Centre for Finance and Development
28 September 2020

Are women better welfare recipients?

In a recent discussion paper, Professor Lore Vandewalle and colleagues investigate claims that targeting welfare programmes specifically to women induces beneficial consumption shifting and gender equality.

The Graduate Institute’s Professor Lore Vandewalle recently published the discussion paper titled The Effect of Gender-Targeted Transfers – Experimental Evidence from India together with Ingvild Almås, Professor at Stockholm University and Vincent Somville, Assistant Professor at the NHH Norwegian School of Economics.

The three authors investigate the frequent claim that targeting women induces beneficial consumption shifting and gender equality. The empirical evidence behind this claim has previously been relatively scarce. The present research is indeed the first highly powered study of the effect of gender-targeted unconditional transfers on the composition of expenditure, income, saving, nutrition and measures of decision-making within the household.

The authors looked at an intervention in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, where rural households were randomly selected to receive weekly payments. The money was randomly allocated either to the husband or the wife. The researchers then collected detailed information about these families’ spending habits over a half year through so-called financial diaries.

The analysis of the families’ financial diaries shows no evidence that household consumption and saving decisions, income or the nutritional content of food expenditure would change based on whether the husband or the wife receives the payment. However, the authors find that directing payments to the woman of a household empowers her. The research shows in particular that women receiving payments take more decisions on behalf of their family. Therefore, gender targeting leads to gender equalization.

Finally, the authors conclude that there is evidence for the empowerment argument, one of the two main arguments that have been raised in support of targeting women in welfare programmes.


Download and read the paper