Gender targeting of unconditional income transfers and child nutritional status: Experimental evidence from the Bolivian Amazon

Working paper number: 
14-03
Paper Abstract: 
Observational studies suggest that women’s income benefits children’s health and nutritional status, as well as education, more than men’s income, apparently because women are more likely to shift marginal resources to their children. These studies have influenced policies such as conditional cash transfers, which typically target women. However, previous studies have been unable to control for unobserved heterogeneity in child endowments and parental preferences. We report the results of a trial that allocated randomly one-time in-kind income in the form of edible rice (the main staple and cash crop in the study area) or rice seeds to the female or male household head (edible rice transfers, range: 30-395 kg/household; rice seeds: 5.9 kg/household). The trial took place in a society of native Amazonian forager-farmers in Bolivia (2008-2009). Outcomes included four anthropometric indicators of short-run nutritional status of 848 children from 40 villages. We found that the transfers produced no discernible impact on short-run (~5 months) nutritional status of children, or any differential effects between girls and boys by the gender of the household head who received the transfers. These null results probably relate to specific social norms of the Tsimane’, such as pooling of food resources, shared preferences, and relatively equal bargaining power between Tsimane’ women and men. The results highlight the probable importance of culture in household resource allocation and suggest that gender targeting in cash transfer programs might not increase investments in children in societies where women and men have more egalitarian household relationships