A new World Bank study has questioned the widespread assumption in development policy that cash payments to families to enhance child health should necessarily be targeted at mothers and not fathers.
A two-year randomized control trial was carried out in rural Burkina Faso to estimate the impact of payments to families on education and health outcomes. Some payments were made conditional on the parents enrolling their children in school, maintaining their attendance there and taking the children for health checkups. Other payments were unconditional. And some payments were made to mothers and others to fathers.
Compared to the control group, cash payments improve children’s education and health and improve housing.
Conditional cash payments were better at improving school enrollment and most child health outcomes.
In contrast to what might be expected, paying mothers did not lead to significantly better child health or education outcomes than paying fathers. Paying fathers led to significantly more improvement in young children’s nutrition and health, particularly during years of poor rainfall. Payments to fathers also yielded relatively more household investment in livestock, cash crops, and improved housing (e.g. electricity and metal roof). One assumes these are linked: increased investment in food production leads to improved nutrition.
The researchers conclude: “These results might be context specific given the strong cultural norm in West Africa prescribing that fathers are responsible for feeding their family, but the results still suggest that policy makers should not automatically assume that it is always preferable to have mothers as the [cash] transfer’s recipients.”
The study suggests a high degree of collaboration and mutual support within rural Burkina Faso families, where cash payments are invested in child wellbeing by both mothers and fathers, though slightly differently.
Akresh R, de Walque D & Kazianga H (2016), Evidence from a randomized evaluation of the household welfare impacts of conditional and unconditional cash transfers given to mothers or fathers, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 7730
Photo: Eric Montfort. Creative Commons.