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Unconditional cash transfers and intrahousehold conflict: A pilot study in Kenya

Intimate partner violence is a significant challenge in Kenya, as in other developing countries. Nearly 40% of ever-married Kenyan women report physical abuse by a spouse (KNBS and ICF Macro 2010), and in a separate survey, almost 90% report some form of emotionally abusive treatment (Haushofer and Shapiro 2016). Women who are subject to physical or psychological abuse are also less likely to have control over personal and household finances. Our research team partnered with GiveDirectly to pilot innovative tools to enhance women’s control over household finances while simultaneously reducing spousal violence and conflict. The basic insight is simple: a substantial proportion of spousal conflict – especially in low-income settings – is related to disputes around household finances. Couples who develop and adhere to spending plans may therefore experience less conflict; similarly, explicitly engaging women in planning may enhance women’s ability to control how household resources are spent.

In order to test the feasibility of using these tools as part of a cash transfer program, the research team worked with the Busara Center for Experimental Economics to design planning tools that could be used by GiveDirectly beneficiary households to map out their financial goals. These tools were then piloted with 80 households in Nyando county, and the research team tracked these households’ outcomes and attitudes toward the new tools. Preliminary results suggest that engaging households in structured financial planning prior to receiving the transfer has the potential to impact on couples’ choice of financial goals and their adherence to those goals. Moreover, financial planning appears to be particularly important for households where women had little decision-making power ex ante. Experimenting with financial planning methods may thus be a valuable strategy both to increase female participation in decision-making, and to reduce spousal conflict.

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Simone Schaner is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College and Jessica Leight is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Williams College.