Is there evidence on the effects of safety net programs decades after inception? A rich compilation of 4 technical papers takes stock of Mexico’s PROSPERA conditional cash transfer (CCT) program over 20 years. My headlines are that the program was strong on household assets, nutrition (height) and school enrollment; moderately successful on intergenerational job mobility (whether kids are in better jobs than their parents); and achieved relatively limited gains on learning outcomes. Let’s break down the findings a little further:

  • On welfare, Aguilar et al found that households formed by young adults who were themselves direct beneficiaries of the program (when children) present higher ownership of durable assets, lower vulnerability to food insecurity, and larger non-durable consumption expenditure.
  • On jobs mobility, Yaschine et al estimate that half (49.2%) of the youths experienced upward mobility, 37.6% is ‘stuck’ and inherited family’s occupation (mostly agriculture), and the others (13.2%) move downward on the stratum. A gender difference stands out, with higher rates of upward mobility for women (66.8% of the group) in contrast to greater immobility by men. Stark differences also emerge in terms of migration to urban areas, with higher upward job mobility among migrants (74.2%) while non-migrants show high rates of immobility (46.8%).
  • On health, Gutierrez et al show that, on average, male offspring are 2.8 cm taller and have 5.3 more years of schooling than their parents, while those values are 4.1 cm and 5.7 years for female offspring. Also, a 1% increase in height is associated with a 10.7 and 8.8% in hourly wages for men and women, respectively; similarly, a 1-year increase in schooling leads to increases in the order of 3.4% for men and 4.8% for women.
  • On education and learning, Behrman et al document that PROSPERA’s impact on enrollment in secondary school is about 8 percentage points (pp) for 7th grade, 9-10 pp for 9th grade, and decreases to about 5 pp for 12th grade. In terms of performance on standard tests, there are increases in achievement on the order of 0.03-0.1 standard deviations in the sample of children in marginalized areas, on the order of 0.1 on Spanish tests, while no significant results are detected in mathematics for indigenous children in secondary schools.

What about the other longstanding CCT in LAC, Bolsa in Brazil? Of course, there is new research of its effects over time as well: Ferreira et al have a one-page summarizing the effects of Bolsa over 15 years, although in less detail than above.

But what’s the biggest impact a program can achieve? Saving lives! And can safety nets do that? In Ecuador, Moncayo et al show that a 1% increase in the coverage of Bono de Desarrollo Humano (BDH) CCT decreases mortality from malnutrition by about 3%. Cash also lowered child respiratory infections (-0.8%) and hospitalization rates (-0.2%).

Which African country has more than 100 small safety net programs, 80 of which account for less than 1% of total social assistance expenditures? A rich report by Vandeninden et al reviews the composition, level, and future directions in Burkina Faso’s safety nets. Currently, half of the programs are externally-funded, only cover 2.6% of the population, and do so mostly (64%) with in-kind measures (see also overview here).

More on Africa with news on the resilience front: the Kenya Cash Working Group, a multi-agency platform, issued its new interim guidance on minimum expenditure baskets (see p.6 for items, quantities and kcal conversions). Development Initiatives just released a report on harmonizing registration and identification in emergencies in Somaliawhich also includes snapshots from global experiences (e.g., see Mali and Palestine case studies for fiduciary, reputational and legal risks, p.31-22). Bonus on crises: Hamati’s paper is computing pre-conflict poverty data in Syria.

Moving to Asia, as mentioned last week the Asia-Pacific Social Protection Week took place in Manila – here is the agenda and link to select streamed sessions (I hope there will be recordings posted!). In Indonesia, a piece on the Jakarta Post discusses pensions coverage and the “sandwich generation”, i.e., the working-age population squeezed between parents and children.

A glimpse at universal programs: Ghenis dissects Yang’s VAT-financed UBI proposal for the US, including a detailed distributional analysis, while  Calsamiglia and Flamand review Van Parijs and Vanderborght’s 2017 basic income book (h/t Abla Safir).

From unconditional to work-based measures: Jordan presents results from his sociological research into the UK’s ‘Work Programme’, a workfare scheme, which he defines as a “… largely pointless… resented by many participants, but providing a basic social service for some others”.

… and from public works to jobs, with 4 fascinating resources (h/t Indhira Santos). An IMF paper by Kugler documents the role of labor market institutions in Latin America where, she argues, the fall in inequality starting in 2002 can be explained in part by a combination of binding minimum wage throughout most of the region and, to a lesser extent, by the introduction of unemployment insurance systems in some countries and the role of unions in countries with moderate unionization rates. Soft skills matter for productivity: Prada et al evaluate a training intervention aimed at boosting leadership and communication skills among employees of a large Latin American retailer. They document large positive effects on store- and individual- level productivity, with the program being more effective in boosting leadership than communication skills. Hunt and Nunn argue that in the US, the share of employment in low-wage occupations is trending up only from 2002-2012, and that the apparent earlier growth (and therefore polarization) found in the literature is an artefact of occupation code redefinitions. Lastly, Deutschmann found that in Africa, the One Acre Fund’s (1AF), an NGO that bundles multiple extension services to small farmers, led to maize production increases by 24% and profits by 16%.

Switching to health, Angell et al have a piece on Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), the Indian reform that seeks to provide financial health protection for 500 million of the most vulnerable Indians and halt the slide of the 50–60 million Indians who fall into poverty annually due to medical-related expenditure. Bonus on health in India, where a sober RCT examines drunken drivers: an NBER paper by Banerjee et al finds that rotating police checkpoints reduced night accidents by 17% and night deaths by 25%, while fixed checkpoints had no effects.

Two very different resources on urbanization: a report by Verweijen discusses urban violence in the eastern Congo, while on a more entertaining note Paul Romer visited ‘Burning Man’, the yearly event in the Nevada desert, to reflect on urban issues.

Finally, happy birthday to, today celebrating 4 years of age – the platform has undoubtedly improved the world of social protection by making us all more connected and informed.


Ugo Gentilini is from the World Bank’s Social Protection & Jobs global practice. The Social Protection Links newsletter, issued every Friday, distills and discusses a selection of curated resources on the topic, from academic articles to podcasts. The blog is republished on each week, offering knowledge on social protection to helps you stay on top of it — succinctly, regularly and frequently. Previous editions can be found here.

To sign up to the newsletter or share materials, you can contact Ugo by email ([email protected]), Twitter (@ugentilini) or LinkedIn.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Labour market / employment programmes
    • Active labour market programmes / Productive inclusion
      • Job training
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Agriculture and rural development
  • Education
  • Health
  • Labour market / employment
  • Poverty reduction
  • Global
  • Burkina Faso
  • Kenya
  • Somalia
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • Mexico
  • Global
  • Latin America & Caribbean
  • North America
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not's