Many in the policy domain foster the notion that cash transfers have a better impact on beneficiary households if they are given to the mother—there is research support for this also; a 1990 study found that unearned income in the hands of the mother had better outcomes for the family’s health than the income under the control of the father. But a new World Bank working paper, based on the authors’ study in Burkina Faso, posits that it need not always be so.
In a randomissed control trial, the reserachers found that while conditional cash transfers had better outcomes for school enrollment and child health than unconditional cash transfers, the transfers to mothers had a marginally better outcome for children’s education than the fathers. But transfers to fathers had significantly better nutritional outcomes for the children, especially during years when the harvest was poor. Transfers to fathers also funded addition to household assets via increased livestock ownership, higher agricultural production in cash crops and investment in upgrading of the house (electricity and metal roofs). The findings suggest that there is a need for policy-makers to nuance their assumptions about the efficacy of cash transfers based on the gender of the recipient.
Given cash transfers to mothers is also tied to a significant gender objective—that of empowerment of women in developing countries—the finding is a tough poser.