In October 2018, KDI School’s Professor Booyuel Kim had the honor of co-publishing a journal article in the distinguished Science magazine. This is a matter of prestige for KDI School, not only in the domain of Public Policy and Management, but also in the field of Academics as a whole.
Professor Kim is a development economist who has specialized in education and health issues for developing countries. He has pursued this research interest in Malawi, one of the least developed countries since 2010. Titled “The role of education interventions in improving economic rationality”, the article explores the connection between education and economic decision-making. More specifically, Professor Kim’s hypothesis is that education can improve the quality of economic decision-making.
This study on which the article is based was jointly conducted with Prof. Hyuncheol Bryant Kim (Department of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University), Prof. Syngjoo Choi (Department of Economics, Seoul National University), and Prof. Cristian Pop-Eleches (School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University).
The study set out to answer the question as to whether human beings are born as rational decision-makers or are they trained to be so. The study found that education can be leveraged as a tool to help enhance an individual’s economic decision-making quality, or economic rationality.
“Using a randomized controlled trial of education support and laboratory experiments that mimic real-life examples, we established causal evidence that an education intervention increases not only the educational outcomes but also economic rationality in terms of measuring how consistently people make decisions to seek their economic goals,” said the research team.
The team examined this hypothesis by participating in an NGO-organized randomized controlled trial of education support in Malawi, which provided financial support for education in a sample of close to 3,000 female students belonging to the ninth and tenth grades. The researchers also conducted a long-term follow-up survey that measured educational outcomes and implemented financially-incentivized laboratory experiments that measured their decision-making quality based on consistency with utility maximization and an individual’s attempt to obtain the greatest value possible from a decision as the criteria for economic rationality.
“We found that those who took part in the education intervention had higher scores of economic rationality, suggesting that education is a tool for enhancing an individual’s economic decision-making quality,” the research team said.
There is a popular idea representing this position within behavioral economics called “nudges”, proposed by Nobel Prize Winner Richard Thaler. He describes “nudges” as means of helping people make better choices that are often behaviorally tailored to particular economic contexts.
“We take a different stand. Proper policy tools can enhance general capabilities of decision making,” the research team pointed out. “Education can better equip people for high-quality decision-making for their lives. Governments must never neglect investments in the human capital of their citizens,” they said, noting that Malawi is among the countries ranked lowest in the world in terms of human capital.
“In addition, this evidence provides an additional rationale for investment in education in resource-constrained settings such as Malawi and other developing nations,” they added.
We believe that Prof. Kim and his colleagues will continue to find further success in researching important aspects of the relationship between education and development.
 Kim, Hyuncheol Bryant, Syngjoo Choi, Booyuel Kim, and Cristian Pop-Eleches. “The role of education interventions in improving economic rationality.” Science 362, no. 6410 (2018): 83-86.