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Empowering Young Women in Malawi: A Mixed Methods Approach

Development Challenge

In developing countries, gender inequality continues to negatively affect women’s educational, economic, and health outcomes.  In sub-Saharan Africa, women are less likely than men to attend school, have fewer job opportunities, and face barriers to optimal reproductive health. Cash transfer programs, both conditional (CCT) and unconditional (UCT), have become widespread across the continent. Policymakers have emphasized that cash transfer programs have the potential to empower women by building human capital. However, there is little evidence on whether cash transfer programs have long-term impacts on recipients’ self-esteem and personal sense of empowerment, and how such impacts affect decision-making.


Zomba, a district in the Southern region of Malawi, is an almost exclusively agricultural economy characterized by low educational attainment and few opportunities for formal employment. As of 2009, this district was the third poorest in Malawi and in 2008, only 6% of the adult population received a formal income (Zomba City Assembly 2009). This context is typical for many parts of rural sub-Saharan Africa, and, hence, is an important environment in which to understand the constraints adolescents face as they transition to adulthood.

The research team conducted a clustered randomized controlled trial “Schooling, Income, and Health Risk (SIHR)” which assessed the effects of providing conditional and unconditional cash transfers for two years (2008/2009) on a wide range of educational and health outcomes. The transfers were provided to 1,225 school-aged girls (and their parents) [1] with an additional 2,571 adolescents serving as controls. Outcomes measured include adolescent pregnancy, marriage, risky sexual behavior, HIV infection rates, mental health, school attendance, and learning. A series of four rounds of surveys (2007-2012) provide a rich picture of the transition from adolescence into adulthood for these school-aged girls.

The ​original ​study ​found ​improvements ​in ​school ​attendance, ​as ​well ​as ​reductions ​in ​adolescent pregnancy, ​marriage, ​and ​STIs, with varied effects depending on whether you received a CCT or a UCT, and whether you were in or out of school at baseline [2,3,4,5]. In 2017, a ​parallel ​quantitative ​follow-up ​to ​the original ​study ​evaluated ​ ​medium-term ​impacts ​of ​the ​CCT/UCT interventions [6].Evidence from the follow-up study showed mixed results on the sustained welfare impact of cash transfers on recipients once transfers ended. The ​aim ​of ​this ​qualitative ​follow-up study ​is ​to ​shed light on ​the ​psychological and ​behavioral ​channels ​through ​which ​the ​intervention’s positive welfare impacts worked​.

Evaluation Strategy

Researchers used a mixed-methods approach to determine whether and how cash transfers may have empowered program participants. In 2014, researchers followed up with participants two years after the intervention ended and collected both quantitative and qualitative data on longer term impacts of the program, with the qualitative data aiming to better understand mechanisms behind the interventions impact. Researchers conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 70 randomly sampled female respondents from the original RCT intervention.

Results and Policy Implications

The qualitative data has been generated, yet complete analysis is still underway.

Results forthcoming.


2014 - 2015

[1] The final sample of baseline school-aged girls included 1,225 girls in 88 control enumeration areas (EAs), 942 girls receiving CCTs, and 283 girls receiving UCTs.

[2] Baird, Sarah, Craig McIntosh, and Berk Özler. 2011. “Cash or Condition? Evidence from a Randomized Cash Transfer Program.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 126 (4): 1709-1753.

[3] Baird, Sarah, Ephraim Chirwa, Craig McIntosh, and Berk Özler. 2010. "The Short-Term Impacts of a Schooling Conditional Cash Transfer Program on the Sexual Behavior of Young Women." Health Economics 19(2010): 55-68.

[4] Baird, Sarah J, Richard S Garfein, Craig T McIntosh, and Berk Özler. 2012. "Effect of a Cash Transfer Programme for Schooling on Prevalence of HIV and Herpes Simplex Type 2 in Malawi: A Cluster Randomised Trial." Lancet379 (2012): 1320-1329. 

[5] Baird, S., Chirwa, E., de Hoop, J., and Özler, B. (2016) “Girl Power: Cash Transfers and Adolescent Welfare. Evidence from a Cluster-Randomized Experiment in Malawi,” in S. Edwards, S. Johnson, D. Weil (editors), African Successes, Volume II: Human Capital,  University of Chicago Press. pp. 139-164.

[6] Baird, Sarah; McIntosh, Craig; Özler, Berk. (2017). When the Money Runs Out: Do Cash Transfers Have a Sustained Eff­ect on Human Capital Accumulation? Working Paper Series No. WPS-068. Center for E­ffective Global Action. University of California, Berkeley.