Cash transfer programs are interventions that directly provide cash to target specific populations with the aim of reducing poverty and supporting a variety of development outcomes. Low- and middle-income countries have increasingly adopted cash transfer programs as central elements of their poverty reduction and social protection strategies. Bastagli et al. (2016) report that around 130 low- and middle-income countries have at least one UCT program, and 63 countries have at least one CCT program (up from 27 countries in 2008). Through a comprehensive review of literature, this report primarily considers the evidence of the long-term impacts of cash transfer programs in low- and lower middle-income countries. A review of 54 reviews that aggregate and summarize findings from multiple studies of cash transfer programs reveals largely positive evidence on long-term outcomes related to general health, reproductive health, nutrition, labor markets, poverty, and gender and intra-household dynamics, though findings vary by context and in many cases overall conclusions on the long-term impacts of cash transfers are mixed. In addition, evidence on long-term impacts for many outcome measures is limited, and few studies explicitly aim to measure long-term impacts distinctly from immediate or short-term impacts of cash transfers.
Although the programs reported on in the reviews include 37 cash transfer programs from Sub-Saharan Africa, 36 from Latin America, 18 from South Asia, ten from East Asia and the Pacific, three from Europe and Central Asia, five from North America, and four from the Middle East and North Africa, much of the evidence comes from multiple studies evaluating the most prominent cash transfer programs, especially Latin American programs. More evidence on the long-term impacts of cash transfer programs and on how these impacts might differ by context and program design will emerge as more of the existing global cash transfer programs mature and are evaluated. The available evidence indicates that cash transfer programs can be cost-effective, depending on the context and program design. Evidence of the cost-effectiveness, scalability, and sustainability of these programs is limited, but a few studies present initial findings on factors that appear to support or hinder cost-effectiveness, scalability, and sustainability. Several reviews suggest that design characteristics of cash transfer programs, including conditionality, targeting, and payment size, timing, frequency, and duration may all affect the impacts of the programs. Evidence on whether CCTs or UCTs are more effective at improving particular outcomes is mixed and may depend on the outcome measure of interest, but the reviews indicate that programs generally have greater impacts when targeting poorer or more marginalized populations and when providing transfers of larger size. Few reviews compare outcomes between cash transfer programs and other types of programs or interventions, though there is some limited evidence indicates that cash transfer programs might be more effective than alternatives to improve outcome measures related to poverty under specific circumstances.
In addition to the review of long-term impacts of cash transfer programs, we conducted several complementary supplemental evidence searches. Our report includes an appendix summarizing evidence of impacts of cash transfer programs in the United States as well as an appendix summarizing evidence on the impacts of universal basic income (UBI) programs. Our results coding spreadsheet also includes tabs with summary findings of supplemental searches for evidence of the supply-side impacts of cash transfer programs, and for evidence comparing the impacts of cash transfer programs to other subsidy programs.
Read a blog post summarizing our findings on the evidence for long-term impacts of cash transfers in general and reproductive health, nutrition, labor market outcomes, poverty, gender and intra-household dynamics, and financial inclusion.