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The power of lump sums: Using maternity payment schedules to reduce the gender asset gap in households reached by Brazil’s Bolsa Família conditional cash transfer

Gregory Duff Morton

World Development, 2019, vol. 113, issue C, 352-367

Abstract: Can cash assistance have an influence on gender relations inside a household? What are the processes through which this influence occurs? The present article investigates the everyday uses of money that women receive from two gender-targeted social programs in rural Brazil. Bolsa Família is a conditional cash transfer that disburses money to women every month. The Maternity Wage is a program that gives a sizeable lump sum to women when they become pregnant. Drawing from two years of ethnographic research in two villages in Northeastern Brazil, I show how these different payment schedules can lead to different patterns of investment in assets. I find that women typically spend monthly cash assistance on items, like clothing and furniture, that correspond to local stereotypes about feminine property. By contrast, lump sums are used by women to purchase income-generating assets, like cows and fields, that would normally be held by men. Monthly money reinforces gendered stereotypes about assets, while lump-sum money challenges those stereotypes. Lump sums thereby enable women to become the owners of wealth that generates a flow of income over time. I identify two key qualities that underlie this change: a payment’s large size and its unpredictability. These qualities affect the mental accounting that beneficiaries use to understand their money and the institutions through which they save it. By outlining such processes, the article brings the literature on conditional cash transfers into dialogue with studies on the gender asset gap. Lump sums can help to re-gender a household’s assets. This finding suggests that cash assistance policy, particularly in the case of conditional cash transfers, might be able to have an effect on gender equity by making use of targeted lump sums.

Keywords: Bolsa Família; Maternity benefits; Conditional cash transfer; Gender asset gap; Salário Maternidade; Household budgets (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2018.08.012

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