Are Conditional Cash Transfers Having an Impact on Achieving Access to Education? Some Answers from Argentina

Date: 27 May 2014
Author: Gastón Pierri

Are Conditional Cash Transfers Having an Impact on Achieving Access to Education? Some Answers from Argentina

The impact of Argentina’s Asignación Universal por Hijo Cash Transfer Programme on the right to education

The conditions of poverty and exclusion that affect a great part of Latin America have led governments to create various social security programmes, directed primarily at the most vulnerable families and communities. Several governments, including those of Argentina, Colombia and Mexico, have established conditional cash transfer (CCT) programmes for families in need, as well as scholarships and other types of assistance for students in the national education system. Besides their development implications, these programmes are promoted as a way to fulfill states’ human rights obligations, especially with regard to the rights set forth in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The expansion of these programmes invites scrutiny with regard to their effectiveness. Using a case from Argentina, I briefly assess whether CCTs are having a positive impact on the human right to education.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)’s General Comments have laid out standards to guide states’ obligations of conduct in fulfilling all economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, including the right to education. According to these standards, policies and programmes on education should be designed using what are known as AAAAQ criteria to improve the availability, accessibility, acceptability, adaptability and quality of services necessary for the realization of ESC rights (see Corkery and Way, 2012, also Kalantry et al. 2009). With regard to education, availability requires that education, including free and compulsory primary education, be made available for all who are eligible. Accessibility requires that students have both physical and economic access to education, without discrimination. Acceptability and adaptability mean that educational opportunities must be culturally and socially acceptable and adapted to the local context; and quality suggests that the level of education must be appropriate and adequate, meeting educational and safety standards (see also Corkery et al. 2012, p.5).

In General Comment 13 of the ICESCR, the CESCR elaborated on detailed standards regarding the AAAAQ test for education. The Committee set out three overlapping dimensions with regard to the requirement of accessibility: non-discrimination, physical accessibility and economic accessibility. The Committee required specifically that education must be affordable to all. The Committee recognized that even when states meet their obligations to provide free primary education, as required in article 13(2) of the ICESCR, families may face such tremendous economic barriers that they may not be able to take advantage of this opportunity for their children. Economic accessibility to education therefore requires the existence of a public budget that is sufficiently robust to allow the creation and maintenance of assistance programmes for students and their families.

CCTs to fulfill the right to education

In order to fulfill the right to education for those in extreme poverty, therefore, many Latin American states have initiated conditional cash transfer programmes (CCTs) as a component of their social assistance policies. Under such programmes the receipt of cash is tied to the beneficiaries’ commitment to fulfill one or more conditions, such as enrolling their children in school or regularly taking their children for health check-ups.

In November 2009, for example, the existing family Allowance Regime under Law No. 24,714 was modified to include a CCT programme, called Asignación Universal por Hijo (Universal Child Allowance). It is a non-contributory programme that complements the Allocation per Child Programme for formal workers. It falls under the umbrella of the National Social Security Administration (ANSES) that also acts as the executing agency.

The Asignación Universal por Hijo (AUH) is focused on children and adolescents younger than 18 years of age. It aims to help families whose head of household works in the informal economy or is unemployed. The AUH reached 30% of children (3.5 million) and 15% of households in Argentina (1.8 million) from 2009-2011 (ANSES). The economic cost of the programme was estimated at 0.8% GDP, one of the largest portions of GDP invested in CCTs in Latin America.

The AUH is a semi-conditional programme. The beneficiaries receive 80% of their eligible amount every month and then in December, at the end of the school year, the remaining 20% is paid into a savings account in the name of the beneficiary upon certification that certain conditions have been met. The conditions are: completing a vaccination plan; health check-ups for children under 6 years of age; and certificate of school year completion for school-age children (Garganta and Gasparini 2012).

Examining the impact

This research examines the impact of the AUH programme on children’s access to education in Argentina by using an ex-post evaluation, based on a Difference-in-Difference Estimator and propensity score matching techniques.

The research compared changes in enrollment, drop out rates and grade promotion rates in individual children whose parents or legal guardians participated in the AUH programme between 2009 and 2012. The analysis utilized data from IPUMS-International (see McCaa et al. 2006) related to 1970-2010 Argentina Census (see graphic below) and from the Permanent Household Survey (Encuesta Permanente de Hogares, or EPH), a longitudinal survey that includes retrospective questions. Selected households are interviewed for two successive quarters, there is then a two-quarter break before they appear again in the sample of the next two quarters (see graphic below).

YEAR 2009 YEAR 2010 YEAR 2011 YEAR 2012
T1 T2 T3 T4 T1 T2 T3 T4 T1 T2 T3 T4 T1 T2 T3 T4

Panel data build: Quarter I2009-Quarter IV2012 includes information before and after the implementation of the AUH in November 2009.

The methodology1 uses a Difference-in-Difference Matching Estimator (DD) comparing the temporal changes of the outcome variable in the beneficiary group with the changes in the same variable in the control group. The advantage of this strategy lies in the ability to control for biases derived from time invariant, unobserved characteristics.

Accessibility at the expense of quality?

The preliminary results suggest that the Argentine CCT programme creates incentives for individuals to change their behaviours. The programme has had a mostly positive impact with increased school attendance of primary and secondary students and a reduction in the dropout rate. However, there appears to be a negative impact on grade promotion outcomes. Part of the problem is that the increase in the number of students has not been matched with an increase in resources and contracts for more teachers. The same teachers with same resources are now teaching more students. In that sense, the CCT has been making education more accessible, but it has reduced the quality of the education provided.

CCT programmes are transforming social assistance into a justiciable right. An example of this is that beneficiaries can appear in court and claim that they have a right to social assistance based on the laws (or on their state’s constitution, depending on the case) and specific statutory regulation of each programme. The legal structure used by the Asignación Universal por Hijo programme is an example of a model that is being used to align incentives, stimulate behaviour, and define institutional functions and responsibilities on multiple levels.

However, to have a stronger impact on education, CCTs should be accompanied by wholly comprehensive inclusion policies that not only expand the number of beneficiaries of these systems and keep them in school, but also develop and supply education services of adequate quality, as noted by Fiszbein, Schady, and Ferreira (2009). CCTs may be the right policy instruments to alleviate poverty in the short run, but their contribution to longer term poverty reduction will depend on what happens on the supply side.


Corkery, Allison, Sally-Anne Way and Victoria Wisniewski Otero. 2012. The OPERA Framework. Assessing compliance with the obligation to fulfill economic, social and cultural rights. Brooklyn: Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR).

Corkery, Allison and Sally-Anne Way. 2012. “Integrating Quantitative and Qualitative Tools to Monitor the Obligation to Fulfil Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: the OPERA Framework.” Nordic Journal of Human Rights 30(3):324-349.

Fiszbein, Ariel, Norbert Rüdiger Schady, and Francisco H.G. Ferreira. 2009. Conditional cash transfers: Reducing present and future poverty. Washington DC: World Bank.

Garganta, Santiago and Leonardo Gasparini. 2012. El impacto de un programma social sobre la informalidad laboral: el caso de la AUH en Argentina. Documento de trabajo 133. La Plata: Centro de Estudios Distributivos, Laborales y Sociales de la Universidad Nacional de La Plata (CEDLAS).

Kalantry, Sital, Jocelyn Getgen and Steven A. Koh. 2009. Measuring State Compliance with the Right to Education Using Indicators: a Case Study of Colombia’s Obligations Under the ICESCR. Cornell Law Faculty Working Papers. Paper 52.

McCaa, Robert, Albert Esteve, Steven Ruggles, Matt Sobek, and Ragui Assad. 2006. Using integrated census microdata for evidence-based policy making: the IPUMS-International global initiative. Indian Association for Social Sciences and Health, Third all India Conference, New Delhi, Mar. 16-18


Gastón Pierri is a lawyer (UBA) and Ph.D. candidate in applied economics (UAH). He is currently working as a visiting researcher at the Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota and as a consultant at the World Bank. Previously he has worked with the Argentinian Ministry of Economy, UNDP, SEGIB, the Spanish Red Cross and USAID implementing different strategic development and evaluation programmes in Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Spain and the United States. His current research lies at the intersection of development economics, social development and human rights policy analysis with a particular focus on impact evaluation. His research interests also extend to issues related to public policy, poverty and inequality.

Show 1 footnote

  1. The analysis uses a non-experimental method based on the application of matching techniques to define a control group that permits an estimation of what the situation of beneficiaries would have been had they not gained access to the programme.
Social Protection and Human Rights