Many policymakers are interested in the role of conditions in cash transfer programs. Do they improve outcomes of interest more than money alone? Are there trade-offs? Is there a role for conditions for political rather than technocratic reasons? It’s easy to extend the list of questions for a good while. However, before one can get to these questions, there is a much more basic question that needs to be answered (for any policymaker contemplating running one of these programs at any level): “What do you mean by a conditional (or unconditional) cash transfer program?”
CCTs, simply put, “are cash payments to poor households that meet certain behavioral requirements, generally related to children’s health care and education” (The World Bank). In other words, money is given to a qualified household if it can be demonstrated that children are in school or brought in for regular medical check-ups. It is, therefore, conditionality at the individual household level.
A massive media content analysis, conducted on thousands of newspaper articles over several years, suggests that press coverage was largely favorable toward the project. Positive and neutral stories outnumbered negative stories by a large margin over a five year period.
|Some recipients of a scholarship given to young girls in Cambodia at the end of primary school. The program has had a significant effect on girls’ secondary enrollment. (photo by Deon Filmer)
Those of us who have had the pleasure of raising an adolescent girl – and survived the experience – might blanch at the thought of a program to stimulate education that gave her, rather than the doting parent, a grant equivalent to 3% of the family’s average per capita monthly consumption. And yet, that’s exactly what a policy experiment, conducted by my friend Berk Ozler and other researchers, did in Malawi. What’s more, they found that raising these girl-targeted cash transfers increased school attendance much more than raising those given to parents.
Empowering women with resources has long been recognized as a powerful weapon to safeguard investments in human capital. Research has shown that transfers to women have a more powerful effect than to men in raising school attendance and ensuring that kids are immunized. But more recent research, like Berk et al.’s, is showing that policies aimed directly at adolescent girls and young women may have an even greater effect, not only in encouraging schooling but in ensuring reproductive health. Pascaline Dupas’ policy experiment in Kenya showed that simply giving young women information showing that older men were more likely to be HIV-positive led them to eschew partnering with ‘sugar daddies’.
In the last decade, conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs are probably the key social policy innovation around the world and in the East Asia and Pacific region. The targeted programs offer money to poor households on the condition they make pre-specified investments in the human capital of children. Typically, this involves school enrollment and attendance, and basic preventive health activities such as periodic checkups, growth monitoring, and vaccinations for young children.