Behavioral insights into cash transfers to families with children

Lisa A. Gennetian, Eldar Shafi, J. Lawrence Aber, Jacobus De Hoop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cash transfer programs aim to lessen the harmful effects of economic deprivation by giving cash or its equivalent directly to people in need. In this article, we combine insights from three areas of behavioral science-economics, child development, and cognitive psychology (including behavioral economics and the psychology of poverty)-to shed light on the logic behind providing cash transfers to families with children and to identify specific design features that policymakers should consider when creating these programs. We also summarize key research findings on the outcomes of such programs and present case studies of projects that have been evaluated in randomized controlled studies. We argue that unconditional cash transfers (which provide the money with no strings attached) are preferable to conditional cash transfers (which require recipients to meet specified conditions) for providing economic security and improving children’s life outcomes. Conditional cash transfers can achieve similar goals, however, if they impose little administrative burden on parents and if infrastructure is in place to support meeting the conditions for receiving the cash. We end with recommendations for how best to design cash transfer programs for families with children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-92
Number of pages22
JournalBehavioral Science and Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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