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The examination of Nicaragua's RPS program is both promising and concerning at the same time. RPS explicitly grants payments to the female head of families while requiring school attendance and regular health visits for children.

On one hand, the overall conclusion that RPS surely elicit optimism. The study concludes that the program leads to increases in school attendance, food expenditures and other key categories. Furthermore, the "empirical results suggest that targeting transfers to women has been effective at increasing key welfare outcomes for all house-holds, even those with greater male power."

Perhaps my major concern with the findings is that educational attainment--for both the father and mother--are very significant. While research suggests that the level of female educational attainment might reach a point at which the effects will stop or even decline, I am more worried about those in households with less educated adults. Clearly RPS is designed to combat intergenerational lack of education, but does it do enough to overcome a family's initial deficit?

I am interested to learn and discuss if other nations have similar programs to RPS, but perhaps do not specify that the female head of household must be allocated the money. If so, perhaps another study could be conducted.

Austin Pierce

In response to Brett's concerns, sadly there isn't always a "miracle pill" for things. Actually...there rarely, if ever, is. The goal is likely that one generation of effort will change this, but what is more likely is that it will be a gradual progression that requires constant effort and attention from all parties involved.

What I found particularly interesting though was that households in which one parent was more powerful, school enrollment rates were higher than when the household parents were equipotent. Maybe this could imply a power struggle that has consequences for the children, but such reading into such limited data isn't particularly fruitful. The phenomenon is interesting though (and approximately as large as the male-powered v. female-powered difference), and it merits further inquiry.

Jacob Strauss

We often hear that increasing the amount of control the female has in the household has a long list of benefits, both education and nutritional, for the children in the family. This paper supports that, however it provides the interesting caveat (which I have never heard before) that at a certain point additional female power will create negative effects. For example, Basu (2006) shows that too much female power will cause the girls' enrollment to decrease. It seems to suggest that there is a tipping point within the power structure of the family and that the amount of funds the female is supplied in the RPS program should be carefully decided at the margins. However, female-led households are still more likely to have better enrollment in schools than male-led households, which could mean even when the negative effects begin of too much female power the family is still better off than it was before.

I agree with Austin that the program won't change the situation in one generation and that it isn't intended to. Even if a family is less educated than its neighbors RPS can still help their children become better educated and close the gap between them. I would also assume that in this case the program directors are more likely to be concerned about closing the gap between the impoverished and the upper classes, rather than the gaps between the slightly educated poor and the uneducated poor.

Lucy Ortiz

In response to Austin's comment about how the enrollment rate of children with parents of equal education is lower then the enrollment rate of children with parents with differing educational attainment, I think that this could be tied to the same phenomenon happening in consumption measurements. On page 281 the authors note that this is most likely due to the fact that the group of parents with equal years of schooling included many sets of parents with no completed years. This would suggest that it is not so much the difference in years of schooling between the parents that was correlated to the increase of enrollment of the children but rather just simply the education of the parents overall. There of course could be an effect of the difference in years of schooling like the authors suggest in terms of power differences, but this particular part might just be attributed to the total education of the parents rather than the difference between the spouses.

In response to Jacob, the point the authors make about high rates of female power struck me as interesting as well. Basu's thoughts on page 288 made a lot of sense to me though. It makes sense that a parent would choose to take the child out of school that would be of the most benefit to the themselves. During my econometrics project last year I researched the educational attainment of Ghanaian children and found that girls are the most likely to be taken out of school, not only because the returns to the boys education was thought to be higher, but because the returns to the girls working was higher. The girls are thought to be more useful in the family businesses and at home, than their brothers. I thought that this was fitting given Basu's explanation that female head of households benefit more from girls leaving school than boys. Given the choice, a female head of household might be more tempted to take a daughter, rather than a son, out of school to help around the home, with siblings, and at a job, as they would receive more of this benefit than the male head of household.

Madison Smith

As Jacob and Lucy have stated, it was surprising at first that there is a tipping point where female power causes girl’s enrollment to fall. But as Lucy said, there is possibly a point where the benefit of the child working outweighs the gain of school. I would maybe even argue that this isn’t necessarily only a benefit to the parent, but to the household (in the present) as well. If a family doesn’t have food to put on the table, having a child work could give them the money needed to eat. Education is an investment in the future, but it is hard to invest when there are real needs right now. In Vietnam this summer, I surveyed villagers about their educational attainment and their children’s education. Another researcher asked a village about their health habits. A big takeaway from the data is that money is the primary factor missing in getting kids to go to the school and to the doctor. This is pretty much a no brainer, but I like this cash transfer idea because in this village, the mothers seem to have a good amount of power although I don’t have the rFPSY data for this area. The government currently isn’t much help in getting money or reduced prices on education or health, but a program like this could do a lot for the community.

On a different note, I know Professor Blunch has done a lot of work in Ghana on the effect of adult literacy programs on reducing child mortality, which is very interesting. It shows, similar to this study, that education of the parent and the well being of the child are definitely related. These programs I believe were set up for women, and by teaching them to read, they were able to learn about nutrition and pre-natal care. I would hypothesize that a literacy program would maybe even increase the amount of spending on the children through the cash transfer even more than it did in the study.

HeeJu Jang

It was interesting how Gitter and Barham chose the parental education attainment rather than income level as their indicator of power relationship within households. Since the contribution to the wealth of family can be directly or indirectly determined by the power struggle between male and female head of a family (i.e. women cannot leave their house to work because they have to take care of their children and tend home), it can certainly distort our understanding of true intra-household effects. I wonder then if studies that have used income level as their measurement of power can be significantly biased.

Concerning the "tipping points" in children's school enrollment rate in relation to women's power within households, I believe it implies a very important message; that dominance by either head of the partner can be detrimental to children's well-being and thus families should strive to achieve a healthy balance in decision making.

Lastly, I am curious about the quality of school and teachers in communities that Gitter and Barham chose to observe. From our last reading, we learned despite a high school enrollment rate, children still cannot reap the benefits of education in many LDCs due to frequent absence of teachers. I wish Gitter and Bradford supplied us with more information regarding the school these children in their study enrolled.

Zach Colby

I agree with HeeJu that parental education attainment is a very interesting variable choice. She also mentioned that income level could be used. I would be skeptical at both these choices although there probably aren't too many better measures. Our world, especially less developed countries, is dominated by mostly patriarchal structures, so I would be curious as to how much of an effect this would have on "power" in the house. Who receives the income does matter but I would argue that they don't necessarily have the power in the house. This especially matters for the example of women receiving checks and being more likely to spend them on child education or healthcare. This isn't necessarily a matter of power but could be husband simply not bothering to deal with how the check is spent or it being made use of while he is out of the house.

Education is also a very difficult variable to control for, because as people above have said, a year of education can have a ton of value or little to no value, depending on the specific situation.

Andrew Riehl

The RPS program in Nicaragua in theory is a great idea that increases school attendance and visits to health centers. While this is all generally true, there are many aspects of the program and data collected to question. First of all, as many have pointed out, the quality of the education when they arrive at school might not be very good. In many poor countries, the teachers are unqualified or they do not even show up according to our reading for last week. The children might be going to school more often, but the quality of education received could be low. Additionally, I do not like how they define power when determining which of the parents has more of it. Education is a part of the puzzle, but there are other factors that define power. A woman might be louder and more assertive than a shy husband even if the educations differ. Similarly, a woman might be less educated than a man because of monetary issues, but she could naturally be smarter and more intuitive. When parents had similar education levels, the numbers were not too far off from women having more of the “power.”
I also question the study because at a certain threshold, when women have too much “power” over men, the enrollment of girls in school decreases. I wonder why this is the case. A mother denies her daughter education after the mother has that much more education than the father. Did the mother believe her education was a waste of time due to her current situation?

Bobby DeStefano

The findings by Gitter and Barham that directing funds to women and requiring school attendance can improve school enrollment and nutrition for children are not surprising. It was been well documented that women tend to spend more on their children than man. However, (as my classmates have said) this idea of a “tipping-point”, where after a women’s power passes a certain threshold education is negatively effected is concerning. This suggests, as Heeju said, that possibly power should be evenly distributed within a household to have optimal decision-making.
Gitter and Barham also concluded “the mother’s relative education level always has a positive impact on boy’s education”(18), but after women’s power pass this “tipping-point” girl’s enrollment is negatively effected. This seems to contradict findings Gitter and Barham reference from other articles that suggest that mothers are more likely to spend an increase in non-wage income on their daughters rather that sons. This raises the say questions as Andrew asked. Perhaps these questions have to deal these cultural issues.

C Wood

Many of my classmates and particularly Andrew's questions about this tipping point were similar to my concerns as I read these findings by Gitter and Barham. I was taken aback at first when reading about this tipping point at which when women's power level reaches a certain point, girl's attendance in school drops.

I hadn't thought that the mother's increased priority of spending, compared to men, on children's nutrition and education was due to anything other than her role as more nurturing/child-centered. Though there is still large support for this within this paper and the other reading by Duflo (2012), the fact that girls were increasingly taken out of school past a certain education level of their mothers made me reevaluate my original assumptions. This leads me to question whether women seem to see child health or education as a more important concern than men, but do they switch thinking somewhat when the returns on child labor to them specifically (in the power role) is too tempting? Is this simply that the mother's are thinking in terms of maximizing utility for the entire household because in this role of power she thinks she can best allocate this increase in spending opportunity? Or is it more from an elevated position of power over funds that she cannot pass up. I would be interested to see follow up on these women of power levels above the tipping point. For example does the concentration of their spending still predominantly go toward child benefits?

Stephen Moore

I found Andrew's points about education and power dynamic interesting. While I do believe there is a strong correlation between education and "power" in a relationship, there are several other constantly moving variables to consider. Personality traits and "street smarts" affect this dynamic. Also, there are different historical and cultural factors to consider. This ties back to the broader theme of development economics being an understanding of how people act as well as a science. These personality traits can be hard to model, so the emphasis on measuring education is understandable. Education can also understandably give someone the upper hand in a relationship. The difficulty in trying to measure a power dynamic provokes many new areas of research one might consider.

Mary Beth Benjamin

I too found the RPS program in Nicaragua particularly intriguing because it attempts to provide a sort of rewards system for good behavior. Based on other research, they believe that exogenous increases in household income given directly to the mother are more likely to be used to improve the welfare of the children. When the mother’s power within the household increases, studies show the number of resources are increasingly devoted to the children’s education; however, there is a break in this pattern when the power of the mother “greatly exceeds” the father’s, this theory falls apart. As Andrew pointed out, this distinction leaves a lot of room for interpretation and aside from the theory that taking a daughter out of school results in more benefits for the household than taking a son out of school, there isn’t much data in the study that can be used to account for the sudden change in spending habits in households with extremely powerful women vs. households with powerful women. I also find it odd that ‘years of schooling completed’ is the only metric used to predict the power level within a household.

Curtis Jay Correll

I suppose I did not find the idea of the “tipping point” as disturbing as many of my classmates. As HeeJu pointed out, this data clearly shows that a balance in family power is the optimal solution. I find this heartening. While previous data we’ve looked at seemed to simply show that men are more selfish and that women are more altruistic and care more for their children, I believe this data has given us a conclusion that we should have already known. That is that a household with a balance of power functions most cohesively. Power corrupts, even at the family level, so it is hardly surprising that the parent of either gender will become more self-interested as they begin to make more unilateral decisions. Discourse and debate as well as a system of checks and balances are important in decision-making even within the family unit. So to look at this holistically, neither gender is inherently selfless and both need checks and balances. That being said, the current RPS system of distributing payouts to the female in the household is the best option since most households still are male-dominated with an imbalance between the parents.

In terms of methodology, I was curious as to the accuracy of the decision to measure household power by education level, though unlike Andrew I think it may very well be an accurate measurement on the aggregate. Clearly you cannot measure each individual family that way, since personality and other factors would necessarily come in to play, but I believe that on the aggregate this is at least a solid benchmark. On average however, I think there should be some statistical adjustment for the patriarchal nature of developing societies. While there will almost certainly be trends towards more equal power as women become more educated, you are still likely to see women given at least a little less power than the statistics might indicate because of cultural norms and social expectations.

Richard Nelson

I thought that the RPS study was interesting, specifically the levels of effectiveness for different degrees of implementation. The evidence that increasing power for women only increases student enrollment to a certain extent, at which point it actually has the opposite effect, was a bit surprising at first. However, taken in the context of human nature, this is somewhat logical. This observation follows the saying that power corrupts all, even though the subjects in this study were certainly not given a large amount of power. While the “power” here is simply the level of education, it goes back to our conversation that everything is relative. It shows that a feeling of personal superiority undoubtedly changes our actions and perceptions. While that was a bit of a stretch, it was the initial thought I had after considering “why would the additional power reverse the success of the program?” So, do we educate more, give more to the mother, or do they only work when employed together? It appears that there is a fine balance that is likely family specific, but the underlying message is to enable the mother through education and direct funding. Really, I think the issue is cultural, because while this study proves itself through a controlled environment, it would be very interesting to see how deeply engrained the “old traditions” are and if they can be changed to reverse the state of subsistence.

Daphine Mugayo

A lot of research has gone into looking at the effects of increasing the female's bargaining power in a household in order to improve childhood education, health and well being. Most have shown that there is a positive correlation between the two variables.
With that idea grounded by earlier works, more literature has begun to grow on how this bargaining power can be increased to achieve these effects. Prof Blunch has looked at this issue in Ghana particularly looking at the effect of female adult education on childhood education. He observed through his data that the increased education of mothers increased the years of schooling and the academic achievement of their children.
Its interesting That this paper looks at increasing bargaining power of a woman through conditional cash transfers. I would have hoped to see a control experiment in which they gave the money to a male head of the household. This is because these transfers do not contract any money from the family. It could be the case that even if these cash transfers were given to men, similar expenditure increases would be observed simply because the household income has increased.

I would be interested in knowing whether these cash transfers triggered shifts in expenditure patterns due to shifts in bargaining power. This would then directly show that the cash transfers are leading to power shifts in the household reflected by the changes in consumption habits.

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