Paying for Happiness: Experimental Results from a Large Cash Transfer Program in Malawi

This study analyzes the short‐term impact of an exogenous, positive income shock on caregivers’ subjective well‐being (SWB) in Malawi using panel data from 3,365 households targeted to receive Malawi's Social Cash Transfer Program that provides unconditional cash to ultra‐poor, labor‐constrained households. The study consists of a cluster‐randomized, longitudinal design. After the baseline survey, half of these village clusters were randomly selected to receive the transfer and a follow‐up was conducted 17 months later. We find that the short‐term impact of household income increases from the cash transfer leads to substantial SWB gains among caregivers. After a year's worth of transfers, caregivers in beneficiary households have higher life satisfaction and are more likely to believe in a better future. We examine whether program impacts on consumption, food security, resilience, and hopefulness could explain the increase in SWB but do not find that any of these mechanisms individually mediate our results.