From Our Partners

If Young Girls Had Access to Small Savings Accounts Would They Be More Likely to Stay in School?

This post is part of a blog series on evidence generated through the Population Council’s RISING program. RISING uses implementation science, evidence review, and organizational grants to build knowledge about what works in adolescent girls programming. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Population Council. Please direct any questions to Shelley Clark.

It’s been encouraging over the past generation to see a new emphasis on education, and particularly girls’ education, as a priority in development programs. But even with ambitious initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals, this emphasis is mostly on primary education. Real progress in girls’ primary education hasn’t been matched by progress at higher levels. In Ghana, for example, while nearly all girls now complete primary school, only 20 percent earn their diplomas from secondary school.

Why these girls leave school isn’t a mystery. It can be explained by one word: poverty. Poverty lies at the root of early marriages and teenage pregnancies that compel girls to leave school. Poverty keeps girls at home minding younger siblings or performing long hours of housework. Poverty limits their nutritional intake, compromising their health and impeding their cognitive development. Poverty prevents girls from having the shoes and uniforms needed to attend classes and from paying the exam fees and purchasing the notebooks and pens necessary for their studies.

Although education in several countries, like Ghana, is officially free, and many of these associated costs are relatively small, they can have a big effect on girls’ education as families make difficult decisions about how to spend limited financial resources.

But what if girls had access to small savings accounts, and they (rather than their parents) could make the decisions about whether to spend this money on exam fees, uniforms, menstrual pads, or notebooks? Moreover, what if these girls were given additional cash deposits into their savings accounts each year if they remained in school? Our project, funded by the RISING program at the Population Council in New York, is designed to answer these questions.

We began last August by interviewing approximately 1,400 girls aged 9–13 in a poor, rural district of Ghana. Half of these girls were randomly selected to receive financial literacy training conducted by staff members at the Population Council, Ghana. This training covered key information about savings, loans, budgets, and interest rates. Girls then formed “clubs” and opened group savings accounts, in which each girl was given approximately US$15. Using individual passbooks (checkbooks), they maintain careful records of their deposits, withdrawals, and total savings. Participating girls will be given an additional US$15 in their savings accounts if they remain in school for the session starting in fall 2015. In addition, a subset of these girls (230 girls) were selected to participate in weekly meetings to not only reinforce the financial literacy messages but also to explore a range of topics such as nutrition, health, self-esteem, leadership, time management, friendships, education, and careers. We will continue to follow these girls and try to answer questions like: How will they spend this money? Will they add to their savings? Does participation in the weekly meetings augment beneficial effects? Do outcomes for a girl vary depending on the level of program participation in her village? And most importantly: Will having these savings accounts and financial knowledge encourage them to delay pregnancy and stay in school? Stay tuned for future blogs describing our research. 

Shelley Clark is a professor in the department of sociology at McGill University in Montreal. Learn more about this project and others underway in Africa.

Other posts in this series: