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Poverty, cash transfers and adolescents’ lives: exploring the unintended consequences of Nepal’s social pension: a mixed-methods study

Mathers, Nicholas John (2020) Poverty, cash transfers and adolescents’ lives: exploring the unintended consequences of Nepal’s social pension: a mixed-methods study. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004250


This thesis contributes new evidence and analyses on the effects of cash transfers on adolescent school attendance, work participation and marital status. The mixed-methods study investigates the effects of Nepal’s Old Age Allowance (OAA), an unconditional cash transfer, on adolescents who co-reside with older persons using primary data from a household survey (n=2018) and in-depth interviews (IDI) (n=55) conducted in Rautahat district in the Terai region. The quantitative analysis exploits the age criteria for OAA eligibility to isolate its effects on co-resident adolescents. Using a hybrid thematic approach, IDIs are used to elucidate whether and how the OAA was factored into household decision-making and its relation to other factors that influence decisions about adolescents’ lives. The findings show that the OAA supports households to fulfil existing preferences for adolescents, which depend on the socioeconomic status, decision-making dynamics and religion of the household, the type and quality of local schools, the nature of local credit markets, and gendered social norms and expectations attached to transitions to adulthood. For many adolescents, this means increased access to school, whether public, private, or religious. However, some households support adolescents to access private school by taking loans in anticipation of OAA eligibility but fail to sustain the costs in the face of delays in registration and receipt of the first payments. Some out-of-school adolescents are prevented from engaging in paid work. However, other households use the OAA to accelerate transitions to adulthood, supporting economic migration of older boys and expediting the formalisation of marriage of older girls. This study makes five main contributions to the literature. First, studies on income effects on access to education tend to consider school as a homogenous entity, but the findings show that a UCT can expand school choice with different effects for different types of school. Second, the findings on adolescent marriage are novel for a dowry context and should prompt the research and policy literature to recognise the possibility that UCTs can increase the risk of early marriage. Third, this study provides unique evidence on the role of cash transfers in leveraging loans for human capital investment and marriage. Fourth, the study examines the dynamics of household decision-making in relation to causal processes and shows that variation in outcomes according to the gender of the cash transfer recipient may stem from differences in bargaining power and economic opportunity as much as from differences in preferences. Finally, most studies on cash transfers often fail to account for the complexity in people’s lives which may lead to blunt or erroneous conclusions. This study shows that adopting the tenets of a critical realist perspective and placing decision-making about the outcomes of interest at the centre of the analysis focuses attention on the diverse contextual factors that shape the effects of cash transfers on individual household members, and provides for richer and more nuanced findings.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Nicholas John Mathers
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: Stewart, Kitty and Coast, Ernestina

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