Unbiased Analysis of Today's Healthcare Issues

Paying kids to go to school

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Mar• 20•08

In Mexico there is a government program named Oportunidades which gives families cash payments if their children go to school, get vaccinated, and have regular health checkups.  The program has been a success and similar conditional cash transfers (CCTs) programs are being run in Nicaragua, Brazil and New York City.

New York City?  Should the NYC government pay for local children to go to school?  On the one hand, this will likely increase school attendance and decrease the number of drop outs.  On the other hand, the government is paying residents to do certain actions which seems to be a very paternalistic attitude.

The Economist  reports (“When bribery pays…“) that CCTs have been used in other settings as well:

Offering cash to change long-term bad habits, such as smoking or over-eating, has not worked. But disbursements tied to short-term transactions, such as getting drug addicts to take treatments for tuberculosis or depressed patients to see their psychiatrists, have already shown promise.

While paying children to go to school is not in and of itself a bad idea, I am concerned that the government will continue to pay people to do things that it thinks are in its best interest.  If we want to decrease inequality in society, it would be much better to increase cash transfers to the poor and allow them to decide for themselves what they should do with the money.

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  1. If we want to decrease inequality in society, it would be much better to increase cash transfers to the poor and allow them to decide for themselves what they should do with the money.

    This is just incoherent. The people in question here can decide what to do with their money.

    It is often said that taxing a behaviour reduces its incidence, as it introduces a disincentive to the behaviour — this seems like the straightforward flip side of that coin. In fact, it’s downright Pigovian; if the positive externality of having a future worker be well-educated or from the slight increase in herd immunity from having someone get their vaccination is worth some amount of money, isn’t in fact the most economically efficient possibility to pay people to do that as an `anti-tax’?

  2. AnnR says:

    At first glance I though this was nuts too.
    But then I read an editorial that noted that middle and upper class kids receive all kinds of goodies from their parents for school performance.

    As a parent of now-college aged children I know that to be totally true. The Play station that hinged on this or that grade; the driving privileges that were contingent on grade cards.

    I also gained some empathy after watching the season the “The Wire” that dealt with inner city schools. A lot of those kids were good, but they wanted a bit of cash. Like the boy who sold candy bars. How close a step to selling drugs. If we could keep him at school/in school it might be worth it.

    Even when there isn’t an overt reward there are allowances, cell phones, school trips (my kids went to Spain, France and Russia)….

    Reminded of that I began to look on $100 to participate in after school programs differently. It benefits my community to have kids finish up high school. I’ve got the $100 and think school is important enough to spend it on my kid. Other parents may not have the money or may not think it’s important enough. For our community it is important so I think it’s worth trying.

    Let those who haven’t rewarded their kids for school performance cast the first stone here!