Demand for Urban Exploration: Evidence from Nairobi

Growing cities in low- and middle-income countries offer increased market access, yet this requires that residents explore their surroundings. This is not always the case. In a sample of 800 casual workers in Nairobi, the median person commutes 7.8 km but has never been to 1 in 5 of neighbourhoods within that distance. We offer short-term employment to these workers and experimentally induce familiarity by training participants in either familiar or unfamiliar locations. We measure willingness to work in different locations across the city. Participants need to be paid more to work in a neighbourhood that is unfamiliar at baseline. The premium is equivalent to 3.5 km of distance or to 113 Ksh (23% of the median daily wage), and this is fully offset after one visit. Participant beliefs about labour market opportunities and safety in unfamiliar neighbourhoods are initially worse on average, but converge after one visit. We consider two additional potential barriers to exploration: forecasting errors and the attentional salience of familiar neighbourhoods.

Written with Joshua T. Dean, Gabriel Kreindler, Oluchi Mbonu