When researchers study household behaviors, the most common unit of analysis is the immediate family. However, if familial ties can influence individual and household level actions, it may also be worth examining the effect of extended family networks on outcomes such as health and education. Extended families may shape the objectives and constraints of households, implying that neglecting the role of these networks would lead to an incomplete understanding of household behaviors.
PROGRESA is an ongoing, publically funded social assistance program in Mexico designed to alleviate poverty by providing cash transfers to households conditional on their children’s primary and secondary school attendance. In part because older students may have higher earning potential, secondary enrollment rates in Mexico are less than 65 percent, because many secondary school aged children work instead of attending school. In an effort to encourage families to continue investing in their child’s education, PROGRESA offers larger cash transfers for students in higher school grades. These larger cash transfers correspond to between one half and two thirds of the full-time child wage in the surveyed villages.
Extended families in Mexico can be easily identified because it is customary for each individual to use two surnames — the first is inherited from the father’s paternal lineage and the second from the mother’s paternal lineage. For example, former Mexican president Vicente Fox Quesada would be identified by his given name (Vicente), his father’s paternal name (Fox) and his mother’s paternal name (Quesada).
Researchers in rural Mexico sought to explore how families living in the same village share resources. The researchers observed that: (1) PROGRESA increases the total resources available to individual households and therefore their local family network and (2) that it is customary for families to share resources within local networks. From these observations, the researchers sought to investigate whether PROGRESA’s ability to increase secondary enrollment rates depended partly on the presence of extended family members.
Throughout rural Mexico, researchers documented the paternal and maternal surnames of household heads and their spouses across 506 villages, covering 22,000 families and about 130,000 individuals. Relying on Mexico’s unique naming convention, the researchers were able to identify inter-generational links, (e.g. between the head of household and their parents) and intra-generational links (e.g. between the head of household and their siblings) within villages to determine if other members of a household’s extended family lived in the same village.
PROGRESA offered the conditional cash transfer program to 320 randomly assigned villages, while the remaining 186 villages served as the comparison group.
Results and Policy Implications
Initial survey data indicated that 20 percent of two-person households have no extended family living in the village, and are considered “isolated” households. The remaining 80 percent reside in a village along with other members of their extended family and are considered “connected” households. There were no significant pre-program differences between isolated and connected households in terms of their observable enrollment rates and overall poverty levels.
PROGRESA increases secondary school enrollment rates by 9 percent for households that live in the same village as members of their extended family. In contrast, PROGRESA has no impact on households that do not have extended family members living in their village.
The increase in secondary school enrollment appears to be a function of how many primary school aged children there are in a household’s extended family network. This suggests that secondary school enrollment may be increased in “connected” families specifically because the primary school enrollment subsidy is shared among members of extended family network living in close proximity.