Journal Article

Cash transfers, early marriage, and fertility in Malawi and Zambia

There is increasing interest in the ability of cash transfers to facilitate safe transitions to adulthood in low‐income settings; however, evidence from scaled‐up government programming demonstrating this potential is scarce. Using two experimental evaluations of unconditional cash transfers targeted to ultra‐poor and labor‐constrained households over approximately three years in Malawi and Zambia, we examine whether cash transfers delayed early marriage and pregnancy among youth aged 14 to 21 years at baseline. Although we find strong impacts on poverty and schooling, two main pathways hypothesized in the literature, we find limited impacts on safe transition outcomes for both males and females. In addition, despite hypotheses that social norms may constrain potential impacts of cash transfer programs, we show suggestive evidence that pre‐program variation in social norms across communities does not significantly affect program impact. We conclude with policy implications and suggestions for future research.

Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.