36 Gordon Square
London WC1H 0PD

T +44 (0) 20 7958 8251

3ie-LIDC Seminar Series: Relative Effectiveness of Conditional and Unconditional Cash Transfers for Schooling Outcomes in Developing Countries: A Systematic Review

Thursday, October 17, 2013 - 17:30 to 19:00

The October edition of the 3ie-LIDC seminar series focused on the effectiveness of conditional and unconditional cash transfers for schooling outcomes in developing countries. Dr. Berk Ozler (University of Otago) presented the systematic review he has been undertaking of the growing academic literature on this topic.
The seminar outlined the theoretical basis of unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) and conditional cash transfers (CCTs), stressing that the effectiveness of UCTs and CCTs largely depends on what the goals of the programme are. For the education example examined, UCTs do not require any prescribed actions by the participants, being based on the assumption that non-participation in schooling is simply due to income constraints. CCTs on the other hand are commonly based upon the arguments that market failures (i.e. education supply is uncompetitive, thus too expensive), or inadequate government investment results in a suboptimal level of schooling. In addition to this theoretical basis, a political economy dimension, in terms of what is considered socially and economically preferable, may be a reason CCTs are favoured in policy debates.

The rationale for conducting a systematic review is multi-faceted, and the question of whether transfers should be dependent on behavioural conditions is still a key policy question, also frequently at the forefront of discussions in popular media. It is generally recognised that CCTs improve the outcome on which they are conditioned in some way, though to what extent, and if there is a significant difference in effect between CCTs and UCTs, is not certain. In addition, the difference may be heterogeneous across settings and few secondary evaluations of UCTs currently exist.

Berk described how together with colleagues he used systematic review methodology to try to address the policy question of the role of conditionality in producing educational outcomes in cash transfer programs. Systematic reviews adopt transparent and replicable methods to search all the available literature, and assess studies for inclusion based on clearly defined eligibility criteria defined a-priori. This is in contrast to literature reviews where inclusion may be based on convenience and inclusion criteria are often not clearly defined.

The review examines the evidence on the effectiveness of 26 conditional cash transfer schemes and five unconditional cash transfer schemes (including child support grants and an old age pension scheme) for improved primary and secondary school enrolment, attendance and test scores in developing countries. The authors found that both conditional and unconditional cash transfers improve enrolment in and attendance at school, with conditional cash transfers producing a bigger effect. By collecting detailed information about implementation to define the studies on a continuum of conditionality, the authors find that programmes that rigorously monitor and enforce conditions have a substantially larger impact on enrolment than those with minimal monitoring and enforcement. They conclude that more research is needed on the impact of cash transfers on longer term outcomes such as school attainment, and on unconditional cash transfers more generally. Future scheme reporting would also benefit from detailed specification of the level of conditionality to aid further comparison and research.

About the speaker
Berk Ozler received a Ph.D in Economics from Cornell University in 2001, and has previously worked as an economist and senior economist in the Development Research Group at the World Bank before joining the University of Otago as an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics in 2013. He is currently a co-principal investigator for several randomized controlled field experiments in Malawi and Tanzania. His work has been published in a number of journals, including the Journal of Development Economics, Journal of Human Resources, Journal of Public Economics, The Lancet, and the Quarterly Journal of Economics. His work has been covered by the BBC, The Economist, The Financial Times, Freakonomics, The Guardian, National Public Radio, Newsweek, The New York Times, and Slate. He is one of the four researchers who founded the Development Impact blog and contributes to it regularly.

This seminar is part of the 3ie-LIDC seminar series ‘What works in international development’.


Download the slides
Further information on the study is available at the 3ie website
Download the paper:
Baird, S., Ferreira, F.H.G., Özler, B. and Woolcock, M. (2013) Relative effectiveness of conditional and unconditional cash transfers for schooling outcomes in developing countries: a systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews 2013: 8, pp. 1–124. DOI: 10.4073/csr.2013.8.