Empowering Young Women in Malawi: A Mixed Methods Approach | Craig McIntosh, UC San Diego & Sarah Baird, George Washington University 

The Challenge
In developing countries, gender inequality continues to negatively affect women’s educational, economic and health outcomes. In Malawi,  20 percent of 15-19 year old girls have at least one child. Over half of girls are married by age of 18. Policymakers have emphasized that cash transfer programs can be a tool to invest in and empower women, but there is little evidence on their long-impacts.

The Approach
Researchers are using a mixed-methods approach to determine whether and how cash transfers have changed participants’ self-esteem and future aspirations. This study builds upon previous research in the Zomba District in Malawi. In 2008 and 2009, 1,225 school aged girls were randomly assigned to receive either aconditional cash transfer (CCT), based on school attendance, or unconditional transfer; the comparison group received no cash transfers.

Researchers are following up with participants again to identify the long-term effects of the transfers, specifically whether the cash transfers empowered program participants and led to changes in their self-esteem and aspirations, and if this was the channel through which the income affected reproductive decision making.

In addition to administering surveys, researchers will conduct focus groups and semi-structured in-depth interviews with approximately 50 randomly sampled core respondents. This qualitative work will be driven by the quantitative analysis of the survey data, and will focus on understanding causal pathways through which the cash transfer impacted various outcomes.

The Lesson
Previous research determined positive short-term impacts of cash transfers including:

  • Better educational and health outcomes, including impacts on marriage, fertility, HIV and sexual behavior.
  • 27.7 percent of initial school dropouts in the comparison group got married compared to only 16.4 percent who received a CCT
  • CCT recipients were 5.1 percentage points less likely to get pregnant compared to those in the comparison group.

These short term impacts indicates cash transfers may be an effective way to sustainably build human capital and promote development.

Project ongoing, final results forthcoming.


Photo Credit: ILRI/Mann. 2009

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