New research finds that making mothers the recipient of a cash transfer instead of fathers marginally increases spending on children’s food and clothing, but not on long-term investments such as education and health.

Research by Charlotte Ringdal and colleagues to be presented at the virtual European Economic Association meeting in August 2020, proposes a new method to investigate whether mothers and fathers spend money differently and whether mothers are more likely to spend money on children than fathers. 

It is generally assumed that empowering women will have positive consequences for their children in terms of higher investments. This is one of the reasons why a significant fraction of the contemporaneous cash transfers and other social support programmes target women (examples include child benefits in most Western countries and cash transfer programmes in many developing countries). 

But recent research shows that it is not necessarily the case that money in the hands of mothers benefits children more than money in the hands of fathers.

The study was conducted in rural Tanzania where they either ask mothers or couples (mothers and fathers together) to allocate an hypothetical amount of money between six consumption categories and within each category between the mother, the father, and their child. The consumption categories were food, clothing, education, learning material, health and transport. The study has three main findings.

  • Overall, both mothers and couples spend 50% of the budget on food and clothing. Mothers spend more on food consumption than couples do, and couples spend more on health expenditures than mothers do. 
  • Mothers spend more on children than couples do. But the difference only corresponds to 3.33% of the budget and is driven by mothers spending more on children’s food and clothing consumption than couples. 
  • Both mothers and couples give a higher share of the budget to the mother’s consumption than to the father’s consumption. Moreover, mothers give less to fathers than couples do. 


The research shows that money in the hands of mothers might be more beneficial for children than money in the hands of fathers. 

But the difference between the mothers and couples spending behaviour are small, and when it comes to long-term investments such as education, there are no differences. 

Therefore, while targeting mothers might empower them and therefore enhance gender equality, it might not benefit children more than targeting fathers.


Contact details:

Charlotte Ringdal or

Phone: +47 47658334