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Do recent reforms of Mexico's nationwide cash transfer program affect children's work and school attendance? (Universita di Roma Tor Vergata et al. 2016)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Universita di Roma Tor Vergata, Centre for Economic and International Studies, the International Labour Organisation, UNICEF and the World Bank. (2016). Do recent reforms of Mexico's nationwide cash transfer program affect children's work and school attendance? Understanding Children's Work (UCW) Working Paper Series. Rome, Italy: UCW.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the reformed Prospera cash transfer program on child work and education outcomes.
  • The study used a randomized controlled trial to compare outcomes between children in households that received the cash transfer with children in households that did not in two urban areas in Mexico. Outcomes were compared between the treatment and control groups at six months and 18 months post-intervention.
  • The study found that for households with eligible primary and secondary school children, the rates of children working and working for pay were significantly higher in the treatment group than in the control group at six months post-intervention. The study also found that for households with only eligible secondary school children, the rates of school attendance were significantly lower among children in the treatment group than the control group at 18 months post-intervention.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that any estimated effects are attributable to the reformed Prospera cash transfer program, and not to other factors.

Features of the Intervention

Since 1997, the Prospera cash transfer program provided benefits to support households’ investment in children’s education, health, and nutrition. The program began in Mexican rural areas as PROGRESA and was modified and renamed Oportunidades in 2000. The PROGRESA/ Oportunidades program provided nutrition supplements, cash transfers for household food consumption, and cash transfers for children in primary and secondary school grades conditional upon school attendance. The Prospera cash transfer program was reformed for urban areas and provided stipends that were 25 percent higher than the original stipends for secondary school participation. However, unlike previous iterations of the program, Prospera did not provide stipends for primary school. The program also provided other benefits such as transfers for food and energy use.

Features of the Study

The study was conducted in two urban areas in Mexico, where 11,250 households were randomly assigned to the treatment or control group (two thirds assigned to the treatment group and one third assigned to the control group). Households were eligible to participate if they did not previously receive the cash transfer. Households in the treatment group received the reformed Prospera program and households in the control group could participate in the original version of the program, which had a primary school stipend and a lower secondary school stipend. The authors collected two waves of survey data. The first wave of data was collected from 7,880 households six months after the start of the program. The second wave of data collection occurred 18 months after the start of the program with 6,843 households completing the survey.

The authors restricted the analysis sample to households with children aged 5-17. The authors created and analyzed four household subgroups: households without eligible children to receive a primary or secondary scholarship; households with eligible children to receive a primary scholarship; households with eligible children to receive the secondary scholarship; and households with children who are eligible to receive both. The authors used regression models to compare outcomes between the treatment and control group, controlling for child and household characteristics, such as child age and gender, and household head's history of attending school. Outcomes included worked in the past year, work currently, current work for pay, and school attendance.

Findings

Working children/Child labor

  • For households with children eligible to receive both primary and secondary school scholarships, the authors found that Prospera significantly increased work for pay by 1.5 percentage points and current work by 1.7 percentage points at six months post-intervention.
  • The study found no other significant effects on child work outcomes at six or 18 months post-intervention.

Education (School participation/enrollment)

  • For households with children eligible to receive only the secondary school scholarships, the authors found that Prospera significantly decreased school attendance by four percentage points at 18 months post-intervention.
  • The study found no other significant effects on school attendance at six or 18 months post-intervention.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The overall attrition rate was 16-19 percent depending on the subgroup (those eligible for a primary school scholarship, those eligible for a secondary scholarship, and those not eligible for either). Since overall attrition was similar between the treatment and control groups, the authors state that there is no indication that the results are affected by differential attrition. They also conducted analyses to determine if the children and households in the control and treatment groups were similar, and they found few differences that were small in magnitude.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that any estimated effects are attributable to the reformed Prospera cash transfer program, and not to other factors.

Reviewed by CLEAR

May 2021

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