Educational Impacts and Cost-Effectiveness of Conditional Cash Transfer Programs in Developing Countries
We meta-analyze for impact and cost-effectiveness 94 studies from 47 conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs in low- and middle-income countries worldwide, focusing on educational outcomes that include enrollment, attendance, dropout and school completion. To conceptually guide and interpret the empirical findings of our meta-analysis, we present a simple economic framework of household decision-making that generates predictions, all else constant, for the association between certain program context and design characteristics, and impact estimates. We also present a simple model for the analysis of program costs, using it to compute cost-effectiveness estimates for a subsample of CCT programs. For all schooling outcomes, we find strong support for heterogeneity in impact, transfer-effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness estimates. Our meta-analytic results of impact and transfer-effectiveness estimates provide support to some – but not all – of the predictions from the household decision-making model. With the caveat of a limited sample size, however, it is unclear whether programs that are most cost-efficient (i.e., programs with low cost-transfer ratios) are also the most transfer-effective (i.e., programs producing the greatest educational impact per dollar of transfer). Other notable findings are highlighted below.
- Greater transfer amounts are not statistically correlated with greater educational effect sizes for any outcome or schooling level.
- We find no empirical support for the prediction that expected behavioral effects stemming from a rise in permanent income differ from those emerging from a rise in current income.
- Educational effect size estimates from long-standing national CCT programs are statistically indistinguishable from those of pilot one- or two-year CCT program.
- We also do not find evidence consistent with stronger effects for transfers that target mothers.
- For some educational outcomes, we find that effect sizes are greater when other schooling conditions, such as grade promotion or test scores, are imposed on beneficiaries, beyond the typical requirements of enrollment and minimum attendance.