The Baby's First Years RCT, studying the impact of unconditional cash transfers to low-income US mothers with newborns, reported new results on 2 primary outcomes: child overall health & sleep over 3 years. Quick take: No impact on either outcome (but effects could emerge in future).

Program & Study Design:

  • The study randomly assigned 1,003 mothers in 4 US cities to treatment (a large unconditional cash gift - $4000/yr for 6 years) vs control (a small cash gift - $220/yr for 6 years). Based on careful review, this is a high-quality RCT (e.g., low attrition, baseline balance).

Findings:

  • The new paper reports no discernible impacts on maternal assessments of (1) child health (including overall health rating, emergency dept visits, etc), or (2) child sleep disturbances, based on surveys one, two, & three years after program entry.

Comment:

  • The study is ongoing & it's possible child health effects could emerge later. The study has also prespecified other primary outcomes (e.g., child behavior/emotional problems, language delay, school achievement) that it will presumably report on in the future.

  • I think this is an important study to follow, as it will shed light on whether & to what extent sizable cash transfers improve child outcomes (& affect other key outcomes, such as parents' workforce participation).

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