Cycling to School: Increasing Secondary School Enrollment for Girls in India

A program in India that provided female students with access to bicycles increased secondary school enrollment for girls and narrowed the gender gap in secondary school enrollment.


While gender gaps in primary schooling have decreased, significant gender gaps in secondary schooling remain, especially in adolescent years. Demand-side interventions, such as cash transfers which reduce the costs of attending school, have been found to improve girls’ educational attainment,  but they tend to be costly. Supply-side interventions, such as constructing more schools to reduce the access cost of attending school, have been found to have positive impact on enrollment. However, building a lot of schools to promote access can lead to schools that are sub-scale.  This can compromise the quality of education since adequately staffing schools (with a teacher for each grade and for different subjects in secondary schools) and providing adequate infrastructure requires a minimum scale. Thus, it is necessary to identify cost-effective and scalable strategies for increasing secondary school enrollment and completion rates for girls in developing countries.

In Bihar, India’s most populous state with over 100 million people, nearly 90 percent of villages had a primary school as of late 2007, however less than 12 percent of them had a secondary school. Therefore, there is a pronounced decrease in girls’ school enrollment at ages 14 and 15, when girls transition to secondary schooling.

In 2006, the state of Bihar launched the “Cycle program” to provide all girls who enrolled in grade 9 with funds (approximately $45) to buy a bicycle, making it easier for them to travel to secondary school. This program featured both a demand-side and supply-side intervention. It increased the demand for schooling (demand-side intervention) since they made qualifying for the bicycle benefit conditional on enrolling in school. It also improved school access (supply-side intervention) since the bicycle reduced the time, distance, and safety costs of attending school.

Researchers analyzed a large representative nationwide household survey from 2007-2008 (18 months after the launch of the Cycle program) that contained data on education history of all residents to measure the impact of the Cycle program on female secondary school (grade 9) enrollment.


The Cycle program in Bihar increased enrollment of female students in secondary school and narrowed the gender gap in secondary school enrollment rates. Bicycles reduced the time, distance, and safety costs of attending school, particularly for girls who lived 3 km or further away from a school.

  • Exposure to the Cycle program increased the probability of a 14 or 15 year-old girl’s enrollment or completion of grade 9 by 32% (a 5.2 percentage point increase on a base age-appropriate enrollment rate of 16.3%).
    • The increase in secondary education induced by the program may have longer term effects on outcomes such as age of marriage and age of birth of first child.
  • The Cycle program narrowed the pre-existing gender gap in age-appropriate secondary school enrollment between boys and girls by 40% (or 13 percentage points)
  • The Cycle program increased the number of girls who appeared for the secondary school certificate (SSC) exam by 18% and increased the number of girls who passed the exam by 12%, showing that the program impacted not only enrollment but also engagement in school.

Overall, the Cycle program was much more cost effective at increasing female secondary school enrollment than an equivalent-valued cash transfer program in South Asia. These findings suggest that modifying the design of conditional transfer programs can more effectively alleviate constraints on school participation and significantly increase the cost-effectiveness of such programs. The Cycle program’s large positive effects on female secondary schooling, relative ease of implementation, cost effectiveness, and high visibility and political popularity suggest that this may be a promising policy option to boost female secondary school enrollment in other developing countries as well.


The authors construct a triple difference (DDD) estimate of program impact by comparing the double difference in the state of Bihar with the same double difference in the neighboring state of Jharkhand (which did not have the Cycle program). The use of Jharkhand as a comparison group for Bihar is especially credible since the two states were part of the unified state of Bihar until 2001 and were only administratively bifurcated into two states in 2001.

The main source of data was the third wave of the Indian District Level Health Survey (DLHS-3) conducted in 2007–2008, 18 months after the Cycle program was launched. The DLHS-3 is nationally representative and is one of the largest household surveys ever carried out in India, with a sample size of around 720,000 households across 601 districts in India. The data includes household socioeconomic characteristics and a roster of all members in the household, their education attainment, and current schooling status. Additionally, the village-level questionnaire in the DLHS includes information on all educational facilities available in the village, and the distance to the nearest school of each type that is not available in the village.
Girls aged 14 or 15 were categorized as the “treated” cohort, and girls aged 16 or 17 were categorized as the “control” cohort since they would not have participated in the program. Therefore, the sample includes households that have at least one member aged 14 to 17 living in the states of Bihar or Jharkhand. Boys of the same ages in Bihar served as a control group for the Cycle program because they would have been exposed to all the other changes that were taking place in Bihar during the period, but they were not eligible for this program.

Additionally, two other datasets were also used. One included school-level secondary school enrollment data by gender from 2002 to 2006 for both Bihar and Jharkhand. Since this data contained inflated enrollment rates, it was not used to estimating treatment effects, but it was used to test for parallel trends in the growth rate of enrollment of boys and girls in Bihar and Jharkhand. The second dataset included official information from the state exam boards on the number of students who appeared in and passed the secondary school certificate (SSC) examination in Bihar and Jharkhand.

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