9, February, 2015
NON-ELLA PUBLICATION

The Impact of Bolsa Família on Schooling

The authors of this paper estimate the impact of Brazil’s Bolsa Família, one of the largest conditional cash transfer programs in the world, on a range of education outcomes, including school participation, grade progression, grade repetition, and dropout rates.

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A key feature of conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs is the dual aim to provide assistance to poor households while creating incentives for human capital investments in children to break the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Numerous developing and developed countries use CCT programs to promote childhood education by including a requirement, or conditionality, that children enroll in and attend school. An extensive literature documents that in Latin America and elsewhere, CCT programs with schooling conditionalities have caused significant increases in school participation rates (see Fiszbein and Schady [2009] for a review). The findings have spurred the creation of more CCT programs with similar requirements. The justification for CCT programs also depends ultimately on their impacts on education attainment, or, in the short term, school progression. Impacts of CCT programs on school progression are mixed and are often limited to a narrower segment of the school-age population than impacts on school enrollment or attendance

Also of interest is who benefits from CCT programs and why. Impacts on school enrollment are often larger for children in poorer households (Glewwe and Olinto 2004; Maluccio and Flores 2004; Filmer and Schady 2008) and during years of transition into school or between school levels (Schultz 2004; Schady and Araujo 2008; de Brauw et al. 2012). Several studies report larger impacts on schooling outcomes for girls than for boys (Schultz 2004; Ahmed et al. 2007; de Brauw et al. 2012). In some cases, this reflects the common finding that impacts are larger among groups with low initial outcomes, such as in areas where girls traditionally lag behind boys in school enrollment.

However, the impact of CCT programs on education outcomes may differ between girls and boys due to sex-based differences in opportunity costs of schooling, returns to education, and cost or ease of school attainment and performance. Which of those factors contributes to differences in impacts by sex is not well understood, although identifying the impact pathways would have important implications for program targeting.

In this paper, the authors study the impacts on school enrollment and school progression (dropout rates, grade progression, and grade repetition) of the Bolsa Família program in Brazil, including a detailed exploration of differences in impacts by children’s sex, age, and area of residence. Bolsa Família, which began in 2003, is now the largest CCT program in the world, with more than 12 million beneficiary households in 2012. It covers both rural and urban areas across all five regions in Brazil. Initially, the schooling conditionality under Bolsa Família covered children aged 6 to 15 years, but a complementary program introduced in 2008 called Benefício Variável Jovem (BVJ) expanded access to transfers with the schooling conditionality to children aged 16 to 17 years. Although the benefits schedule pays larger transfers to older children under BVJ than to children aged 6 to 15, notably the transfer amounts do not differ by sex. This leads to interesting comparisons with the age and sex distribution of impacts of Latin America’s other large CCT program, Mexico’s Oportunidades program (formerly PROGRESA), where the transfer schedule varied by sex and by current grade level.

Authors: Alan de Brauw, Daniel O. Gilligan, John Hoddinott, Shalini Roy
Orginal publication date: January, 2014
Publisher: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

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