Evaluating the Impact of Conditional Cash Transfer Programs

Laura B. Rawlings and Gloria M. Rubio

Several developing economies have recently introduced conditional cash transfer programs, which provide money to poor families contingent on certain behavior, usually investments in human capital, such as sending children to school or bringing them to health centers. Evaluation results for programs launched in Colombia, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Turkey reveal successes in addressing many of the failures in delivering social assistance, such as weak poverty targeting, disincentive effects, and limited welfare impacts. Many questions remain unanswered, however, including the potential of conditional cash transfer programs to function well under different conditions, to address a broader range of challenges among poor and vulnerable populations, and to prevent the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

This article reviews the experience to date of six countries in setting up and evaluating the impact of such programs. The programs were selected to include those that provide conditional cash transfer for both health and education because policy and evaluation experience exist for such programs, as well as for those that provide in-kind conditional transfers. This review draws from program documents provided by administrators and evaluation reports produced by research institutions. Evaluation results are analyzed to draw conclusions about the welfare impact of this type of program and about how the evaluations have been used to inform policy decisions. Expected insights from forthcoming evaluations are briefly considered, followed by some reflections on the future direction of evaluations of social sector programs.

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