Background. By 2009, two decades of war and widespread displacement left the majority of the population of Northern Uganda impoverished. Methods. This study used a cluster-randomized design to test the hypothesis that a poverty alleviation program would improve economic security and reduce symptoms of depression in a sample of mostly young women. Roughly 120 villages in Northern Uganda were invited to participate. Community committees were asked to identify the most vulnerable women (and some men) to participate. The implementing agency screened all proposed participants, and a total of 1800 were enrolled. Following a baseline survey, villages were randomized to a treatment or wait-list control group. Participants in treatment villages received training, start-up capital, and follow-up support. Participants, implementers, and data collectors were not blinded to treatment status. Results. Villages were randomized to the treatment group (60 villages with 896 participants) or the wait-list control group (60 villages with 904 participants) with an allocation ration of 1:1. All clusters participated in the intervention and were included in the analysis. The intent-to-treat analysis included 860 treatment participants and 866 control participants (4.1% attrition). Sixteen months after the program, monthly cash earnings doubled from UGX 22 523 to 51 124, non-household and non-farm businesses doubled, and cash savings roughly quadrupled. There was no measurable effect on a locally derived measure of symptoms of depression. Conclusions. Despite finding large increases in business, income, and savings among the treatment group, we do not find support for an indirect effect of poverty alleviation on symptoms of depression.
Labor-intensive public works programs are important social protection tools in low- income settings, intended to supplement the income of poor households and improve public infrastructure. In this evaluation of the Malawi Social Action Fund, an at- scale, government-operated program, across- and within-village randomization is used to estimate effects on food security and use of fertilizer. There is no evidence that the program improves food security, and suggestive evidence of negative spillovers to untreated households. These disappointing results hold even under modifications to the design of the program to offer work during the lean rather than harvest season or increase the frequency of payments.
For policy purposes, it is important to understand the relative efficacy of various methods to target the poor. Recently, participatory methods have received particular attention. We examine the effectiveness of a hybrid two-step process that combines a participatory wealth ranking and a verification household survey, relative to two proxy means tests (the Progress out of Poverty Index and a housing index), in Honduras and Peru. The methods we examine perform similarly by various metrics. They all identify most accurately the poorest and the wealthiest households but perform with mixed results among households in the middle of the distribution. Ultimately, given similar performance, the analysis suggests that costs should be the driving consideration in choosing across methods.
A multifaceted livelihood program that provided ultra-poor households with a productive asset, training, regular coaching, access to savings, and consumption support led to large and lasting impacts on their standard of living across a diverse set of contexts and implementing partners.
Investing in women is said to be a key to development. In this view, providing education, a cow, or the ingredients for a business will result in great things: increases in income, empowerment, social inclusion, and improved mental health. In this study, IPA researchers studied whether the most vulnerable women could start and sustain small businesses. They evaluated a program by AVSI Uganda, the Women’s INcome Generating Support (WINGS) program. WINGS offered extremely poor people basic business skills training, ongoing mentorship, and cash grants with a purchasing power of $375. The message: the poorest women have high returns to cash, training and supervision. Not only can cash-centered programs help the poorest start and sustain microenterprises, but they do so cost-effectively. Moving ahead, there are ways to improve cost-effectiveness, and programs should note that higher incomes alone may not address women’s social and personal challenges.
We present results from six randomized control trials of an integrated approach to improve livelihoods among the very poor. The approach combines the transfer of a productive asset with consumption support, training, and coaching plus savings encouragement and health education and/or services. Results from the implementation of the same basic program, adapted to a wide variety of geographic and institutional contexts and with multiple implementing partners, show statistically significant cost-effective impacts on consumption (fueled mostly by increases in self-employment income) and psychosocial status of the targeted households. The impact on the poor households lasted at least a year after all implementation ended. It is possible to make sustainable improvements in the economic status of the poor with a relatively short-term intervention.
Cash transfers directed to female caregivers in Nicaragua led to gains in child-development outcomes that persisted beyond the duration of the program.
Early childhood is a critical period for investment in human development, the circumstances of which can have lifelong impacts. Physical, cognitive, or behavioral delays in development can result in long-term negative effects on health, educational attainment, labor-market outcomes, and other indicators of well-being.
Conditional cash transfer (cct) programs are one way to help parents who lack resources invest more in their children. These programs provide families with cash grants as long as they undertake certain activities such as having their children attend regular health check-ups. While there is a large body of evidence on the short-term impacts of ccts on children’s development, there is less evidence on their long-term impacts. To better understand the effects of ccts later in life, researchers evaluated two distinct cct programs in Nicaragua.
In the first evaluation, researchers Tania Barham (University of Colorado Boulder), J-PAL affiliate Karen Macours (Paris School of Economics), and John A. Maluccio (Middlebury College), examined the long-term impacts of ccts on child development. In this study, they tested whether there is a critical window of time (the first 1,000 days from in utero to age two) for cognitive and physical development by taking advantage of the random assignment of households to receive cash transfers in either an “early” or “late" treatment group. In the second evaluation, Karen Macours, Norbert Schady (Inter-American Development Bank), and Renos Vakis (World Bank) studied a cct program with three variations to understand the channels through which different program components impacted early childhood development.
Compared to the number of randomized evaluations that have been conducted on cash transfers in Latin America, evaluations on cash grant interventions in African settings are few. However, the recent studies that have been conducted in Africa help to answer several key questions about cash grants.
In many developing countries, women frequently leave school, marry, and start having children at a young age. In India, nearly half of women now in their early twenties were married before the age of eighteen. Girls tend to drop out of school earlier than boys, and women are far less likely to work for pay or work outside of the home. These outcomes indicate low social and economic progress of women and may have consequences for poverty and well-being.
The availability of employment opportunities for women may play a role in influencing these outcomes. Parents may not invest as much in their daughters’ education as their sons’ if they anticipate fewer employment opportunities for educated women than men. Would parents change how they invest in their daughters and would young women’s aspirations change, if they learned that new, better job opportunities are available? When people learn about well-paying jobs for women, can this change decisions about young women continuing their education, entering the labor market, and delaying getting married and having children?
J-PAL affiliate Robert Jensen (University of California, Los Angeles) conducted a randomized evaluation in rural India to test the impact of spreading awareness about jobs for educated young women in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, and subsequently helping qualified women get BPO jobs by offering free recruiting services. The purpose of the evaluation was to test whether increased employment opportunities for women can affect lifecycle work and family transitions, rather than whether recruiting services as a policy instrument (which do not actually create jobs) can help address these outcomes.
Restructuring a traditional cash transfer program in Colombia significantly increased re-enrollment in secondary school without weakening students’ incentives to attend on a daily basis.
This study reports the results of a randomized impact evaluation of a program designed to reach the poorest of the poor and elevate them out of extreme poverty. The program, which includes the direct transfer of productive assets (e.g. livestock) and additional training, was initially developed in Bangladesh, where it has reached thousands of beneficiaries, and is being piloted and studied in over seven countries. The results of this study, based on a pilot in India, indicate that this intervention succeeds in elevating the economic situation of the poorest. We find that the program results in a 15% increase in household consumption and has positive impacts on other measures of household wealth and welfare, such as assets and emotional well-being. Our results are consistent with the notion that the wealth transfer, in the form of asset distribution, directly increased consumption among beneficiary households through the liquidation of assets, but other sources of income, notably from small enterprises, appear to have contributed to the overall increase in consumption as well.