The impact of cash transfers on subjective well-being and mental health in low- and middle- income countries: A systematic review and meta-analysis
Caspar Kaiser () and
No ydr54, SocArXiv from Center for Open Science
Background: A large body of evidence evaluates the impact of cash transfers (CTs) on physical health and economic indicators. A growing amount of research on CTs contains measures of subjective well- being (SWB) and mental health (MH) but no attempt has been made to systematically synthesize this work. Methods/design: We undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis of RCTs and quasi- experimental studies, including peer-reviewed publications and grey literature (e.g. reports, pre-prints, and working papers), conducted over the period 2000-2020, examining the impact of CTs on self- reported SWB and MH outcomes. Results: Two authors (JM and CK) double-screened 1,147 records of potentially relevant studies, finding 38 studies suitable for inclusion in our meta-analysis, covering 100 outcomes and a total sample of n=114,274 individuals. The average effect size (Cohen’s d) of 38 CT studies on our composite outcome of MH and SWB is 0.10 standard deviations (SDs) (95% CI: 0.8, 0.13) for an average time until follow-up of two years. However, there is a substantial amount of heterogeneity in the estimated effects (I-squared = 64% and 95% Prediction interval: 0.0021, 0.215). CT value, both in absolute terms and relative to previous income, are significant predictors of the effect size. We find only weak evidence that the impact diminishes over time. Four randomized controlled trials in our sample were designed to identify the spillover effects of CTs on the SWB and MH outcomes of non-recipients. Two found negative spillovers but the average effect is not statistically significant and is close to zero. Discussion: Cash transfers significantly increase MH and SWB in low- and middle-income countries. More research on the long run (5+ years) effects is needed, as well as further analysis of the community and household spillover effects of cash transfers on MH and SWB outcomes. We encourage the inclusion of MH and SWB metrics in impact evaluations of interventions to enable the assessment of their relative cost-effectiveness at improving lives compared to cash transfers.
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