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Wealth differentials in the impact of conditional and unconditional cash transfers on education: Findings from a community-randomised controlled trial in Zimbabwe (Fenton et al. 2016)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Fenton, R., Nyamukapa, C., Gregson, S., Robertson, L., Mushati, P., Thomas, R., & Eaton, J. W. (2016) Wealth differentials in the impact of conditional and unconditional cash transfers on education: Findings from a community-randomized controlled trial in Zimbabwe. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 21(8), 909-917

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the effects of conditional cash transfers (CCT) and unconditional cash transfers (UCT) on child labor and schooling outcomes. This summary focuses on the comparison between the CCT group and the control group.
  • The study was a randomized controlled trial in which households were randomly assigned to receive one of two cash transfers (conditional or unconditional) or to participate in the control group that did not receive a cash transfer. Using household survey data, the authors analyzed the impact of the treatment conditions on child labor and schooling outcomes a year after the intervention began.
  • The study found that receipt of a conditional cash transfer was significantly associated with a reduction in child work and increases in school attendance for the poorest households.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because it based on a randomized controlled trial with unknown attrition and the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before receiving the cash transfer. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the conditional cash transfer; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

Cash Transfer Program

Features of the Intervention

The intervention took place in Manicaland, Zimbabwe, an area where there is a high rate of HIV. Due to HIV, many children in that area have lost their parents. The program offered cash transfers to households to improve the children’s school attendance and child labor outcomes. There were two treatment conditions: a conditional cash transfer (CCT) and unconditional cash transfer (UCT). In both conditions, households received the equivalent of $18 USD every other month and $4 USD per child for a maximum of three children. However, to receive the stipend in the CCT condition, participants had to demonstrate that household children had attended the majority (80%) of school days in the last two months, had a vaccination record, applied for a birth certificate, and that the parents had participated in parenting classes. In both treatment conditions, households also received maize seed and fertilizer. To be eligible for the CCT or UCT program, children needed to live in households that were not in the wealthiest 20 percent, and whose household either had a child head of household, an orphan, a person with a disability, or was in the lowest 20 percent for wealth. The intervention was conducted by a non-governmental organization called the Diocese of Mutare Community Care Programme.

Features of the Study

The study used a randomized controlled trial (RCT) in which households were assigned to either the CCT group, UCT group, or control group. Households were divided into 10 geographic sections and then further divided into three clusters. Within those clusters, households were randomly assigned to one of the two treatment groups or to the control group (1,319 assigned to the CCT group 1,525 to the UCT group, and 1,199 to the control group).

To assess the intervention, the study used a baseline and follow-up survey. The authors compared outcomes one year after the start of the intervention between each treatment and the control group, and between the two treatment groups and the control group using regression models. For school attendance, the authors compared the treatment groups and the control group with low attendance at baseline, to see what proportion of children had low attendance at follow-up. For child labor, the authors compared the hours of paid employment between each of the treatment groups and the control group, and between the two treatment groups.

Findings

Employment/Child labor

  • The study found that the receipt of the CCT was significantly associated with lower number of hours worked (an average of .31 fewer hours).

Education (School participation/enrollment)

  • For the poorest households, the study found that the receipt of the CCT was significantly associated with higher rates of attendance.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The study was a randomized controlled trial with unknown attrition in each group. In cases of high or unknown attrition, a study can receive a moderate causal evidence rating if the analysis controls for possible differences in background characteristics of the treatment and control groups. However, the authors did not account for preexisting differences between the groups before program participation including child age, gender, and baseline school and child labor outcomes. These preexisting differences between the groups—and not the CCT program— could explain the observed differences in outcomes.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because it based on a randomized controlled trial with unknown attrition and the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before receiving the cash transfers. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the conditional cash transfers; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

December 2018

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