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Giving people money with no strings attached is good for their health, according to dozens of studies


The research summary is a brief overview of interesting scholarly work.

The big idea

When people living in poverty in countries like Malawi, Indonesia and Ecuador receive cash payments for nothing in return, they are healthier, according to a scientific review of a large number of research.

To reach this conclusion, our interdisciplinary team of public health experts, economists and epidemiologists from Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United States pooled data from 34 studies involving 1,140,385 participants in 50,095 households in Africa, the Americas and Southeast Asia.

Our systematic review and meta-analysis also determined that unconditional cash payments in low- and middle-income countries not only reduce poverty, but also lead to greater food security, better nutrition, and school attendance. more regular.

Follow-up surveys of people who received this money earlier found that they were less likely to have been sick in the previous two weeks to three months compared to people who had not received this money. Additionally, there is evidence that people who received cash payments spent more money on health care.

The studies we reviewed involved 24 different cash payment programs in 13 countries that were run either by governments, nonprofits, or researchers. The value of money given to those in need varied widely, ranging from 1.3% to 81.9% of gross domestic product per capita.

why is it important

Governments, nonprofits, and researchers around the world are increasingly experimenting with a simple approach to poverty alleviation: give people money to spend on whatever they need.

Many of these cash transfer pilots and experiments – often called basic income programs – required people to do something to receive the money, such as making sure their children attended school regularly. Sometimes the condition involves performing a specific health-related task, such as attending a health education workshop or going to a preventive care medical appointment.

Researchers wonder whether these conditions enhance or hinder the effectiveness of these programs.

Other programs, like the ones we studied, have no such requirements.

One of the benefits of the no-strings approach, according to the nonprofit GiveDirectly and other proponents, is that it eliminates the need to monitor compliance and significantly reduces administrative costs. Unconditional cash payments can empower recipients as they can decide how to use the cash to meet some of their immediate needs.

Making payments conditional on people meeting requirements can also unintentionally harm people in need who cannot comply with conditions due to physical, social and economic barriers. For example, requiring a visit to the clinic to “earn” a cash payment does not help people unable to make the trip.

What is not yet known

We still don’t have enough information to determine if this trend is true in the United States and other wealthier countries.

The long-term health benefits of unconditional cash payments are also unclear.

Finally, more research is needed to understand whether the momentum of these programs, for example when following a hurricane or other major disaster, makes a difference.

And after

Our team plans to study whether cash payment programs that require compliance with conditions also lead to better health. We also want to update a previous review we conducted on payments made to people who have experienced humanitarian disasters to include assessments of similar efforts conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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