What happens once the intervention ends? The medium-term impacts of a cash transfer programme in Malawi

What happens once the intervention ends? The medium-term impacts of a cash transfer programme in Malawi

Adolescent girls in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) face a multitude of hazards during their transition from childhood to adulthood. Net primary school enrollment for females in the region is lower than 75 percent – with lower completion rates and much lower transition rates into secondary school, resulting in net enrollment rates in secondary schools of around 25 percent in countries like Malawi.

This report evaluates the five-year impacts of the Zomba Cash Transfer Program (ZCTP) in Zomba, Malawi. The ZCTP took place for two years during 2008–2009, and involved giving cash transfers, both conditional on schooling and unconditionally, to initially never-married 13- to-22-year-old young women. The Schooling, Income and Health Risk (SIHR) study was
designed to evaluate the impacts of the cash transfer program on a variety of outcomes ranging from education to health to sexual behavior. The SIHR study is a randomised control trial where young women were randomly assigned to one of three groups: control, unconditional cash transfer (UCT), and conditional cash transfer (CCT).

Overall, results suggest that the substantial benefits conferred by unconditional treatment while the program was in place in the domains that we investigate here were almost completely transient. Even the conditional program, when implemented among those in school at baseline (and therefore likely to continue with schooling even in the absence of a CCT), had few detectable long-term impacts. The program that provided conditional cash transfers to girls who had already dropped out of school at baseline, on the other hand, had large and durable impacts on a wide range of outcomes – including primary school completion, years of education, marriage rates, likelihood of bearing children, and desired fertility.

Results suggest that long-term impacts are sustained only when a cash transfer program achieves substantial improvements in the stock of a durable form of capital, such as human capital. The results of the evaluation of the ZCTP, both in the short and long term, provide important lessons for policymakers when thinking of designing cash transfer programs as part of their social protection policy.