Do Cash Transfers Improve Birth Outcomes? Evidence from Matched Vital Statistics, Social Security and Program Data
The publication by Verónica Amarante, Marco Manacorda, Edward Miguel and Andrea Vigorito is an analysis of the impact of in utero exposure in Uruguay to a cash social assistance program – the Uruguayan Plan de Atención Nacional a la Emergencia Social (PANES), which provided households with a sizeable transfer – on children’s early health outcomes.
The authors used data from hospital, vital statistics, programs and social security records to test their hypotheses.
The results of this quantitative study shows that since there is a visible drop in the incidence of low birthweight among children with positive program exposure relative to those born before the mother entered the program (with negative exposure). There is an additional drop among those whose mother entered the program in the second semester of pregnancy (who had at least one full trimester of exposure).
Beyond that, the incidence of low birthweight remains roughly constant (with some apparent sampling variability), implying that there is no additional gain for mothers entering the program even earlier in the pregnancy or before conception. Participation of children in the program improves low birthweight (which falls by 1.5%) and mean child birth weight increases by 23 to 30 grams. Authors speculate that the reduced work hours of mothers might have had a significant impact on the birth weight outcomes.
Overall, the study shows that PANES contributed in reducing birth weight while confirming many different channels hypothesized in the literature appear to contribute to the overall reduction in low birth weight, including improved maternal nutrition and reduced smoking.
Uruguay's good infant health measures and nearly universal access to prenatal care are hailed as examples for Latin American Countries and other wealthier societies by the authors.