Monday, April 14, 2008

Grinnell Recap: A look back at conditional cash transfers

I have returned from a visit to my alma mater, Grinnell College. On Thursday I commented about the improved dining hall conditions at many colleges, Grinnell has entered a new era. It was probably the made to order Thai beef stir fry that sealed the deal. I loved talking to my professors and the current students who were doing international internships, field work, and applying to grad schools and still partying like it was 1999 (i.e the way my friends and I used to).

Anyways I wasn’t just back at Grinnell to eat, I gave a talk on my own research and had a chance to speak with a global development studies class. In the talk I really just did an overview of my own dissertation, which focused on schooling in Honduras and Nicaragua. It was good to look back over things and I’m still left with this basic thought:

Sending a kid to school (assuming there is a school to go to) in a developing country comes down to a choice of giving up income from work. If the family needs money that child is more likely to go to school. If the rate children get paid is higher than children go to less school. The impact of anything on the schooling decision should take into account these two forces.

So to combat this Mexico and Brazil have national programs that pay households if their children go to school, called conditional cash transfers. Here is a good short description of the program and their success stories from the economist.

My other work has focused on how these successful programs vary in their impacts
depending on characteristics particular to a household or community. Looking back I think what is missing is the differences between where the programs continue to thrive (Brazil and Mexico) and where they have not become a budget priority of the national government (Honduras and Nicaragua).

Comparing these countries there is not only a difference in size large versus small, but also in terms of economic well being. Can the successes of these programs really be translated?

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