Policy expertise

Literature Review of the Impact of Cash Transfers

Policy Area
Department for International Development (DFID)
Jan 2015 - Jul 2016
OPM contact

The aim of this research – commissioned by DFID and led by ODI – is to consolidate and assess the existing body of evidence on the intended and unintended impacts on individuals and households of non-contributory cash transfer programmes. The research focuses on the following six outcome areas: monetary poverty and inequality, education, health, savings, investment and production, employment and empowerment and social relations. Importantly, it also includes a strong focus on the role of mediating factors to programme impact, exploring the evidence on the role played by cash transfer core design parameters (main recipient, value, frequency/timing predictability and duration), conditionality, targeting approach, payment modality, social accountability approach and complementary initiatives.

A Cash Transfers Literature Review was published by DFID in 2011 and is still widely used by donors, academics and practitioners. The literature review found that the cash transfers evidence base was relatively strong for some outcome areas, but in others the logic was strong but the evidence was limited.

This research was commissioned by DFID to respond to the strong demand for an updated, impartial and accessible synthesis of the ever-increasing evidence on this topic. Its strength lies in its flexible methodology, and in its novel focus on impacts and how they are mediated by programme design and implementation.

This literature review was primarily focused on empirical studies that are based on primary data. Only studies of (non-contributory) conditional and unconditional cash transfers targeted at individuals or households published in English and from the year 2000 were considered. The review followed a rigorous, evidence-based process. The key stages included the following:

  • Development of an overarching Conceptual Framework and Theory of Change, to guide the research questions
  • Write-up and peer review of methodological approach in protocol format prior to the commencement of the search and retrieval
  • Retrieving studies through five tracks, using consistent and broadly targeted search strings
  • Screening studies for relevance in two screening stages
  • Subjecting studies to a risk of bias assessment
  • Extracting detailed information on methods, outcome areas and indicators, and details on the cash transfer, for the studies included in the final list of studies. This information was used to develop a detailed Annotated Bibliography
  • Selecting indicators for extraction and extracting all relevant coefficients and information from each study, including disaggregated impacts for women and girls (where available) and the effects of design and implementation parameters on these outcomes
  • A narrative synthesis approach was used to discuss and synthesize these findings.

The review was led by ODI, with OPM providing continuous inputs and participating in each stage of the process. We were also primarily responsible for the overarching Conceptual Framework and for the concluding sections on design & implementation and policy implications.

This review was commissioned to respond to strong demand from DFID country offices, policy leadership and external partners, including national governments, other donors, multilaterals, civil society organisations, and policy and research institutions. Following the success of the 2011 DFID Review this research reviews a more comprehensive and updated literature, focusing on a wide range of impact areas and offering the first systematic analysis of the mediating role of Cash Transfer design and implementation factors