Why it matters: Poverty is a major killer.
In 2019, more than 8 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, living on less than $2.15 a day and almost half the world on less than $6.85 a day. Poverty has deleterious effects on housing stability, education, health and life expectancy.
The pandemic pushed an additional 97 million people into extreme poverty in 2020, according to a World Bank Estimates, prompting more countries to launch cash transfer programs. Of the 962 such programs worldwide, 672 were introduced during the pandemic.
Direct cash transfers have been shown to improve school attendance, nutrition and use of health services. Some single-country studies have linked the payments to lower mortality rates. But it was not clear whether these trends applied globally.
“There are some concerns about whether these programs are sustainable, whether governments can and should pay for them,” said Harsha Thirumurthy, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of the analysis.
Background: Small Payoff, Big Impact.
More than 100 low- and middle-income countries have instituted cash transfer programs designed to reduce poverty, although how much they pay, how often, and to whom varies widely.
The researchers said the new study is the first to examine the effect of cash transfers on mortality rates worldwide. They collected information on these programs between 2000 and 2019 in 29 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, one in North Africa, four in the Asia-Pacific region, and three in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The data included information on more than 4 million adults and nearly 3 million children. Roughly 300,000 deaths were recorded during the study. Recipients receive between 6 percent and 13 percent of per capita income in a particular country, often much less than $100.
“These are not amounts that are anywhere near as large as what we’re talking about in guaranteed income programs in the US,” Dr. Tirumurti said.
Still, the findings are relevant even for high-income countries, said Audrey Pettyfour, a social epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies cash transfers for HIV prevention and women’s health.
Donors often worry that beneficiaries may misuse the money to buy alcohol, junk food or other non-essential items, but “the data still doesn’t support that,” she said.
What’s next: The benefits could reach entire communities.
The researchers could not identify the beneficiaries, so they analyzed population-level mortality rates. The findings suggest that cash transfers may be helpful not only to women but to families and entire communities.
“These social security programs actually account for the vast majority of income” in places like South Africa, Dr. Pettyfour said. “These spillover effects are to be expected.”
Burke Ozler, a development economist in the Research Division of the World Bank, offered an alternative explanation. cash transfers are frequent with He said improvements in health care services or other infrastructure that help communities.
“It’s probably not a direct effect of people having more cash in their pockets,” he said.
The study did not look at adults over age 60 or specific characteristics of the programs, such as the duration or frequency of payments, whether beneficiaries were men or women, how the money was given, or whether it was bundled with counseling or education. Is.
“I don’t think it’s useful to look at it in future work,” Dr. Tirumurti said.