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.
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.
A Ugandan government program allowed groups of young people to submit proposals to start skilled enterprises. Among 535 eligible proposals, the government randomly selected 265 to receive grants of nearly $400 per person. Blattman et al. (2014) showed that, after four years, the program raised employment by 17% and earnings 38%. This paper shows that, rather than rewarding the government in elections, beneficiaries increased opposition party membership, campaigning, and voting. Higher incomes are associated with opposition support, and we hypothesize that financial independence frees the poor to express political preferences publicly, being less reliant on patronage and other political transfers.
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.
We experimentally test the impact of expanding access to basic bank accounts in Uganda, Malawi, and Chile. Over two years, 17 percent, 10 percent, and 3 percent of treatment individuals made five or more deposits, respectively. Average monthly deposits for them were at the 79th, 91st, and 96th percentiles of baseline savings. Survey data show no clearly discernible intention–to–treat effects on savings or any downstream outcomes. This suggests that policies merely focused on expanding access to basic accounts are unlikely to improve welfare noticeably since impacts, even if present, are likely small and diverse.
Poor public service provision and government accountability is commonplace in low-income countries. Although mobile phone–based platforms have emerged to allow constituents to report service deficiencies to government officials, they have been plagued by low citizen participation. We question whether low participation may root in low political efficacy to politically participate. In the context of a text message–reporting platform in Uganda, we investigate the impact of adding efficacy-boosting language to mobilization texts—(a) citizen name personalization and (b) politician encouragement— on citizens’ willingness to report service deficiencies to politicians via text messages. Both treatments, designed to increase internal and external efficacy, respectively, have a large, positive effect on participation. The results are driven by traditionally less internally efficacious constituents (females) and less externally efficacious constituents (those represented by opposition party members), respectively.