Many social transfers seek to improve children’s schooling, as an investment in human capital and to break the intergenerational transmission of poverty (Barrientos & Niño-Zarazúa, 2011). Impacts of social protection on schooling have included, at both primary and secondary levels, increased enrolment and attendance, better grade progression, and decreased drop-out (ibid.).
A 2013 systematic review by Baird et al. (cited by more recent reviews as ‘still the most thorough prior analysis’ on social assistance educational outcomes and conditionality (Ralston et al., 2017: 23)) finds that both conditional and unconditional cash transfers have positive effects on schooling enrolment and attendance. The effect sizes are larger for conditional transfers, but the difference is not significant (Baird et al., 2013). From their review of social assistance programmes in Africa, Ralston et al. (2017: 22) find a mean effect on enrolment of 7% relative to baseline (from 13 programmes) and a 6% improvement in attendance (from 15 programmes), although neither result is statistically significant. They caution that many programmes in Africa do not achieve impacts on education as strong as conditional cash transfer programmes in Latin America, including Bolsa Família in Brazil and Prospera in Mexico (ibid.: 3). 3ie’s systematic review of programmes for improving school participation and learning in low- and middle-income countries found that of all the different types of interventions, cash transfer programmes result in the largest and most consistent improvements in school participation (Snilstveit et al., 2015: iv). Social protection programmes that do not focus explicitly on schooling also have positive effects; for example, pensions are often used to pay grandchildren’s school fees (Barrientos & Niño-Zarazúa, 2011). However, empirical literature on the correlation between social insurance benefits (including pensions) and children and youth education outcomes is scarce, with mixed findings (OECD, 2019: 76).
Bastagli et al. (2016: 7) find that while the available evidence highlights a clear link between cash transfer receipt and increased school attendance, there is less evidence and a less clear-cut pattern of impact for longer-term learning (as measured by test scores) and cognitive development outcomes. A study on long-term effects of conditional cash transfers in Latin America also finds positive long-term effects on schooling but far less so on learning and cognitive skills (Molina Millán et al., 2019: 119). However, it is difficult to know whether these findings are due to an actual lack of impact or because of the methodological challenges all long-term evaluations face (ibid.).
A 3ie systematic review found that school feeding is possibly one of the few interventions that shows promise for improving both school participation and learning (along with community-based monitoring) (Snilstveit et al., 2015: v). The effects were stronger in areas where there was high food insecurity and low participation in schools, while local ownership may improve outcomes (ibid., 2015: 94–95). Effects were smaller in areas without malnutrition and where school participation rates are already high (ibid.: 443).
Snilstveit, B., Stevenson, J., Phillips, D., Vojtkova, M., Gallagher, E., Schmidt, T., Jobse, H., Geelen, M., Pastorello, M., & Eyers, J. (2015). Interventions for improving learning outcomes and access to education in low- and middle- income countries: a systematic review (3ie Systematic Review 24). London: International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie).
A 3ie systematic review looked at interventions for improving learning outcomes and access to education in low- and middle-income countries. The review synthesised evidence from 216 programmes reaching 16 million children across 52 low- and middle-income countries. Cash transfer programmes were found to ‘have the most substantial and consistent beneficial effects on school participation’ but do not ‘appear to lead to any improvement in learning outcomes’ (p. iv). Other promising interventions ‘for improving school participation outcomes include community-based monitoring, new schools and infrastructure and school feeding’ (ibid.). Structured pedagogy programmes have the largest and most consistent positive average effects on learning outcomes. A summary can be accessed here.
Baird, S., Ferreira, F. H. G., Özler, B., & Woolcock, M. (2013). Relative effectiveness of conditional and unconditional cash transfers for schooling outcomes in developing countries: A systematic review (Campbell Systematic Reviews 2013:8). The Campbell Collaboration.
See summary in Conditionality – Key texts.
Barrientos, A., & Niño-Zarazúa, M. (2011). Social transfers and chronic poverty: Objectives, design, reach and impact. Manchester: Chronic Poverty Research Centre.
This report focuses on three policy questions: (1) do programme objectives address chronic poverty? (2) are programme design features – the identification and selection of beneficiaries, delivery mechanisms and complementary interventions – effective in reaching chronically poor households? (3) do social assistance programmes benefit the chronically poor? The broad conclusions are that social protection does reach the chronically poor, and that there are significant improvements in poverty reduction. The report examines the types of programme and design features, which are shown to have more or less impact.
Molina Millán, T., Barham, T., Maluccio, J., & Stampini, M. (2019). Long-term impacts of conditional cash transfers: Review of the evidence. The World Bank Research Observer, 34(1), 119–159.
Ralston, L., Andrews, C., & Hsiao, A. (2017). The impacts of safety nets in Africa: What are we learning? (Policy Research Working Paper 8255). Washington, DC: World Bank.
Bastagli, F., Hagen-Zanker, J., Harman, L., Barca, V., Sturge, G., & Schmidt, T. (2016). Cash transfers: What does the evidence say? A rigorous review of programme impact and of the role of design and implementation features. London: ODI.