Research shows that when people participate in the financial system, they are better able to manage risk, start or invest in a business, and fund large expenditures like education or a home improvement. Increasing women’s financial inclusion is especially important as women disproportionately experience poverty, stemming from unequal divisions of labor and a lack of control over economic resources. While demand and supply side barriers to women’s financial inclusion remain, this review shows that appropriate financial product design can help overcome some of these barriers. This review is organized by product and presents the existing evidence on the impact of savings, credit, payments, and insurance products on women’s economic empowerment outcomes, as well as the remaining open research questions in each area. The studies included in this review are limited to those designed as randomized control trials (RCTs), widely considered to be the gold standard in impact evaluation methodology.
In 2008, 682 secondary school scholarships were awarded by lottery among 2,064 Ghanaian students (aged 17 on average) who were admitted to a specific school and track but could not immediately enroll, in most cases due to lack of funds. We use follow-up data collected until 2016 to document downstream impacts by age 25. For the whole sample, scholarship winners were 26 percentage points (55%) more likely to complete secondary school, obtained 1.26 more years of secondary education, scored an average of 0.15 standard deviations greater on a reading and math test, and adopted more preventative health behavior. Women who received a scholarship had 0.217 fewer children by age 25. Scholarship winners were also 3 percentage points (30%) more likely to have ever enrolled in tertiary education. Despite the fact that they were 2.5 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in school at the time of the last survey, they were 5.5 percentage points (10%) more likely to have positive earnings and had significantly higher (hyperbolic sine) earnings. For students admitted to vocational tracks (comprising 60% of the sample) scholarships did not increase tertiary education, which simplifies the interpretation of labor market outcomes. In this subsample, scholarships increased the likelihood of earning money by 8.8 percentage points (16%) and increased total earnings by 19%. The estimated financial rate of return to education in this subsample is 13%. For students admitted to academic majors, scholarships increased the chance of having enrolled in tertiary education by 5.3 percentage points on a base of 11 percent. This effect is driven overwhelmingly by women, who nearly double their rate of tertiary enrollment and fully catch up with men. We cannot reject the hypothesis that among those admitted to academic tracks, scholarships did not affect average labor market participation and earnings by age 25, but since more scholarship winners than non-winners were still in school as of 2016, it is too early to definitively assess labor market impacts in this population.
Many students arrive at primary school already behind, experiencing a lack of skills that may compromise their long-term learning and wellbeing. In Accra, Ghana, researchers evaluated the impact of an affordable, in-service kindergarten teacher training, with and without a parental awareness program. Results showed that the training improved the number of the play-based, child-friendly activities teachers used and improved the quality of teacher-child interactions. However, adding the parent education component had a negative effect on teachers’ use of emotional support and positive behavior management, and a small negative effect on child outcomes.
Distributing subsidized health products through existing health infrastructure could substantially and cost-effectively improve health in sub-Saharan Africa. There is, however, widespread concern that poor governance – in particular, limited health worker accountability – seriously undermines the effectiveness of subsidy programs. We audit targeted bednet distribution programs to quantify the extent of agency problems. We find that around 80% of the eligible receive the subsidy as intended, and up to 15% of subsidies are leaked to ineligible people. Supplementing the program with simple financial or monitoring incentives for health workers does not improve performance further and is thus not cost-effective in this context.
Objectives. To evaluate whether text-messaging programs can improve reproductive health among adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries.
Methods. We conducted a cluster–randomized controlled trial among 756 female students aged 14 to 24 years in Accra, Ghana, in 2014. We randomized 38 schools to unidirectional intervention (n = 12), interactive intervention (n = 12), and control (n = 14). The unidirectional intervention sent participants text messages with reproductive health information. The interactive intervention engaged adolescents in text-messaging reproductive health quizzes. The primary study outcome was reproductive health knowledge at 3 and 15 months. Additional outcomes included self-reported pregnancy and sexual behavior. Analysis was by intent-to-treat.
Results. From baseline to 3 months, the unidirectional intervention increased knowledge by 11 percentage points (95% confidence interval [CI] = 7, 15) and the interactive intervention by 24 percentage points (95% CI = 19, 28), from a control baseline of 26%. Although we found no changes in reproductive health outcomes overall, both unidirectional (odds ratio [OR] = 0.14; 95% CI = 0.03, 0.71) and interactive interventions (OR = 0.15; 95% CI = 0.03, 0.86) lowered odds of self-reported pregnancy for sexually active participants.
Targeted interventions that sustainably improve the lives of the poor will be a critical component in eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. The poorest households tend to be physically and socially isolated and face disadvantages across multiple dimensions, which makes moving out of extreme poverty challenging and costly. This paper compares the cost-effectiveness of three strands of anti-poverty social protection interventions by reviewing 30 livelihood development programs, 11 lump-sum unconditional cash transfers, and seven graduation programs. All the selected graduation initiatives focused on the extreme poor, while the livelihood development and cash transfer programs targeted a broader set of beneficiaries. Impacts on annual household consumption (or on income when consumption data were not available) per dollar spent were used to benchmark cost-effectiveness across programs. Among all 48 programs reviewed, lump-sum cash transfers were found to have the highest benefit-cost ratio, though there are very few lump-sum cash transfer programs that serve the extreme poor or measure long-term impacts. Livelihood programs that targeted the extreme poor had much lower benefit-cost ratios. Graduation programs are more cost-effective than the livelihood programs that targeted the extreme poor and measured long-term impacts (i.e., at least one year after end of interventions). More evidence is needed, especially on long-term impacts of lump-sum cash transfers to the extreme poor, to make better comparisons among the three types of programs for sustainable reduction of extreme poverty.