Such an increase in flour imports raises the risk of completely replacing domestically produced flour with flour imported from Russia.

To address the above, the government has implemented a temporary import duty of 200 GEL (75 USD) per ton on wheat flour imported from Russia (the average import price ranges between 225 USD/ton and 435 USD/ton). In turn, millers have agreed to purchase 1 kilogram of wheat from Georgian farmers for 0.7 GEL (0.3 USD). This policy measure is in effect until March 1, 2024.

The Georgian Flour Producers Association advocates for an extension of the temporary import duty beyond March 1, 2024, to uphold fair competition in the wheat and flour market. According to the Georgian Flour Producers Association, an extension is desirable due to the following (Resonance daily, 2024):

  • Under the import duty, fair competition between wheat flour and wheat has been restored, and Georgian mills have resumed their operations.
  • Following the government intervention, farmers have successfully sold over 50,000 tons (on average half of the annual production) of domestically produced wheat. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture has reported a 60 percent increase in local wheat production over the past two years, with expectations of sustained growth.
  • Wheat imports have resumed, with Georgia importing 20,000 to 25,000 tons of wheat monthly, while prior to the government intervention, the average monthly wheat imports amounted to 15,337 tons (in 2022). Additionally, 8,000 to 12,000 tons of wheat flour, on average, are also imported monthly, while in the absence of government intervention, wheat flour imports surged to over 15,000 tons (in 2022).
  • Post-intervention, the price of 100 kilograms of first-quality flour has remained stable, ranging from 45 to 49 GEL. Consequently, the price of bread has not increased but remains steady.
  • The import duty has generated an additional 20 million GEL in government revenue.
  • Through the efforts of the mills, the country now enjoys a steady and strategically managed supply of wheat, in accordance with UN recommendations. Coupled with the seasonal harvest of Georgian wheat, this ensures complete food security in any unforeseen critical scenario.

While many arguments support the decision to preserve the import duty on wheat flour, in order to make an informed decision on that matter, it is essential to thoroughly assess production, trade and price dynamics in the wheat market in Georgia. Additionally, to design adequate trade policy measures, one has also to consider the issue in a broader perspective and assess the risks associated with a high dependency on Russian wheat, especially given Russia’s history of imposing wheat export restrictions.

Russian Policy on the Wheat Market

Russia has long been one of the dominant players on the global wheat market, and its periodic decisions to halt grain exports have heavily affected international wheat prices (see Table 1). This concern became especially stringent in recent years, during the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Table 1. Russia’s policy interventions in the wheat market and their estimated impact on wheat prices, 2007-2023.

Source: United States Department of Agriculture, 2022.
The Government of the Russian Federation.
The Kansas City Wheat Futures, The U.S. Wheat Associates.

One of Russia’s most recent interventions in the wheat market is its withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative – an agreement between Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the United Nations (UN) during the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the Safe Transportation of Grain and Foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports. While Georgia doesn’t directly import wheat from Ukraine and isn’t immediately threatened by famine, Russia’s export policies regarding wheat have raised significant food security concerns in the country. Georgia heavily depends on wheat imports from Russia, with over 95 percent of its wheat historically being sourced from there. Despite Russia’s recurrent bans and restrictions on wheat exports every 2-3 years, Georgia is yet to successfully diversify its import sources.

The Georgian Wheat Market in Figures

Domestic Production

Historically, Georgia’s agricultural sector has struggled to achieve a large-scale and sufficient wheat production due to the prevalence of small-sized farms. However, over the past decade, Georgian domestic wheat production has shown significant growth (see Figure 1). This growth has been particularly sizeable in recent years, with production increasing by 32 and 53 percent in 2021 and 2022, respectively, as compared to 2020.

Figure 1. Wheat production in Georgia, 2014-2022.

Source: Geostat, 2024.

Such increase in local production positively contributes to the self-sufficiency ratio, which increased from 7 percent in 2014 to 22 percent in 2022, in turn implying higher food security levels.

Wheat Imports

Before the introduction of Russia’s floating tariff on wheat, wheat flour imports to Georgia were almost non-existent. However, after the floating tariff was imposed on wheat, imports of wheat flour increased more than 20 times – from 743 tons in January 2021 to 15,086 tons in May 2023 – peaking at 23,651 tons in August 2022 (see Figure 2). At the same time wheat imports declined by almost 60 percent, from 29,397 tons in January 2021 to 12,133 tons in May 2023, with the smallest import quantity being 2,743 tons in May 2022 (as depicted in Figure 2).

Figure 2. Georgian wheat and wheat flour imports, 2021-2023.

Source: Geostat, 2024. Note: Imports include meslin (a mixture of wheat and rye grains).

After the introduction of the temporary import duty on wheat flour in June 2023, wheat imports have picked up, although not reaching the levels seen in 2021. Similarly, wheat flour imports have declined while remaining at higher levels than in 2021. This indicates a change in Georgia’s wheat market dynamics. Historically, Georgia predominantly imported wheat; now it imports both wheat and wheat flour. This shift must be considered in future policy design, as it has implications for domestic wheat farmers and mills.

The continued wheat flour imports, despite the temporary import duty imposed by the Georgian Government can likely be attributed to a smaller price gap between wheat and wheat flour import prices (see Table 2).

Table 2. Average import prices of wheat and wheat flour in Georgia, 2021-2023.

Source: Geostat, 2024.

In 2021, prior to Russia’s introduction of a floating tariff on wheat, the import price of wheat flour in Georgia was 24 percent higher than the import price of wheat. After the introduction of the floating tariff, importing wheat became more expensive, and the import price gap between wheat flour and wheat decreased to 22 percent by the end of 2021. Subsequently, in 2022, this gap further narrowed, and by the first half of 2023, the import price of wheat flour was 5 percent lower than the import price of wheat. This significant decrease in the price gap resulted in nearly full substitution of wheat imports with wheat flour imports. After the introduction of the import duty on wheat flour and as international wheat prices declined, a marginal positive price gap has reappeared, amounting to just 1 percent. As it stands, importing wheat flour remains more advantageous than importing wheat.

Price Effects

Russia’s floating tariff on wheat led to increased bread and wheat flour prices in 2021-2022. In June 2022, bread prices experienced the most significant surge, increasing by 36 percent, while wheat flour prices reached their peak in September 2022 with a year-on-year increase of 41 percent (see Figure 3). The primary reason for this was the record increase in wheat prices, leading to a corresponding surge in wheat flour prices in 2022. This spike occurred as the world price of wheat reached its highest point in five years.

Figure 3. Annual change in bread and wheat flour prices, 2021-2023.

Source: Geostat, 2024.

Nevertheless, in 2023 bread and wheat flour prices decreased, indicating that the import duty on wheat flour did not lead to increased prices. This could partially be explained by the fact that mills pay farmers 0.5 GEL/kg, which is lower than agreed price of 0.7 GEL/kg. Another and more crucial factor is the decline in global wheat prices. They began their descent in June 2022 and have since maintained a downward trajectory. This decrease, combined with increased local production, has so far acted as a barrier to any new bread and wheat flour price increases.

The Way Forward

The question that must be addressed is whether the import duty on wheat flour imported from Russia should be extended.

The import duty may have contributed to increased local production as higher import duties can incentivize local businesses to invest in expanding their production capacity or improving their technology to meet an increased demand. It is however essential to note that the impact of import duties on local production varies depending on the level of domestic competition, the availability of inputs (high quality seed, fertilizer etc.), technological capabilities, and government policies beyond import duties (such as investment incentives, infrastructure development, and regulatory environment). Additionally, import duties can also lead to retaliatory measures from trading partners, affecting overall trade dynamics – potentially incurring unintended consequences. Therefore, while import duties can contribute to an increased local production under certain conditions, it is just one of many factors influencing production dynamics.

Secondly, as previously detailed, the import duty has so far not resulted in increased bread prices. However, the effect of an import tariff on retail prices depends on various factors, including elasticity of demand and supply, market, competitiveness, and the extent to which the tariff is passed on to consumers by importers and retailers. Since demand for bread is inelastic, one has to keep in mind that the importers and retailers can fully pass on the increased cost from an import tariff to consumers.

Given that the floating tariff and the import duty make wheat and wheat flour imports to Georgia more expensive, one should expect future bread price increases. This unless international wheat prices continue to decline and/or producers agree to reduce their profit margins or make supply chain changes. Therefore, an extension of the import duty might be a suitable solution in the short and medium-term, but it should not be seen as a permanent solution.

To limit the risks of food scarcity in Georgia in the long run, it is essential to design strategies helping the country to reduce its dependency on Russian wheat and wheat flour. Some measures to achieve this objective may include:

Further supporting local production. Encourage investment in domestic agriculture to increase the productivity and quality of wheat production in Georgia. This can be achieved through subsidies, incentives for modern farming techniques, and access to credit for farmers.

Improving the quality of local production. Currently, most of the domestically produced wheat is unsuitable for milling into wheat flour. A significant portion of domestically produced wheat is of poor quality and instead used for feeding livestock. It is essential to invest in research and development to improve the quality of domestically produced wheat. This includes developing wheat varieties that are resistant to diseases and better suited for local growing conditions.

Seeking alternative markets for import diversification. One alternative for Georgia may be to focus on the Kazakh and Ukrainian markets (once the war is over) and negotiate possible ways to decrease the cost of transporting wheat to Georgia with state and private sector representatives.

Reducing the Georgian dependence on Russian wheat imports requires a multifaceted approach that addresses various aspects of agricultural policy, trade diversification, and domestic production capacity.

References

Resonance daily. (2024). The Association of Wheat and Flour Producers of Georgia requests an extension of the import tax on imported flour. https://www.resonancedaily.com/index.php?id_rub=4&id_artc=197847

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.

Closing the Gender Data Gap

20240306 Closing the Gender Data Gap Image 01

High-quality data plays a crucial role in enhancing our comprehension of evolving social phenomena, and in designing effective policies to address existing and future challenges. This particularly applies to the gender dimension of data, given the profound impact of the pervasive so-called “gender data gap”. In recent decades, data recovered from archives, high quality surveys, and census and administrative data, combined with innovative approaches to data analysis and identification, has become pivotal for the progress of documenting structural gender differences. Nonetheless, before we can close the gender gaps on the labour market, within households, in politics, academia and other areas, researchers and policy-makers must first ensure a closure of the gender data gap.

Policy Brief | EN langauge version

Policy Brief | GE language version

Introduction

Any progress in our understanding of social phenomena hinges on the availability of data, and there is no doubt that recent advances in economics and other social sciences would not have been possible without countless high quality data sources. As we argue in this policy brief, this applies also, and perhaps particularly, to the documentation of different dimensions of gender inequalities and the analysis to identify their causes. Over the last few decades innovative ways to document historical developments, combined with improvements in the access to existing data, as well as new approaches to data collection, have become cornerstones in the progress made in our understanding of the various expressions of gender inequality. In the economic sphere this has covered themes such as labor market status,  earning and income levels, wealth accumulation over the life course, education investments, pensions, as well as consumption patterns and time allocation – in particular caregiving and household work. Researchers have also been able to empirically study gender inequalities in politics, culture, crime, the justice system and in academia itself.

Groundbreaking studies in gender economics, including those by Claudia Goldin, the recent Nobel Prize laureate, would not have been possible without high quality data and innovative ways aimed at closing the “gender data gap”, a term coined by Caroline Criado Perez, in her bestseller “Invisible women” (Criado Perez, 2020). In the introduction to the book she notes that “(…) the chronicles of the past have left little space for women’s role in the evolution of humanity, whether cultural or biological. Instead, the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall.” (p. XI). The gender data gap is the result of deficits of informative data sources on women, which has been augmented by frequent lack of differentiation of information by sex/gender in available sources. Closing the gender gaps along the dimensions already identified in existing studies will require a continuous monitoring of evidence, thus closing the gender data gap in the first place. New studies focused on greater equality and on the effectiveness of various implemented policies will continue to rely on good data. Thankfully, few new datasets currently ignore the gender of the respondents. However  as our understanding of the biological and cultural aspects of sex and gender grows, the way data is collected will need to be modified.

As we prepare for the new challenges ahead of those designing data collection efforts and examining the data, we believe it is important to give credit to the authors of some of the groundbreaking studies that paved the way to the current pool of evidence on gender inequality. Around the time of the International Women’s Day, we recall several empirical studies in gender economics that, in our opinion, merit special attention due to either their innovative approaches to data collection, their unique access to original data sources, or their methodological novelty. These studies bring valuable insights into specific dimensions of gender inequality. This short list is naturally a subjective choice, but we believe that all of these studies deserve credit not only among researchers within gender economics, but also among those more broadly interested in the recent progress in the understanding of different aspects of gender inequality.

From Data to Policy Recommendations

Over the last few decades substantial efforts have been made to provide empirical evidence concerning historical trends in inequalities between men and women on the labor market. Seminal work in this field was conducted by Claudia Goldin in the 1970s and 80s, culminating in the publication of the path-breaking book Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women (Goldin, 1990). The book fundamentally changed the view of women’s role in the labor market. Empirically Goldin shows that female labor force participation has been significantly higher in historical times than previously believed. Before Goldin, researchers mainly studied twentieth century data. Based on this it looked as if women’s participation in the labour market is positively correlated with economic growth. Goldin’s work showed instead that women were more likely to participate in the labour force prior to industrialization, and that early expansion of factories made it more difficult to combine work and family. Seen over the full 200 year period, from before industrialization to today, the pattern of women’s labour market participation is in fact U-shaped, pointing to the importance of various societal changes that alter incentives and possibilities for women’s work. Goldin’s contribution is however not just about getting the empirical picture right. At least equally important is the recognition of women as individual economic agents, who make forward looking decisions under various institutional constraints and limitations related to social norms about identity and family, as well as education opportunities and labor market options. While some decision can be modeled as taken by “the economic man”, others by households, it may seem surprising that studying women’s decisions was for so long neglected.

Institutional, cultural and economic factors behind historical trends have become the focus of much of the literature trying to identify the forces driving gender disparities. Some of the most original work considers the role that “chance” plays in determining individual decisions related to gender – how having a first-born son (e.g. Dahl and Moretti, 2008) or having twins (Angrist and Evans, 1998), both of which can be considered random, – affect choices related to partnership, future fertility and the labor market. Others examin the influence of gender imbalances caused by major historical events. Brainerd (2017) investigates the consequences of extremely unbalanced sex ratios in cohorts particularly affected by the massive loss of lives during World War II in the Soviet Union. By exploiting a unique historical data source derived from the first postwar census, combined with statistics registry records from archives, Brainerd provides evidence that the war-induced scarcity of men profoundly affected women’s outcomes on the marriage market. Women were more likely to never get married, give birth out of wedlock and get divorced. On top of that, unbalanced sex ratios affected married women’s intrahousehold bargaining power and resulted in lower fertility rates and a higher rate of marriages with a large age gap between spouses. The post-war institutional setup increased the cost of divorce and withdrew legal obligations to support children fathered out of wedlock, which exacerbated the consequences from the shortage of men by further reducing the rates of registered marriages and increasing marital instability.

The examples above highlight how conditions beyond individuals’ control can contribute to social gender imbalances, or shed light on existing gender biases. How these ‘exogenous’ circumstances translate into economic inequalities and what additional factors drive disparities has been the focus of much academic work on gender inequalities. One of the most challenging questions has been that of demonstrating that discrimination of women, rather than women’s characteristics or choices, are behind the growing body of evidence on economic gender inequality. In this respect Black and Strahan (2001) provide important convincing conclusions by using significant changes in the level of regulation in the US banking sector. Increasing competition between banks lowered banks’ profits, and led to a reduced ability of managers to ‘divide the spoils’, and thus to discriminate between different types of employees. The authors used information on wages within specific industries (including banking) from one of the oldest ongoing surveys in the world – the US Current Population Survey (CPS). By exploiting detailed individual data covering a period of several decades the authors show that higher levels of banking sector regulations (prior to deregulation) facilitated greater premia paid out to male compared to female employees. Thus, increased competition in the banking sector brought favorable changes to women’s pay conditions as well as their position in banks’ management.

While long running surveys such as the CPS continue to serve as invaluable sources of information on the relative conditions of men and women, the growing availability of administrative data has opened new opportunities for documentation of inequalities and identification of the reasons behind these. For instance, the ability to track individuals throughout their work history before and after the arrival of their first child has allowed researchers to compare the trajectories of women’s and men’s earnings, wages and working hours. This comparison has revealed the existence of the so-called “child penalty”, with women experiencing a drop in their labor market position relative to their male partners after the birth of their first child, and with the gap persisting for many years. Strikingly, this penalty has been estimated in some of the most gender-equal countries in the world, such as Sweden (Angelov et al., 2016) and Denmark (Kleven et al., 2019), two countries which have spearheaded collecting and making rich administrative data available to researchers.

Another area where individual register data has proven invaluable is in the study of the so-called “glass ceiling”, i.e., the sharply increasing differences between men and women when it comes to pay as well as representation in the very top of the income distribution. In a seminal study by Albrecht et al. (2003), individual earnings for men and women were compared and differences were found to be markedly higher (with men earning much more) when comparing men in the top of the male income distribution with women in the top of the female income distribution. Also making use of Swedish registry data, Boschini et al. (2020) study a related question, namely the evolution of the share of women in the top of the income distribution. In line with other glass-ceiling results, they demonstrate that the share of women in the top is small, and that it gets smaller the higher one looks, , although it has increased over time. Decomposing incomes into labor earnings and capital income they also show that while women seem to be catching up in the labor income distribution, they clearly lag in the capital income distribution. Also, the income profile of the partners of high-income men and high-income women are strikingly different. Most high-income women have high-income partners, while the opposite is not true for high-income men.

Differences in the economic position of men and women reflected in the above examples can have their origin much before the time individuals enter the labor market. They can be driven by differences in schooling opportunities, as well as other forms of early life investments, to the extent that even much of what is perceived as choices or preferences later in life are in fact results of these subtle early life disadvantages for women. While these have largely diminished in the global North, there is a growing number of studies documenting these differences in the global South. Jayachandran and Pande (2017) examine the impact of son preference, a widespread cultural practice for example in India, on child health and development. The study leverages a simple, standardized, and broadly available indicator – the height of children – which is measured at routine health checks and included in many population surveys, such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). Additionally, their use of a natural experiment, based on the birth order of children, helps to establish a causal relationship between eldest son preference and nutritional disparities that have long-term developmental consequences among subsequent children, not only for girls but for Indian children on average. Findings like these underscore the importance of gender equality not only as a fundamental value but also as a crucial factor in promoting growth and development at the societal level.

The social costs of gender inequality have also motivated the growing research interest in gender-based violence and crime. Given the specific challenges associated with these topics – such as the clandestine and underreported nature of these acts but also the consideration for victims’ confidentiality and safety – studies in this area has required researchers to develop and apply innovative tools and data collection methods. In this framework list experiments have emerged as a methodology allowing respondents to disclose sensitive or socially undesirable attitudes indirectly, reducing the likelihood of the so-called social desirability bias in survey reporting. In a list experiment, respondents are presented with a set of statements or behaviors and asked to indicate their agreement or engagement with these. Among listed items, one is considered “sensitive” and is included only for a randomly selected subset of respondents. By comparing the average number of items agreed with by the entire sample to a control group that did not get the sensitive item, researchers can estimate the proportion of respondents who agreed with or engaged in the sensitive behavior or opinion. Kuklinski et al. (1997) is one of the pioneering contributions in this area, estimating the proportion of voters who harbored racial prejudices but who may have been unwilling to admit it in a direct survey question. List experiments have since become a widely used tool in political science and economics and have helped in the advancement of our understanding of gender-based violence (Peterman et al., 2018). Given the strong assumptions underlying the analysis the method has not become the ”statistical truth serum” it was at some point considered to be. However, list experiments have broadened the analytical opportunities in an area plagued by significant informational and data challenges.

While worldwide gender gaps in economic opportunities and especially in education and health have rapidly declined (and sometimes reversed) in the last decades, larger differences remain in political empowerment (see e.g., WEF Gender Gap Report 2023). Another Nobel Prize laureate in economics, Esther Duflo, in her joint work with Raghabendra Chattopahyay (2004), have pioneered a highly prolific area of research on the impacts of women as policymakers. In their study, they leverage a unique policy experiment in India  that randomized the gender of the leader of Village Councils, and a detailed dataset based on extensive surveys administered to both Village Council leaders and villagers. The surveys allowed for estimation of the investments in different public goods in 265 Village Councils, as well as the preferences over each of these public goods among female and male villagers. Combining the randomization and this rich dataset, the authors establish that political leaders prioritize public goods that are more relevant to the needs of their own gender, suggesting that women’s under-representation in politics might result in women’s and men’s preferences being unequally represented in policy decisions.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The narrowing gender gap in political representation across various levels of government, the growing influence of women in other areas such as public institutions, administration etc., and the heightened awareness of the crucial role gender equality plays in socio-economic progress all bode well for improvements in access to high-quality gender-differentiated data sources. Before we can recognize and close gender gaps identified from high-quality data, the gender data gap needs to firstly be closed. Governments and public institutions should make their  increasing amounts of digitized information available for research purposes. Funding should be available to collect data through surveys, and these could in turn be combined with details available in administrative sources to take advantage of the breadth of survey data and the precision of official statistics. Information needs to be collected on a frequent and regular basis to make sure that the consequences of various major developments, such as legal changes, conflicts or natural disasters, can be identified. Innovative data sources, for instance information from mobile apps or social media, can provide additional useful insights into socio-economic trends, old and new dimensions of inequalities and regular timely updates on different aspects of gender disparities. These new data sources can become the basis for future innovative studies on gender inequalities, contributing to a better understanding of the mechanisms behind these inequalities, and providing evidence for policies and other efforts to effectively close the remaining gaps. Already now there is enough evidence to conclude that closing these gaps is not only just but that it also constitutes a fundamental basis for continued inclusive economic development.

Post Scriptum

Contributing to the existing pool of data sources we are happy to share a regional dataset with information on gender norms and gender-based violence: the FROGEE Survey 2021. The data was collected using the CATI method (phone interviews) in autumn 2021 in Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. In each country interviews were conducted with between 925 and 1000 adults. The survey covered areas such as: basic demographics, material conditions, labor market status, gender norms, attitudes towards harassment and violence, awareness of violence against women and awareness of legal protection for gender violence victims.

The data collection was funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) as part of the FREE Network’s FROGEE project. The dataset and supporting materials are freely available for research purposes. For more information see: FROGEE Survey on Gender Equality.

References

  • Angrist, D. J., and Evans, N. W. (1998). Children and their parents’ labor supply: Evidence from exogenous variation in family size. American Economic Review, 88(2), 450-477.
  • Albrecht, J., Björklund, A., and Vroman, S. (2003). Is there a glass ceiling in Sweden? Journal of Labor Economics, 21(1), 145-177.
  • Angelov, N., Johansson, P., and Lindahl, E. (2016). Parenthood and the gender gap in pay. Journal of Labor Economics, 34(3), 545-579.
  • Black, S. E., and Strahan, P. E. (2001). The division of spoils: Rent-sharing and discrimination in a regulated industry. American Economic Review, 91(4), 814-831.
  • Boschini, A., Gunnarsson, K., and Roine, J. (2020). Women in top incomes: Evidence from Sweden 1971–2017. Journal of Public Economics, 181, 104-115.
  • Brainerd, E. (2017). The lasting effect of sex ratio imbalance on marriage and family: Evidence from World War II in Russia. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 99(2), 229-242.
  • Chattopadhyay, R., and Duflo, E. (2004). Women as policymakers: Evidence from a randomized policy experiment in India. Econometrica, 72(5), 1409-1443.
  • Criado Perez, C. (2020). Invisible women. Vintage, London.
  • Dahl, G. B., and Moretti, E. (2008). The demand for sons. Review of Economic Studies, 75(4), 1085-1120.
  • Goldin, C. (1990). Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women. Oxford University Press.
  • Kleven, H., Landais, C., and Søgaard, J. E. (2019). Children and gender inequality: Evidence from Denmark. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 11(4), 181-209.
  • Kuklinski, J. H., Sniderman, P. M., Knight, K., Piazza, T., Tetlock, P. E., Lawrence, G. R., & Mellers, B. (1997). Racial prejudice and attitudes toward affirmative action. American Journal of Political Science, 402-419.
  • Jayachandran, S., and Pande, R. (2017). Why are Indian children so short? The role of birth order and son preference. American Economic Review, 107(9), 2600-2629.
  • Peterman, A., Palermo, T. M., Handa, S., Seidenfeld, D., and Zambia Child Grant Program Evaluation Team (2018). List randomization for soliciting experience of intimate partner violence: Application to the evaluation of Zambia’s unconditional child grant program. Health Economics, 27(3), 622-628.

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.

The Impact of Rising Gasoline Prices on Households in Sweden, Georgia, and Latvia – Is This Time Different?

20231201 The Impact of Rising Gasoline Prices Image 02

Over the last two years, the world has experienced a global energy crisis, with surging oil, coal, and natural gas prices. For European households, this translates into higher gasoline and diesel prices at the pump as well as increased electricity and heating costs. The increase in energy related costs began in 2021, as the world economy struggled with supply chain disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and intensified as Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022. In response, European governments have implemented a variety of energy tax cuts (Sgaravatti et al., 2023), with a particular focus on reducing the consumer cost of transport fuel. This policy paper aims to contextualize current transport fuel prices in Europe by addressing two related questions: Are households today paying more for gasoline and diesel than in the past? And should policymakers respond by changing transport fuel tax rates? The analysis will focus on case studies from Sweden, Georgia, and Latvia, countries that vary in economic development, energy independence, reliance on Russian oil, transport infrastructure, and transport fuel tax rates. Through this study, we aim to paint a nuanced picture of the implications of rising fuel prices on household budgets and provide policy guidance.

Record High Gasoline Prices, Historically Cheap to Drive

Sweden has a long history of using excise taxes on transport fuel as a means to raise revenue for the government and to correct for environmental externalities. As early as in 1924, Sweden introduced an energy tax on gasoline. Later, in 1991, this tax was complemented by a carbon tax levied on the carbon content of transport fuels. On top of this, Sweden extended the coverage of its value-added tax (VAT) to include transport fuels in 1990. The VAT rate of 25 percent is applied to all components of the consumer price of gasoline: the production cost, producer margin, and excise taxes (energy and carbon taxes).

In May 2022, the Swedish government reduced the tax rate on transport fuels by 1.80 SEK per liter (0.16 EUR). This reduction was unprecedented. Since 1960, there have only been three instances of nominal tax rate reductions on gasoline in Sweden, each by marginal amounts in the range of 0.04 to 0.22 SEK per liter. Prior to the tax cut, the combined rate of the energy and carbon tax was 6.82 SEK per liter of gasoline. Adding the VAT that is applied on these taxes, amounting to 1.71 SEK, yields a total excise tax component of 8.53 SEK. This amount is fixed in the short run and does not vary with oil price changes.

Figure 1. Gasoline Pump Price, 2000-2023.

Source: Drivkraft Sverige (2023).

Figure 1 shows the monthly average real price of gasoline in Sweden from January 2000 to October 2023. The price has slowly increased over the last 20 years and has been historically high in the last year and a half. Going back even further, the price is higher today than at any point since 1960. Swedish households have thus lately been paying more for one liter of gasoline than ever before.

However, a narrow focus on the price at the pump does not take into consideration other factors that affect the cost of personal transportation for households.

First, the average fuel efficiency of the vehicle fleet has improved over time. New vehicles sold in Sweden today can drive 50 percent further on one liter of gasoline compared to new vehicles sold in 2000. Arguably, what consumers care about the most is not the cost of gasoline per se but the cost of driving a certain distance, as the utility one derives from a car is the distance one can travel. Accounting for vehicles’ fuel efficiency improvement over time, we find that even though it is still comparatively expensive to drive today, the current price level no longer constitutes a historical peak. In fact, the cost of driving 100 km was as high, or higher, in the 2000-2008 period (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Gasoline Expenditure per 100 km.

Source: Trafikverket (2023) and Drivkraft Sverige (2023).

Second, any discussion of the cost of personal transportation for households should also factor in changes in household income over time. The Swedish average real hourly wage has increased by more than thirty percent between 2000-2023. As such, the cost of driving 100 km, measured as a share of household income, has steadily declined over time. Further, this pattern is consistent across the income distribution; for instance, the cost trajectory for the bottom decile is similar to that of all wage earners (as illustrated in Figure 3). In 1991, when the carbon tax was implemented, the average household had to spend around two thirds of an hour’s wage to drive 100 km. By 2020, that same household only had to spend one third of an hour’s wage to drive the same distance. There has been an increase in the cost of driving over the last two years, but in relation to income, it is still cheaper today to drive a certain distance compared to any year before 2013.

Figure 3. Cost of Driving as a Share of Income, 1991-2023.

Source: Statistics Sweden (2023).

Taken all together, we see that on the expenditure side, vehicles use fuel more efficiently over time and on the income side, households earn higher wages. Based on this, we can conclude that the cost of travelling a certain distance by car is not historically high today.

Response From Policymakers

It is, however, of little comfort for households to know that it was more expensive to drive their car – as a share of income – 10 or 20 years ago. We argue that what ultimately matters for households is the short run change in cost, and the speed of this change. If the cost rises too fast, households cannot adjust their expenditure pattern quickly enough and thus feel that the price increase is unaffordable. In fact, the change in the gasoline price at the pump has been unusually rapid over the last two years. Since the beginning of 2021, until the peak in June 2022, the (nominal) pump price rose by around 60 percent.

So, should policymakers respond to the rapid price increase by lowering gasoline taxes? The perhaps surprising answer is that lowering existing gasoline tax rates would be counter-productive in the medium and long run. Since excise taxes are fixed and do not vary with the oil price, they reduce the volatility of the pump price by cushioning fluctuations in the market price of crude oil. The total excise tax component including VAT constitutes more than half of the pump price in Sweden, a level that is similar across most European countries. This stands in stark contrast with the US, where excise taxes make up around 15 percent of the consumer price of gasoline. As a consequence, a doubling of the price of crude oil only increases the consumer price of gasoline in Sweden by around 35 percent, while it increases by about 80 percent in the US. Households across Sweden, Europe, and the US have adapted to the different levels of gasoline tax rates by purchasing vehicles with different levels of fuel efficiency. New light-duty vehicles sold in Europe are on average 45 percent more fuel-efficient compared to the same vehicle category sold in the US (IEA 2021). As such, US households do not necessarily benefit from lower gasoline taxation in terms of household expenditure on transport fuel. They are also more vulnerable to rapid increases in the price of crude oil. Having high gasoline tax rates thus reduces – rather than increases – the short run welfare impact on households. Hence, policymakers should resist the temptation to lower gasoline tax rates during the current energy crisis. With imposed tax cuts, households will, in the medium and long run, buy vehicles with higher fuel consumption and thus become more exposed to price surges in the future – again compelling policymakers to adjust tax rates, creating a downward spiral. Instead, alternative measures should be considered to alleviate the effects of the heavy price pressure on low-income households – for instance, revenue recycling of the carbon tax revenue and increased subsidies of public transport.

Conclusion

To reach environmental and climate goals, Sweden urgently needs to phase out the use of fossil fuels in the transport sector – Sweden’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions. This is exactly what a gradual increase of the tax rate on gasoline and diesel would achieve. At the same time, it would benefit consumers by shielding them from the adverse effects of future oil price volatility.

The most common response from policymakers regarding fuel tax rates however goes in the opposite direction. In Sweden, the excise tax on gasoline and diesel was reduced by 1.80 SEK per liter in 2022 and the current government plans to further reduce the price by easing the biofuel mandate. Similar tax cuts have been implemented in a range of European countries. Therefore, the distinguishing factor in the current situation lies in the exceptional responses from policymakers, rather than in the gasoline costs that households are encountering.

Gasoline Price Swings and Their Consequences for Georgian Consumers

The energy crisis that begun in 2021 has also made its mark on Georgia, where the operational expenses of personal vehicles, encompassing not only gasoline costs but also maintenance expenses, account for more than 8 percent of the consumer price index. The rise in gasoline prices sparked public protest and certain opposition parties proposed an excise tax cut to mitigate the gasoline price surge. In Georgia, gasoline taxes include excise taxes and VAT. Until January 1, 2017, the excise tax was 250 GEL per ton (9 cents/liter), it has since increased to 500 GEL (18 cents/liter). Despite protests and the suggested excise tax reduction, the Georgian government chose not to implement any tax cuts. Instead, it initiated consultations with major oil importers to explore potential avenues for reducing the overall prices. Following this, the Georgian National Competition Agency (GNCA) launched an inquiry into the fuel market for motor vehicles, concluding a manipulation of retail prices for gasoline existed (Georgian National Competition Agency, 2023).

The objective of this part of the policy paper is to address two interconnected questions. Firstly, are Georgian households affected by gasoline price increases? And secondly, if they are, is there a need for government intervention to mitigate the negative impact on household budgets caused by the rise in gasoline prices?

The Gasoline Market in Georgia

Georgia’s heavy reliance on gasoline imports is a notable aspect of the country’s energy landscape. The country satisfies 100 percent of its gasoline needs with imports and 99 percent of the fuel imported is earmarked for the road vehicle transport sector. Although Georgia sources its gasoline from a diverse group of countries, with nearly twenty nations contributing to its annual gasoline imports, the supply predominantly originates from a select few markets: Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia. In the last decade, these markets have almost yearly accounted for over 80 percent of Georgia’s total gasoline imports. Furthermore, Russia’s share has substantially increased in recent years, amounting to almost 75 percent of all gasoline imports in 2023. The primary reason behind Russia’s increased dominance in Georgia’s gasoline imports is the competitive pricing of Russian gasoline, which between January and August in 2023 was almost 50 percent cheaper than Bulgarian gasoline and 35 percent cheaper than Romanian gasoline (National Statistics Office of Georgia, 2023). Given the dominance of Russian gasoline in Georgia, the end-user (retail) prices of gasoline in Georgia, are closer to gasoline prices in Russia than EU gasoline prices (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. End-user Gasoline Prices in Georgia, Russia and the EU, 2013-2022.

Source: International Energy Agency, 2023.

However, while the gasoline prices increased steadily in 2020-2022 in Russia, gasoline prices in Georgia increased sharply in the same period. This more closely replicated the EU price dynamics rather than the Russian one. The sharp price increase in gasoline raised concerns from the Georgian National Competition Agency (GNCA). According to the GNCA one possible reason behind the sharp increase in gasoline prices in Georgia could be anti-competitive behaviour among the five major companies within the gasoline market. Accordingly, the GNCA investigated the behaviour of major market players during the first eight months of 2022, finding violations of the Competition Law of Georgia. Although the companies had imported and were offering consumers different and significantly cheaper transport fuels compared to fuels of European origin, their retail pricing policies were identical and the differences in product costs were not properly reflected in the retail price level. GNCA claims the market players coordinated their actions, which could have led to increased gasoline prices in Georgia (National Competition Agency of Georgia. (2023).

Given that increased gasoline prices might lead to increased household expenditures for fuel, it is important to assess the potential impact of recent price developments on household’s budgets.

Exploring Gasoline Price Impacts

Using data from the Georgian Households Incomes and Expenditures Survey (National Statistics Office of Georgia, 2023), weekly household expenditures on gasoline and corresponding weekly incomes were computed. To evaluate the potential impact of rising gasoline prices on households, the ratio of household expenditures on gasoline to household income was used. The ratios were calculated for all households, grouped in three income groups (the bottom 10 percent, the top 10 percent and those in between), over the past decade (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Expenditure on Gasoline as Share of Income for Different Income Groups in Georgia, 2013-2022.

Source: National Statistics Office of Georgia, 2023.

Figure 2 shows that between 2013 and 2022, average households allocated 9-14 percent of their weekly income to gasoline purchases. There is no discernible increase in the ratio following the energy crisis in 2021-2022.

Considering the different income groups, the upper 10 percent income group experienced a slightly greater impact from the recent rise in gasoline prices (the ratio increased), compared to the overall population. For the lower income group, which experienced a rise in the proportion of fuel costs relative to total income from 2016 to 2021, the rate declined between 2021 and 2022. Despite the decline in the ratio for the lower-level income group, it is noteworthy that the share of gasoline expenditure in the household budget has consistently been high throughout the decade, compared to the overall population and the higher-level income group.

The slightly greater impact from the rise in gasoline prices for the upper 10 percent income group is driven by a 4 percent increase in nominal disposable income, paired with an 8 percent decline in the quantity of gasoline (Figure 3) in response to the 22 percent gasoline price increase. Clearly, for this income group, the increase in disposable income was not enough to offset the increase in the price of gasoline, increasing the ratio as indicated above.

For the lower 10 percent income group, there was a 23 percent increase in nominal disposable income, paired with a 9 percent decline in the quantity of purchased gasoline (Figure 3) in response to the 22 percent gasoline price increase . Thus, for this group, the increase in disposable income weakened the potential negative impact of increased prices, eventually lowering the ratio.

Figure 3. Average Gasoline Quantities Purchased, by Household Groups, per Week (In Liters) 2013-2022.

Source: National Statistics Office of Georgia, 2023.

Conclusion

The Georgian energy market is currently fully dependent on imports, predominantly from Russia. While sharp increases in petrol prices have been observed during the last 2-3 years, they do not seem to have significantly impacted Georgian households’ demand for gasoline. Noteworthy, the lack of impact from gasoline price increases on Georgian households’ budgets, as seen in the calculated ratio (depicted in Figure 2), can be explained by the significant rise in Georgia’s imports from the cheap Russian market during the energy crisis years. Additionally, according to the Household Incomes and Expenditures survey, there was in 2022 an annual increase in disposable income for households that purchased gasoline. However, the data also show that low-income households spend a high proportion of their income on gasoline.

Although increased prices did not significantly affect Georgian households, the extremely high import dependency and the lack of import markets diversification poses a threat to Georgia’s energy security and general economic stability. Economic dependency on Russia is dangerous as Russia traditionally uses economic relations as a lever for putting political pressure on independent economies. Therefore, expanding trade and deepening economic ties with Russia should be seen as risky. Additionally, the Russian economy has, due to war and sanctions, already contracted by 2.1 percent in 2022 and further declines are expected (Commersant, 2023).

Prioritizing actions such as diversifying the import market to find relatively cheap suppliers (other than Russia), closely monitoring the domestic market to ensure that competition law is not violated and market players do not abuse their power, and embracing green, energy-efficient technologies can positively affect Georgia’s energy security and positively impact sustainable development more broadly.

Fueling Concerns: The True Cost of Transportation in Latvia

In May 2020, as the Latvian Covid-19 crisis began, Latvia’s gasoline price was 0.99 EUR per liter. By June 2022, amid the economic effects from Russia’s war on Ukraine, the price had soared to a record high 2.09 EUR per liter, sparking public and political debate on the fairness of fuel prices and potential policy actions.

While gas station prices are salient, there are several other more hidden factors that affect the real cost of transportation in Latvia. This part of the policy paper sheds light on such costs by looking at some of its key indicators. First, we consider the historical price of transport fuel in Latvia. Second, we consider the cost of fuel in relationship to average wages and the fuel type composition of the vehicle fleet in Latvia.

The Price of Fuel in Latvia

Latvia’s nominal retail prices for gasoline (green line) and diesel (orange line) largely mirror each other, though gasoline prices are slightly higher, in part due to a higher excise duty (see  Figure 1). These local fuel prices closely follow the international oil market prices, as illustrated by the grey line representing nominal Brent oil prices per barrel.

The excise duty rate has been relatively stable in the past,  demonstrating that it has not been a major factor in fuel price swings. A potential reduction to the EU required minimum excise duty level will likely have a limited effect on retail prices. Back of the envelope calculations show that lowering the diesel excise duty from the current 0.414 EUR per liter to EU’s minimum requirement of 0.33 EUR per liter could result in approximately a 5 percent drop in retail prices (currently, 1.71 EUR per liter). This at the cost of a budget income reduction of 0.6 percent, arguably a costly policy choice.

In response to recent years’ price increase, the Latvian government opted to temporarily relax environmental restrictions, making the addition of a bio component to diesel and gasoline (0.065 and 0.095 liters per 1 liter respectively) non-mandatory for fuel retailers between 1st of June 2022 until the end of 2023. The expectation was that this measure would lead to a reduction in retail prices by approximately 10 eurocents. To this date, we are unaware of any publicly available statistical analysis that verifies whether the relaxed restriction have had the anticipated effect.

Figure 1. Nominal Retail Fuel Prices and Excise Duties for Gasoline and Diesel in Latvia (in EUR/Liter), and Nominal Brent Crude Oil Prices (in EUR/Barrel), January 2005 to August 2023.

Source: The Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, St. Louis Federal Reserve’s database, OFX Monthly Average Rates database, The Ministry of Finance of Latvia, The State Revenue Service of Latvia.

The True Cost of Transportation

Comparing fuel retail prices to average net monthly earnings gives insight about the true cost of transportation in terms of purchasing power. Figure 2 displays the nominal net monthly average wage in Latvia from January 2005 to June 2023 (grey line). During this time period the average worker saw a five-fold nominal wage increase, from 228 EUR to 1128 EUR monthly. The real growth was two-fold, i.e., the inflation adjusted June 2023 wage, in 2005 prices, was 525 EUR.

Considering fuel’s share of the wages; one liter of gasoline amounted to 0.3 percent of an average monthly wage in 2005, as compared to 0.12 percent in 2023, with diesel displaying a similar pattern. Thus, despite recent years’ fuel price increase, the two-fold increase in purchasing power during the same time period implies that current fuel prices may not be as alarming for Latvian households as they initially appeared to be.

Figure 2. Average Nominal Monthly Net Wages in Latvia and Nominal Prices of One Liter of Gasoline and Diesel as Shares of Such Wages (in EUR), January 2005 to June 2023.

Source: The Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.

Another factor to consider is the impact of technological advancements on fuel efficiency over time. The idea is simple: due to technological improvements to combustion engines, the amount of fuel required to drive 100 kilometers has decreased over time, which translates to a lower cost for traveling additional kilometers today. An EU average indicator shows that the fuel efficiency of newly sold cars improved from 7 liters to 6 liters per 100 km, respectively, in 2005 and 2019. While we lack precise data on the average fuel efficiency of all private vehicles in Latvia, we can make an informed argument in relation to the technological advancement claim by examining proxy indicators such as the type of fuel used and the average age of vehicles.

Figure 3 shows a notable change in the fuel type composition of the vehicle fleet in Latvia. Note that the decrease in the number of cars in 2011 is mainly due to a statistical correction for unused cars. At the start of the 21st century, 92 percent of Latvian vehicles were gasoline-powered and 8 percent were diesel-powered. By 2023, these proportions had shifted to 28 percent for gasoline and 68 percent for diesel. Diesel engines are more fuel efficient, usually consuming 20-35 percent less fuel than gasoline engines when travelling the same distance. Although diesel engines are generally pricier than their gasoline counterparts, they offer a cost advantage for every kilometer driven, easing the impact of rising fuel prices. A notable drawback of diesel engines however, is their lower environmental efficiency – highlighted following the 2015 emission scandal. In part due to the scandal, the diesel vehicles growth rate have dropped over the past five years in Latvia.

Figure 3. Number of Private Vehicles by Fuel Type and the Average Age of Private Vehicles in Latvia, 2001 to 2023.

Source: The Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, Latvia’s Road Traffic Safety Directorate.

Figure 3 also shows that Latvia’s average vehicle age increased from 14 years in 2011 to 15.1 years in 2023. This is similar to the overall EU trend, although EU cars are around 12 years old, on average. This means that, in Latvia, the average car in 2011 and 2023 were manufactured in 1997 and 2008, respectively. One would expect that engines from 2008 have better technical characteristics compared to those from 1997. Recent economic research show that prior to 2005, improvements in fuel efficiency for new cars sold in the EU was largely counterbalanced by increased engine power, enhanced consumer amenities and improved acceleration performance (Hu and Chen, 2016). I.e.,  cars became heavier, larger, and more powerful, leading to higher fuel consumption. However, after 2005, cars’ net fuel efficiency started to improve. As sold cars in Latvia are typically 10-12 year old vehicles from Western European countries, Latvia will gradually absorb a more fuel-efficient vehicle fleet.

Conclusion

The increase of purchasing power, a shift to more efficient fuel types and improvements in engine efficiency have all contributed to a reduction of the overall real cost of transportation over time in Latvia. The recent rise in fuel prices to historically high levels is thus less concerning than it initially appears. Moreover, a growing share of cars will not be directly affected by fuel price fluctuations in the future. Modern electric vehicles constitute only 0.5 percent of all cars in Latvia today, however, they so far account for 10 percent of all newly registered cars in 2023, with an upward sloping trend.

Still, politicians are often concerned about the unequal effects of fuel price fluctuations on individuals. Different car owners experience varied effects, especially when considering factors like income and location, influencing transportation supply and demand.

First, Latvia ranks as one of the EU’s least motorized countries, only ahead of Romania, with 404 cars per 1000 inhabitants in 2021. This lower rate of vehicle ownership is likely influenced by the country’s relatively low GDP per capita (73 percent of the EU average in 2022) and a high population concentration in its capital city, Riga (32 of the population lives in Riga city and 46 percent in the Riga metropolitcan area). In Riga, a developed public transport system reduces the necessity for personal vehicles. Conversely, areas with limited public transport options, such as rural and smaller urban areas, exhibit a higher demand for personal transportation as there are no substitution options and the average distance travelled is higher than in urban areas. Thus, car owners in these areas tend to be more susceptible to the impact of fuel price volatility.

Second, Latvia has a high Gini coefficient compared to other EU countries, indicating significant income inequality (note that the Gini coefficient measures income inequality within a population, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 indicating maximum inequality. In 2022, the EU average was 29.6 while Latvia’s Gini coefficient was 34.3, the third highest in the EU). With disparities in purchasing power, price hikes tend to disproportionately burden those with lower incomes, making fuel more costly relative to their monthly wages.

These income and location factors suggest that inhabitants in rural areas are likely the most affected by recent price hikes. Distributional effects across geography (rural vs urban) are often neglected in public discourse, as the income dimension is more visible. But both geography and income factors should be accounted for in a prioritized state support, should such be deemed necessary.

References

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.

What Can We Learn from Regional Patterns of Mortality During the Covid-19 Pandemic?

Doctor outside COVID-19 isolation center representing covid-19 pandemic mortality

Given the nature of the spread of the virus, strong regional patterns in fatal consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic are to be expected. This brief summarizes a detailed examination of the spatial correlation of deaths in the first year of the pandemic in two neighboring countries – Germany and Poland. Among high income European countries, these two seem particularly different in terms of the death toll associated with the pandemic, with many more excess deaths recorded in Poland as compared to Germany. Detailed spatial analysis of deaths at the regional level shows a consistent spatial pattern in deaths officially registered as related to Covid-19 in both countries. For excess deaths, however, we find a strong spatial correlation in Germany but little such evidence in Poland. These findings point towards important failures or neglect in the areas of healthcare and public health in Poland, which resulted in a massive loss of life.

Introduction

While almost all European countries currently refrain from imposing any Covid-19 related restrictions, the pandemic still takes a huge economic, health and social toll across societies worldwide. The regional variation of incidence and different consequences of the pandemic, observed over time, should be examined to draw lessons for ongoing challenges and future pandemics. This brief outlines a recently published paper by Myck et al. (2023) in which we take a closer look at two neighboring countries, Germany and Poland.  Within the pool of high-income countries, these are particularly different in terms of the death toll associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020 in Poland, the excess deaths rate (with reference to the 2016-2019 average) was as high as 194 per 100,000 inhabitants, over 3 times higher than the 62 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in Germany (EUROSTAT, 2022a, 2022b). While, in relative terms, the death toll officially registered as resulting from Covid-19 infections in 2020 was also higher in Poland than in Germany, the difference was considerably lower (about 75 vs 61 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively) (Ministry of Health, 2022; RKI, 2021). Population-wise Germany is 2.2 times larger than Poland and, before the pandemic struck, the countries differed also in other relevant dimensions related to the socio-demographic structure of the population, healthcare and public health. The nature of Covid-19 and the high degree of regional variation between and within the two countries along some crucial dimensions thus make Germany and Poland an interesting international case for comparison of the pandemic’s consequences. We show that the differences in the spatial pattern of deaths between Germany and Poland may provide valuable insight to the reasons behind the dramatic differences in the aggregate numbers of fatalities (Myck et al., 2023).

Regional Variation in Pandemic-Related Mortality and Pre-Pandemic Characteristics

We examine three measures of mortality in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic in 401 German and 380 Polish counties (Kreise and powiats, respectively): the officially recorded Covid-19 deaths, the total numbers of excessive deaths (measured as the difference in the number of total deaths in year 2020 and the 2015-2019 average) and the difference between the two measures. Figure 1 shows the regional distribution of these three measures calculated per 1000 county inhabitants. All examined indicators were generally much higher in Poland as compared to Germany. In Poland, deaths officially registered as caused by Covid-19 were concentrated in the central and south-eastern regions (łódzkie and lubelskie voivodeships), while in Germany they were concentrated in the east and the south (Sachsen and Bayern). Excess mortality was predominantly high in German regions with high numbers of Covid-19 deaths, but also in nearby regions. As a result, these same regions also show greater differences between excessive deaths and Covid-19 deaths. On the contrary, high excessive deaths can be noted throughout Poland, including the regions where the number of Covid-19 deaths were lower. In the case of Poland, spatial clusters are much less obvious for both excess deaths and the difference between excess and Covid-19 deaths. To further explore the degree of regional variation between and within countries with respect to the mortality outcomes, we link them to regional characteristics such as population, healthcare and economic conditions, which might be relevant for both the spread of the virus and the risk of death from Covid-19. In Figure 2 we illustrate the scope of regional disparities with examples of (a) age structure of the population, (b) the pattern of economic activity and (c) distribution of healthcare facilities in years prior to the pandemic.

Figure 1. Regional variation of death incidence in 2020: Germany and Poland.

Note: The panels share a common legend based on the quintile distribution of Covid-19 deaths, with two additional categories added at the top and bottom of the scale. County borders in white, regional borders in yellow and country border in grey. Source: Myck et al. (2023).

Figure 2. Pre-pandemic regional variation of socio-economic indicators: Germany and Poland.

Note: Two top and bottom categories in the legend cover 10% of observations each, the rest of categories cover 20% of observations each. County borders in white, regional borders in yellow and country border in grey. Source: Myck et al. (2023).

Shares of older population groups (aged 85+ years) are clearly substantially higher in Germany compared to Poland, and within both countries these shares are higher in the eastern regions. On the other hand, the proportion of labor force employed in agriculture is significantly higher in Poland and heavily concentrated in the eastern parts of the country. In Germany, this share is much lower and more evenly spread. This indicator illustrates that socio-economic conditions in 2020 were still substantially different between the two countries. The share of employed in agriculture is also important from the point of view of pandemic risks – it reflects lower levels of education, and specific working conditions that make it challenging to work remotely yet entail less personal contact and more outdoor labor. The distribution of hospital beds reflects the urban/rural divide in both countries. It is also a good proxy for detailing the differences in the overall quality of healthcare between the two countries, i.e. displaying significantly better healthcare infrastructure in German counties.

Uncovering the Spatial Nature of Excess Deaths in Germany and Poland

While spatial similarities among regions are present along many dimensions, they are particularly important when discussing such phenomena as pandemics, when infection spread affects nearby regions more than distant ones. With regard to the spatial nature of excess deaths in the first year of the pandemic, a natural hypothesis is thus that the pattern of these deaths should reflect the nature of contagion. This applies primarily to excess deaths directly caused by the pandemic (deaths resulting from infection with the virus). At the same time, some indirect consequences of Covid-19 such as limitations on the availability of hospital places and medical procedures, or lack of medical personnel to treat patients not affected by Covid-19, are also expected to be greater in regions with a higher incidence of Covid-19. On the other hand, spatial patterns are much less obvious in cases where excess deaths would result, for example, from externally or self-imposed restrictions such as access to primary health care, reduced contact with other people, diminished family support, or mental health problems due to isolation. While these should also be regarded as indirect consequences of the pandemic, as they would arguably not have realized in its absence, these consequences do not necessarily relate to the actual spread of the virus. Our in-depth analysis of the spatial distribution of the three examined mortality-related measures, therefore, allows us to make a crucial distinction in possible explanations for the dramatic differences in the observed death toll in the first year of the pandemic in Germany and Poland. We explore the degree of spatial correlation in the three mortality outcomes using multivariate spatial autoregressive models, controlling for a number of local characteristics (for more details see Myck et al., 2023).

We find that in Germany, all mortality measures show very strong spatial correlation. In Poland, we also confirm statistically significant spatial correlation of Covid-19 deaths. However, we find no evidence for such spatial pattern either in the total excess deaths or in the difference between excess deaths and Covid-19 deaths. In other words, in Poland, the deaths over and above the official Covid-19 deaths do not reflect the features to be expected during a pandemic. As the results of the spatial analysis show, these findings cannot be explained by the regional pre-pandemic characteristics but require alternative explanations. This suggests that a high proportion of deaths results from a combination of policy deficits and individual reactions to the pandemic in Poland. Firstly, during the pandemic, individuals in Poland may have principally withdrawn from various healthcare interventions as a result of fear of infection. Secondly, those with serious health conditions unrelated to the pandemic may have received insufficient care during the Covid-19 crisis in Poland, and, as a consequence, died prematurely. This may have been a result of lower effectiveness of online medical consultations, excessive limitations to hospital admissions – unjustified from the point of view of the spread of the virus, and/or worsened access to healthcare services as a result of country-wide lockdowns and mobility limitations. The deaths could also have resulted from reduced direct contact with other people (including family and friends as well as care personnel) and mental health deterioration as a consequence of (self)isolation. Our analysis does not allow us to differentiate between these hypotheses, but the aggregate excess deaths data suggests that a combination of the above reasons came at a massive cost in terms of loss of lives. The consequences reflect a very particular type of healthcare policy failure or policy neglect in the first year of the pandemic in Poland.

Our study also shows that a detailed analysis of country differences concerning the consequences of the ongoing pandemic can serve as a platform to set and test hypotheses about the effectiveness of policy responses to better tackle future global health crises.

Acknowledgement

The authors wish to acknowledge the support of the German Research Foundation (DFG, project no: BR 38.6816-1) and the Polish National Science Centre (NCN, project no: 2018/31/G/HS4/01511) in the joint international Beethoven Classic 3 funding scheme – project AGE-WELL. For the full list of acknowledgements see Myck et al. (2023).

References

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.

Intimate Partner Violence, Norms and Policies

20170306 Intimate Partner Violence - FREE Policy Brief Image

Violence against women has been called by then UN Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan, “perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. And, it is perhaps the most pervasive.” Although the spread of domestic violence is difficult to quantify precisely, this is uncontroversially an issue worthy of policy concern. As is often the case, the developing world lags behind. What can development cooperation do? A growing body of economic research, including our recent results, shows that improving women’s economic opportunities matters.

It is not easy to put a figure on the prevalence of violence against women. A recent review (Alhabib et al., 2010) reports that “the prevalence of lifetime domestic violence varies from 1.9% in Washington, US, to 70% in Hispanic Latinas in Southeast US.” As the quote shows, most of the currently available studies were conducted in the US or Europe, although the focus on the developing world is rapidly growing. Besides the geographic bias, the nature of data available on the matter further limits the precision of our knowledge. Surveys (used by the vast majority of studies), crime statistics and administrative health data each suffer from different limitations. One detail, though, consistently emerges in the big picture: the largest share of violence against women is perpetrated by a cohabiting partner or other family members, what is commonly referred to as intimate partner violence or domestic violence.

In addition to the human costs, a growing body of research shows that domestic violence has huge economic costs, including the direct costs of health, legal, police and other services. There are also broader social costs, more difficult to quantify. Domestic violence is likely to reduce women’s participation in productive employment and education, and has also been shown to affect the welfare and education of children.

Legislation and policy

While specific domestic violence laws were uncommon just a few decades ago, many countries have, over the past two decades, adopted or revised legislation. In 2008, the United Nations (UN) launched a dedicated initiative advocating for universal ”adoption and enforcement of national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls, in line with international human rights standards.”

Even though issues of implementation and enforcement are more important than the letter of these laws, it is still crucial that laws are there. In such an area where culture and social norms play a big role, legislation can function as a signal of what a society deems acceptable and coordinate behavior to ultimately change social norms. This is why for example the recent law change in Russia was strongly criticized, regardless of the alleged advantages of the new formulation in terms of practical implementation. [A/N: The reform decriminalized and reduced the punishment for attacks that result in “minor injuries”, as long as they do not happen more than once a year, from two years to 15 days in prison. Proponents claimed that declassifying this form of violence from criminal to administrative offense would lower the threshold for reporting, and avoid misapplication by the police for extortion purposes.]

Besides legislation, a broad range of policies in different areas play a role for the prevalence of domestic violence and the fight against it. The knowledge gaps in terms of prevalence hinder the investigation of the factors that amplify or dampen the incidence of domestic violence, and as a consequence make it more difficult to draw implications for policy strategies. Whatever improves the parity between genders and the status of women in a society is however likely to work in the right direction, at least in the long run. Among the policies with established effects in this direction are legal rights for women (for example in terms of political representation); the introduction of role models (for example through cable TV); an improved balance of economic resources within the household (see Jayachandran, 2015 for an overview of the literature).

Development policy

As for many other areas, developing countries tend to lag behind in this respect. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), domestic violence is considered a barrier to sustainable development, with 36%-70% prevalence (Garcia et al., 2005) and an estimated cost of 1.2%-3.7% of GDP (Duvvury et al., 2013). These estimates take into account a broad range of consequences for women and children. Besides direct and indirect health and life expectancy consequences, distorted outcomes for women include lower autonomy, affecting economic and financial decisions, effectiveness of home production, freedom of movement, education and labor market participation and healthcare decisions. Children are affected by distorted reproductive decisions, for example in regard to birth spacing, resulting in lower birth weights and worse chances of survival, and rearing decisions in general. Still these costs can be thought of as a lower bound, given the conservatism of the methodology and the gross under-reporting of violence. Although the main responsibility for policy lies of course within the country, we might still wonder what the international community can do to help, within the framework of development cooperation.

Aid and domestic violence

Even though the donor community agreed, in Addis Abeba in 2015, on a ”beyond aid” agenda to reach the 17 sustainable development goals (see UN, 2015), the main tool of development cooperation is currently still foreign aid. In recent research with Anders Olofsgård and Evelina Bonnier, we investigate the impact of aid on gender-related outcomes, and among them domestic violence. There are three reasons why we expect an impact of development aid on these outcomes. First of all, there may be a direct effect of aid-financed projects on the intended beneficiaries. Many aid projects have nowadays an explicit component targeting women and girls. Moreover, donors also agreed to gender ”mainstreaming” (Beijing Platform for Action, 1995), which implies that gender concerns should be integrated into all policy and program cycles, and that governments should engage in a dialogue on gender and development. This is because women and girls are seen as particularly vulnerable in situations of poverty and conflict, but also potentially instrumental in the general process of development (Duflo, 2012).

Second, aid projects are typically intended to benefit whole communities, and there are often positive externalities that extend beyond the immediately targeted beneficiaries and beyond the stated objectives of the project. Think for instance of immunization drives against infectious diseases (Miguel and Kremer, 2004). When a big enough group of school children are treated against, for example, intestinal worms, far larger communities are also protected due to the now lower probability of contagion, and also the indirect benefits extend to them. Projects targeting livelihoods and jobs can also increase aggregate demand in the community, benefiting those not directly involved in the projects. The ultimate level of spillover goes through economy-wide growth and development. Research shows that gender relations tend to become more equal with economic development and that women tend to gain more than men (Duflo, 2012).

Finally, beyond economic opportunities, positive spillovers can come through transmission of information and attitudes, changing social norms through personal networks, including both direct beneficiaries and others.

Figure 1. Effect of aid on domestic violence

Source: Berlin et al., forthcoming

Figure 1 is based on our empirical investigation linking the most recent Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in Uganda and Malawi to information on the geographical coordinates of aid projects placement, provided by AidData. Men in the areas exposed to aid (which we define to be within a 15 km radius of at least one aid-financed project) are 11% more likely to share the opinion that beating one’s wife is not justifiable, as compared to men not exposed to aid. This difference is even larger than for women (4%). Most importantly, women exposed to aid are less likely to have experienced some form of violence, physical (–3%), emotional (–9%) and in particular sexual (–24%). We think this might be connected to the improved status of the woman in economic terms. In fact, we find much more modest impacts from exposure to specifically gender-targeted projects (examples of which include “Community participation and development”, “Support for vulnerable groups”, “Improvement of outpatient, maternal and child health services”, “Women’s empowerment for peace”, and “Anti-trafficking for women and children”). We also find that aid presence affects labor market participation for women, but do not find this effect from gender-specific aid. This is consistent with the idea that women’s relative status within the household improves as a consequence of better economic opportunities, in this case induced by aid. Evidence supporting this mechanism is piling up, see Aizer (2010), Bobonis et al. (2013), Heath (2014), Anderberg et al. (2016), Hidrobo et al. (2016), to cite just a few. The types of activities that fall under our definition of gender-specific aid, instead, do not seem to contribute in this respect.

Conclusion

Summarizing recent research, the World Development Report 2015 called for development policy to focus on norms and mental models. These are often highly persistent and hard to change. We know that gender-related norms are important for outcomes that deeply affect the lives of women and girls. We do not know a lot about how to change them, but improving the status of women and girls in society seems to be one important piece of the puzzle. Our recent findings about the impacts of aid imply, echoing the WDR 2015, that this should be an important goal for development cooperation.

References

  • Alhabib, Samia; Ull Nur; and Roger Jones. 2010. ”Domestic Violence Against Women: Systematic Review of Prevalence Studies”, Journal of Family Violence, 25, pp 369–382.
  • Aizer, Anna, 2010. ”The Gender Wage Gap and Domestic Violence”, The American economic review. 100(4),1847-1859.
  • Anderberg, Dan; Rainer, H., Wadsworth, J., & Wilson, T., 2016. “Unemployment and Domestic Violence: Theory and Evidence.” The Economic Journal 126.597, pp 1947-1979.
  • Berlin, Maria P.; Evelina Bonnier; and Anders Olofsgård, forth. “The Donor Footprint and Gender Gaps”, UNU-WIDER Working Paper Series.
  • Bobonis, Gustavo J.; Melissa González-Brenes; and Roberto Castro, 2013. “Public Transfers and Domestic Violence: The Roles of Private Information and Spousal Control.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 5, no. 1
  • Duflo, Esther, 2012. “Women empowerment and economic development”, Journal of Economic Literature, 50(4), 1051-79.
  • Duvvury, Nata; Callan, A.; Carney, P.; and Raghavendra, S.; 2013. ”Intimate partner violence: Economic costs and implications for growth and development.” Women’s Voice, Agency, & Participation Research Series, 3.
  • García-Moreno, Claudia; Jansen, H. A. F. M.; Ellsberg, M.; Heise, L.; and Watts, C., 2005. ”WHO Multicountry Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women: summary report of initial results on prevalence, health outcomes and women’s responses.” World Health Organization. Geneva.
  • Jayachandran, Seema. 2015. “The roots of gender inequality in developing countries.” economics 7.1, pp 63-88.
  • Heath, Rachel, 2014. “Women’s access to labor market opportunities, control of household resources, and domestic violence: Evidence from Bangladesh.” World Development 57, pp 32-46.
  • Hidrobo, Melissa; Amber Peterman; and Lori Heise, 2016. “The Effect of Cash, Vouchers, and Food Transfers on Intimate Partner Violence: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Northern Ecuador.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 8.3, pp 284-303.
  • UN, 2015. ”Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” United Nations – Sustainable Development knowledge platform.

Save

Save

Save

The Political Economy of the Latvian State Since 1991: Some Reflections on the Role of External Anchors

This brief discusses the role of external anchors or goals such as WTO accession, NATO and EU accession in Latvia’s development strategy since 1991. On the one hand the external goals ‘depoliticised’ many potentially contentious areas of Latvian life. On the other hand, some developments would not have happened or would not have happened as fast without the constraints imposed by the external goals. For example liberalisation of the citizenship laws was prompted by NATO accession and the balance was tipped when the rejection of Latvia from fast-track EU accession talks in December 1997 led Latvia to abandon its quota or ‘windows’ naturalisation system. Most recently, Eurozone accession was an externally defined exit strategy from the austerity episode induced by the economic and financial crisis. Today there are no big external goals left to guide policy making. Home grown problems such as inequality require home grown solutions. But even now an external dependency persists. For example a long needed reform of the financing model of higher education has had to wait for a World Bank report published in September 2014 for action to be taken.

On January 1st, 2015 Latvia assumed the Presidency of the European Union. This milestone represents a certain level of maturity of the Latvian state and offers an opportunity for reflection on some aspects of how politics and political economy have evolved in Latvia between 1991 and today.

After Latvia regained independence in 1991, it faced (at least) two political economy challenges: one was to disentangle the economy from the Soviet system in which it had been deeply integrated, and the second, perhaps more difficult challenge, was to create an independent nation state. At a formal level, the solution to the latter challenge appeared straightforward – assume continuity of the Latvian state. Effectively this meant reinstating the pre-war constitution, which was indeed done for the most part. Symbolically this continuity was signalled by, for example, calling the first post-Soviet parliamentary elections held in June 1993 the elections for the 5th Saeima (parliament). The elections for the 4th Saeima had taken place more than 60 years earlier in October 1931.

At a practical level the challenges were more complex – Latvia had had no practical experience of statehood for nearly fifty years and mistakes were made. For example, Latvia initially diplomatically recognised Taiwan rather than the Peoples Republic of China.

There was a presumption that newly independent Latvia should become a market economy but little consensus on how this should be achieved. This is in contrast to Estonia where a group of ‘young market economy Turks’ were able to implement a kind of zero option i.e. zero tariffs, fast privatisation, etc. In Latvia there were strong protectionist sentiments and the initial privatisation was a muddled process.

Advice and advisers were abundant in post-independence Latvia. In the early 1990s, Latvia was awash with international advisers: the IMF and the World Bank were both present, the Germans were advising on a constitution for the Bank of Latvia, the British were active in public administration reform, the Danish advised on research and higher education and so on. Advice was often conflicting with different advisers promoting their own visions of structures as models that Latvia should adopt e.g. on legal and education systems. Today, we see something akin to this in the Eastern Partnership countries such as Moldova and Ukraine.

There was a general sense of the desirability of a ‘return to Europe’ but no plan or strategy. Nevertheless, even without a conscious plan a strategy emerged – namely a strategy of external anchors.

The external goals or anchors that emerged included the following:

  • World Trade Organisation, 1998
  • NATO, 29 March 2004
  • European Union, 1 May 2004
  • Eurozone, 1 January 2014

The most important effect of the external anchors was that they ‘depoliticised’ many potentially contentious areas of Latvian life. This has been particularly important given the fragmentation that has historically dominated Latvian politics. Thus, in the interwar period, no less than 32 different political parties were represented in the Saeima. In the early post-Soviet parliaments, similar tendencies were observed with newly created parties being the winners in terms of the number of seats in the first four elections. The election of 2006 was the first in which the previously largest party returned as the largest party. Between the first post-Soviet election in 1993 and the 2014 election, there have been no less than 17 governments which mostly have been uneasy coalitions of 3 or 4 partners with divergent views and interests. In this context the benefit of external anchors is self-evident.

The external anchors each contributed in different ways: WTO accession contributed to modify the protectionist sentiments that were rife in the early years of independence. Rather curiously, Estonia, which adopted a radical free trade policy right from the first days of independence, had more difficulties in achieving their WTO membership than ‘protectionist’ Latvia. Estonia was obliged to implement additional economic regulations in order to conform to the rules of the WTO and the EU (to which it was committed to join as its WTO application proceeded), and as a consequence, Estonian WTO accession was delayed to 1999. The WTO accession process also gave Latvia’s fledgling Foreign Ministry invaluable experience of multi-lateral negotiation.

Apart from the obvious security benefit, NATO membership was conditional on the creation of the Latvian anti-corruption Bureau (KNAB) and on the liberalisation of citizenship legislation, the latter because NATO was concerned about the prospect of a member state with a large number of non-citizen residents.

EU accession represents the biggest and most significant anchor. The requirement of candidate countries to accept the EU acquis communautaire took huge swathes of economic and social legislation out of the political arena. While the economic criteria for accession presented few difficulties of principle for Latvia – most people were in favour of a market economy – the requirement of respect for and protection of minorities presented problems for many Latvian politicians and liberalisation of the citizenship law was resisted until after 1997 when the rejection of Latvia from fast-track EU accession talks in December 1997 prompted a rethinking of Latvia’s intransigent position on the quota or ‘windows system’.

It is hard to over-estimate the impact of EU accession on Latvia. What would Latvia be like today if it were not a member state of the EU? There are sufficient tendencies even now in Latvia to suggest we would observe something like a tax-haven, off-shore economy, probably with weak democratic institutions. EU accession has saved the Latvian people from something like such a fate.

Even later in Latvia’s largely self-inflicted financial and economic crisis of 2008-10 it was the ‘Holy Grail’ of accession to the Eurozone that politically anchored Latvia’s famous austerity programme.

What of today? The ‘big’ external anchors are used up, and Latvia today:

  • Is the fourth poorest country in the EU with GDP per capita in 2013 at 67% of the EU average (only Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria are poorer);
  • Is a particularly unequal society – Latvia has some of the worst poverty and inequality indicators in the EU;
  • Has a shadow economy at 23.8% of GDP (data on 2013; Putniņš and Sauka (2014)); and
  • Has an internationally uncompetitive higher education system.

These and other problematic aspects of Latvian life and society are home grown and it is hard to imagine external anchors that can improve poverty or inequality, that can reduce the size of the shadow economy, or which can improve the quality of the Latvian higher education system.

Nevertheless, Latvian policy makers seem to be addicted to the external anchor concept and often find difficult to progress without it. The recent experience of reform of the financing of higher education illustrates. Latvia has historically had a funding mechanism for universities and other higher education institutions based entirely on student numbers. The lack of a link between funding and quality has resulted in a Latvian higher education system that is strong on enrolment but low on quality e.g. as measured by peer-reviewed publications. At some level this has been understood and there has been much talk of reform. Although various reports and evaluations have been published, there has been little progress on concrete reform until the Ministry of Education commissioned the World Bank in December 2013 to produce a report on funding models for Latvia. The final report was delivered in September 2014 and action has now been taken to adopt the World Bank recommended three-pillar model where the funding criteria will now include performance and innovation.

Of course, the new model will not solve all the problems of Latvian higher education – far from it – but it illustrates the pervasive nature of policy makers seeming dependency on external anchors.

References

  • Putniņš, Tālis & Arnis Sauka (2014). “Shadow Economy Index for the Baltic Countries. 2009-2013,” The Centre for Sustainable Business at SSE Riga, May 2014.