Nudging the Poor

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CCTs are a poverty alleviation tool by which policy-makers attempt to incentivize low-income people, and particularly mothers, to fulfill development goals. The “Unnecessary Nudge” published in Sociological Forum examines a Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) pilot in the low-income Egyptian neighborhood of Ain EsSira (pictured above). Drawing on qualitative research conducted over the course of the program, it found that while mothers did send their children to school as a result of the program, it was because the cash transferred by the program allowed them to afford its costs, not because its conditions required it. Public school education in Egypt is expensive due to corruption at the level of teachers and administrators who require parents to pay private lesson fees to offset their own low wages. This article reflects on the use of cash incentives in poverty policy, and the danger of studying programs solely through outcomes that blackbox how programs actually work in the lives of the poor. This article won the Eastern Sociological Society’s Candace Rogers Award for “most outstanding paper by a graduate student.” For a synopsis of the article’s argument, see this post.