A Quantitative Measure of Hope: A working paper

Over the past year an a half I’ve been working as a Research Assistant with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy – Burma. Housed at Michigan State University, the project is generously funded by USAID’s Bureau of Food Security. It has been a tremendous experience. I’ve traveled to Myanmer twice (see blog posts and pictures here, here, and here), I’ve provided technical support for both rural household survey administration and calculating price volatility, and was able to create and implement my own survey aiming to quantitatively measure a concept commonly known as hope.

This work on measuring hope is what ultimately became my MS Thesis. I’ve written quite a bit about this work. First in the Economics That Really Matters blog, then in the Global Food For Thought blog, and in USAID’s Agrilinks blog, along with many other of my own blog posts along the way. This was my first real academic research project that I was able to oversee from start to finish. It was a lot of work, but an experience I found out that I particularly enjoy.

You can find my entire MS Thesis posted on the MSU AFRE website. As is often the case with these things, the Thesis itself became quite long. So since its completion, I’ve been trying to break the whole document down into shorter, more journal-style papers. I’m happy to say, I’ve succeeded on one such paper so far:

Measuring Hope: A Quantitative Approach with Validation in Rural Myanmar. Here is the abstract:

Development economists are increasingly paying attention to the role of hope in observed behaviors relating to investment, production, and consumption decisions of the poor. Although several studies have examined how the concepts of hope and aspirations may fit into existing economic theories, empirical studies have yet to validate a reliable approach to measure hope. This paper seeks to fill this gap by adapting a quantitative approach to measure hope, developed by psychologists, to the context of rural Myanmar. We present three empirical tests of measurement validity. This study finds that the hope measurements seem to be correlated with expected determinants in a way supported by theory, are similar but distinct from other psychological concepts, and are positively correlated with welfare perceptions. This study provides an initial foundation for viable and reliable quantitative measurements of hope in developing countries and identifies future avenues of research to improve the measurement of hope.

We’ve just submitted this paper to a journal, but if anyone has any comments or feedback, my co-author and I would love to hear them.

5 responses to “A Quantitative Measure of Hope: A working paper”

  1. I probably should read the full paper. But a quick question: what is the difference between aspirations and hope. As you know, there are several papers that examined and measured the role of aspirations. Just wondering

    1. Great question Asif! In this paper we define hope as a function of aspirations, agency, and pathways. Thus, aspirations are an element of hope. Most theory suggests that “high” aspirations are not sufficient for inspiring future-oriented behavior. (See Debraj Ray (2006) and his inverted U-curve relationship between aspirations and effort). Rather aspirations need to be coupled with (i) a belief in one’s own ability and (ii) knowledge of the necessary steps to achieve said aspiration.

  2. […] paper to read. Over the previous two years, I’ve been working on a project in which we were aiming to measure hope. Any time I presented this work, either in my own department or at professional meetings, I had to […]

  3. May i ask you a one line definition of hope in economics distinct from the one in positive psychology?

    1. I think economics is still working through formalizing a definition. For a nice recent paper on the topic, I’d suggest: Lybbert and Wydick 2018 (link https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/696968) In my paper here, we basically took insights from social psychology literature and adapted them to the context of rural Myanmar.

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