The Impact of Social Cash Transfers on Household Economic Decision Making and Development in Eastern and Southern Africa

Alberto Zezza, The World Bank, Benedicte de la Briere, FAO and Benjamin Davis, UNICEF

Apart from their well-documented impacts on human development and poverty alleviation, recent evidence suggest that social cash transfer programs may foster broader economic development impacts. These impacts come through changes in household behavior and through impacts on the local economy of the communities where the transfers operate.  The household-level impacts follow three main documented channels: 

  • Changes in labor supply of different household members,
  • Investments in productive activities that increase the beneficiary household’s revenue generation capacity, and
  • Prevention of detrimental risk-coping strategies.  

Using quasi experimental impact evaluation data from Kenya and Malawi, we identify the impact of cash transfers on income-generation strategies and productive activities. Beneficiary households seem more likely to invest in draft animals and land in Kenya, and in cattle in Malawi. In Kenya, some forms of child labor decrease.  In Malawi, adults seem less likely to engage in casual agricultural labor although data limitations prevent us from ascertaining whether they are spending more time in other income-generating activities. Further data collection will be needed to understand the households’ response. Linking these programs with agricultural development and credit/insurance programs may help strengthen these nascent impacts and improve the sustainability and resilience of household income-generation strategies.