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IZA published an RCT evaluating generous unconditional cash transfers ($8K/year) to low-income households in Spain, to reduce poverty. Quick take: High-quality RCT finds sizable (9% point) adverse effect on employment at roughly the 2 year mark.

Program & Study Design:

  • The study randomly assigned 1200 low-income households in Barcelona to a treatment group that received (dollar-equivalent) $8000/yr for 2 years, vs a control group. The study had excellent baseline balance & measured employment using administrative data with no sample attrition.


  • At follow-up 3 months before the program's end, the study found a sizable adverse effect on the employment rate of lead household members: 36% treatment (T) vs 45% control (C), p<0.05. The effect diminished, but was still statistically significant, over the 6 months post-program.

  • A substudy found that program features affected the size of the adverse effect. 40% of Ts were randomly assigned to a group whose cash transfer was reduced euro-for-euro for additional income they earned; 60% of Ts had their transfer reduced 25-35¢ on the euro for additional income.

  • The substudy found that the adverse effect on employment was about twice as large in the euro-for-euro group vs the 25-35 cents-on-the-euro group, and the difference was statistically significant.


  • These findings suggest a need for caution in the design of anti-poverty programs, to avoid discouraging work effort. There have been some similar RCT findings in the US for programs with a sizable benefit reduction rate on additional income (example).

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