The Effect of Gender-Targeted Transfers: Experimental Evidence From India
Evidence from India suggests gender-targeted cash transfer programs can empower women in household decision-making processes but have little effect on household expenditures, savings, income, or nutrition.
Around the world, many cash transfer and welfare programs target women as recipients. Initiatives range from universal child support programs in higher-income countries to conditional cash transfer programs in lower-income countries.
Two core arguments are often used to justify gender-targeted cash transfers. First, there is the argument that targeting women leads to consumption behaviors that are beneficial for children. The second argument is that targeting women contributes to gender equality by empowering female recipients. Despite the prevalence of cash transfer programs targeting women as recipients, there exists little empirical evidence that gender-targeted transfers advance child welfare or gender equality.
In this study, the authors evaluated the impact of gender-targeted cash transfers on the finances of rural households in Chhattisgarh, a Central-Eastern State of India. To do so, they randomly allocated weekly unconditional transfers to a man or a woman within a household and studied the effects across five variables: household expenditures, income, saving, nutrition, and decision-making processes.
The study found no evidence for the cash transfer program's impact on shifts in household consumption but did find evidence for its impact on gender equalization within household decision-making processes.
- Female recipients of the cash transfer program played a greater role in household decision-making processes than the spouses of male recipients.
- The share of decisions made by women alone remained stable before and after the cash transfer program. According to men, the share of decisions made solely by the wife was 1.8% prior to and 2% after the intervention. According to women, the share of such decisions was 18.4% prior and 16.2% after the intervention.
- The share of decisions made by men alone was lower after the cash transfer program. Prior to the intervention, 28.4% of men reported making decisions alone while only 18.8% of men reported doing so after the intervention. Prior to the intervention, 14.5% of women reported that the men in their household made decisions alone while only 7.1% of women reported this after the intervention.
- The share of decisions made by men and women together was higher after the cash transfer program. Men reported shared decision making in their households at a rate of 55.8% prior to and 64.7% after the intervention. Women reported shared decision making in their households at a rate of 53.4% prior to and 64.2% after the intervention.
- Researchers found no statistically significant difference between male and female cash transfer recipients in terms of household expenditures, savings, income, and nutritional content of food purchases.
- Female recipients exhibited greater spending on female-specific products like hair oil, lotion, perfumes, and saris (all within the same broader spending category).
The findings of this study suggest that a core reason for gender-targeted transfers may be women's empowerment, rather than shifts in household expenditures, savings, income, or nutrition.
The authors partnered with Basix Sub-K, a financial inclusion company for banks, to select 18 villages for the study from three districts in Chhattisgarh. In each village, participants were randomly selected from the pool of villagers who met the following eligibility criteria: they were heads of households or the head's spouse, had no plans to move during the course of the study, and no one within their household held a formal bank account with a financial institution beyond the local banking agent. One person was selected per household, and the selection of either the man or the woman of the household was randomized.
Once selected, participants completed a baseline survey answering questions about themselves and their households, including decision-making processes. Researchers then began a series of up to 17 interviews conducted over 24 weeks, which provided information on the finances of the participants and their households, including income, expenditures, and savings.
After each interview, participants received 150 rupees (approximately $2 USD, or equivalent to one day's wage). Participants without a bank account were paid in cash, and those with an account were randomly selected to be paid in cash or via their account. Basix Sub-K provided access to all household transactions made during the survey period. At the end of the program, participants completed an end line survey, which provided insight into the impact of the cash transfer intervention.
The first baseline survey was conducted in the fall of 2013, and subsequent interviews were conducted between February and May, and July and August 2014. The study's analysis is based on results from 531 households, representing 266 male participants and 265 female participants across 17 villages.