Providing access to formal financial services and a secure means of saving, as well as encouraging good financial practices through financial education, are widely considered effective ways to promote financial inclusion. Children and youth may be a sensible target audience for such interventions, especially if healthy financial habits that are learned at a young age benefit individuals for the rest of their lives.
In three recent studies by IPA, researchers measured the impacts of offering savings accounts and delivering financial education to children and youth in Ghana and Uganda. These studies tested the effectiveness of different combinations of savings account designs and financial education or information campaigns.
In all three evaluations, researchers observed positive short-term results from one or more of the tested interventions on savings behavior, savings attitudes, and income. Key results include the finding that strict restrictions on how savings can be spent may deter deposits; that encouraging children to save without providing social education may encourage them to work more at a young age; and that access to savings accounts and financial education may improve savings and earned income when offered together, but similar increases may be possible even when they are offered individually.
Smoothing the Cost of Education: Primary School Saving
Students in Uganda who received a school-based savings program saved more when their savings were returned in cash, which they could spend as they wished, rather than in the form of a voucher, which had to be used to purchase school supplies. This suggests that a tighter restriction on expenditures may have deterred students from saving. Furthermore, students who received the cash payout and whose parents were offered an outreach program about how they could support their children's education bought more school supplies and had higher overall test scores compared to the comparison group. This supports the hypothesis that, though the parent outreach program did not impact how much students saved, it may have affected how the students spent their cash savings.
School-Based Saving and Social and Financial Education for Children
Students in Ghana who received either financial education alone or a combination of financial and social education scored higher on a savings behavior index than students who received neither program. However, no effect on total savings was observed, so students may simply have shifted existing savings into school, or the measure of total savings may have been inaccurate. Students who received financial education alone worked more, though no impact was observed on their school attendance (although the difference between these two estimates is not statistically significant). The combined curriculum had no impact on labor outcomes.
Financial Education and Savings for Youth
Church youth clubs in Uganda who were offered financial education, savings accounts, or a combination of the two reported similar improvements in total savings and earned income regardless of which intervention they received. This suggests that financial education and access to savings may have been substitute methods to generate higher savings and income, but that they did not have any additive effect when offered together. The groups receiving financial education—either alone or in combination with a savings account—had higher financial knowledge and higher account savings compared with those who received only a savings account.
Do the impacts of child and youth savings and financial education interventions persist in the long term? What are the mechanisms underlying the impacts on behavior and income we have observed? Are financial education and formal savings accounts complements or substitutes? To answer these questions, the Citi IPA Financial Capability Research Fund supported by the Citi Foundation is conducting a long-term follow-up of Financial Education and Savings for Youth and is planning to pursue long-term follow-ups of the other evaluations described above.
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