“There are two main reasons cash reduces violence,” Dan Kopf explains in a Quartz piece about the impact of cash transfer programs on gender equality. “Women get more power in their relationships, and life gets less stressful.”
According to the World Bank, around one billion people now receive cash transfers across 130 countries, typically from governments. These programs illuminate how money can improve women’s lives—and the results are heartening.
Of the 14 major studies across the world that assessed the impact of cash transfers on intimate partner violence, 11 found a reduction in domestic violence as a result of their implementation. Other research has highlighted that women who receive cash transfers are sexually healthier, and girls who are similarly empowered begin to choose partners based on their personal criteria, instead of who does and doesn’t have money—freeing them from the risk of potentially exploitative relationships with older men.
In 2008, the World Bank funded a study that sought to find out whether cash transfers could have an impact on young women’s sexual health in Malawi. The idea was that some extra cash might allow young women to stay in school and get married later—factors associated with a lower chance of getting HIV.
For two years, the researchers randomly selected 800 girls between the ages of 13 and 22 in the Zomba district of Malawi to receive between $1-5 a month, and their parents an additional $4-10 a month. On average, a family received a total of $10 a month, about 10% of the typical Malawian family’s monthly income.
Eighteen months after the start of the program, researchers compared the women who’d received cash to a control group about 500 women who were not enrolled in the program. The results? The women who received the cash were healthier. While 3% of the women in the control group tested positive for HIV, only 1.2 percent of the women in the program tested positive. Three percent of the women in the control group had herpes, compared to less than 1% of the young women who’d received cash. Survey data also showed that women who did not receive cash were far more likely to lose their virginity and have sex regularly.
Clearly, the cash made a big difference. But why?
Economist Sarah Baird, one of the researchers on the study, has a surprising explanation about why the cash transfers worked: Basically, the cash allowed girls and young women to go out out with younger guys.
“A little more pocket money can make a big difference about who these young women date,” Baird says. “They relied on [older] sexual partners for basic support like uniforms and school fees. As soon as the girls got the cash transfers from us, they were like, We are not going to date you anymore. Now I can date my classmate.”