Most conditional cash transfers (CCT) target women, in an effort to empower women and deliver better outcomes for children. The underlying assumptions are that men and women prefer to spend their income differently and that giving women extra resources in the household may increase their participation in household decisions by increasing their control over how funds are spent.

Previous studies have shown that providing transfers to a female member of the household leads to shifts in spending, suggesting that gender-targeted
transfers may be important. However, it is not clear how targeting women leads to changes in household consumption and whether targeting transfers to men would achieve similar results. Additionally, there is limited evidence on how cash transfers to women impact empowerment within the household, a difficult concept to accurately measure.

Ingvild Almås, Photo: Nils S. Aasheim/Norges Bank
Ingvild Almås, Photo: Nils S. Aasheim/Norges Bank

In a recent research project, IIES Professor Ingvild Almås with Alex Armand (Nova SBE), Orazio Attanasio (Yale), Pedro Carneiro (UCL), and Valérie Lechene (UCL), test whether targeting cash transfers to women can play a role in their empowerment and change household consumption. To do this they evaluated a nationwide CCT program
for low-income households in the Republic of North Macedonia that randomly allocated transfers to either mothers or fathers. 

Key results

When mothers received the cash transfers, households spent more of their budget on food than when the household heads, mostly men, received the transfer. Targeting the transfers to women increased the share of household spending on food by 3.9 percentage points compared to 55.1 percent when the household head, generally the father, was the recipient. For households that spent less on food at baseline, targeting transfers to mothers shifted food spending toward more nutritious foods.

Cash transfers targeted to women improved female empowerment. Women receiving the cash transfer were willing to give up less of an additional transfer (by 5.3 percentage points, or about 16 percent) to gain control of it compared to women who had not received the first transfer. A lower willingness to give up the payment suggests that women receiving the cash transfers were more empowered.

A new methodology for measuring women’s empowerment was more effective than traditional survey questions. Researchers used a novel method to measure women’s empowerment by directly observing women's decisions. This approach identified impacts that were not detected by the traditional survey techniques. 

Click here to read more on the J-PAL web.

Contact at the IIES

Ingvild Almås