Social Safety Nets, Women’s Economic Achievements and Agency: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

There are increasing calls for social safety nets (SSNs) to be designed and implemented to promote women’s economic inclusion and agency, contributing to closing gender disparities globally. We investigate the extent to which SSNs achieve these goals and explore design and contextual features that promote impacts. We aggregate results from 1,067 effect sizes from 106 publications, representing 202,974 women across 42 low- and middle-income countries. We show robust and highly significant pooled effects for all outcomes (hedges’ g = 0.103, p<0.001), with similar magnitude of effects for economic achievement and agency domains. These effects are robust for asset transfers, unconditional cash transfers and social care services, while those for public works are of comparable magnitude but marginally significant. Impacts for conditional cash transfers and in-kind transfers are small and either marginally significant or insignificant. Impacts on economic achievement are driven by productive work (participation and intensity), savings, assets and expenditures, while those for agency are driven by voice, autonomy and decision-making. We conclude that SSNs have the ability to enhance women’s economic inclusion and agency, however vary by intervention type. Nonetheless, challenges remain in implementation of gender-sensitive designs, as well as data gaps for certain regions, contexts and outcomes, which should be closed in future evaluations.