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The parent trap: Cash transfers and the intergenerational transmission of depressive symptoms in South Africa


  • Eyal, Katherine
  • Burns, Justine


Mental illness and substance abuse makes up the leading cause of disability among adolescents globally, and yet adolescent mental health is an understudied area in developing countries. Using data from South Africa, this paper provides the first nationally representative estimates of the inter-generational transmission of depressive symptoms in Sub-Saharan Africa, using data from 2012. Using a longitudinal household survey, we find that one-third of South African adolescents will suffer from depressive symptoms if either parent does so - and that parental mental health is the single largest determinant of child mental health. We exploit the exogenous variation in the roll-out pattern of an unconditional cash transfer in South Africa, and find that the South African child support grant is associated with a reduction in the intergenerational transmission of depressive symptomatology to adolescent children by more than forty percent. This potentially mitigating effect is larger for female adolescents, who are more likely to be affected negatively by parental mental illness than male adolescents. This is not to deny the importance of the shared household environment on the mental health of both adolescents and parents, but in the absence of sufficient treatment for mental illness among South African youth, the child support grant appears to play a crucial role in supporting mental health outcomes amongst low-income adolescents.

Suggested Citation

  • Eyal, Katherine & Burns, Justine, 2019. "The parent trap: Cash transfers and the intergenerational transmission of depressive symptoms in South Africa," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 211-229.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:wdevel:v:117:y:2019:i:c:p:211-229
    DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.01.014

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fiona Samuels & Maria Stavropoulou, 2016. "‘Being Able to Breathe Again’: The Effects of Cash Transfer Programmes on Psychosocial Wellbeing," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 52(8), pages 1099-1114, August.
    2. Anne Case, 2004. "Does Money Protect Health Status? Evidence from South African Pensions," NBER Chapters, in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 287-312, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Jane Goudge & Steven Russell & Lucy Gilson & Tebogo Gumede & Steve Tollman & Anne Mills, 2009. "Illness-related impoverishment in rural South Africa: Why does social protection work for some households but not others?," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 21(2), pages 231-251.
    4. Sarah Baird & Jacobus de Hoop & Berk Özler, 2013. "Income Shocks and Adolescent Mental Health," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 48(2), pages 370-403.
    5. Nattavudh Powdthavee & Anna Vignoles, 2008. "Mental Health of Parents and Life Satisfaction of Children: A Within-Family Analysis of Intergenerational Transmission of Well-Being," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 88(3), pages 397-422, September.
    6. Fernald, Lia C.H. & Gunnar, Megan R., 2009. "Poverty-alleviation program participation and salivary cortisol in very low-income children," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(12), pages 2180-2189, June.
    7. Carolyn J. Heinrich & John Hoddinott & Michael Samson, 2017. "Reducing Adolescent Risky Behaviors in a High-Risk Context: The Effects of Unconditional Cash Transfers in South Africa," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65(4), pages 619-652.
    8. Geraint Johnes & Jill Johnes (ed.), 2004. "International Handbook on the Economics of Education," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 2847, September.
    9. Das, Jishnu & Do, Quy-Toan & Friedman, Jed & McKenzie, David & Scott, Kinnon, 2007. "Mental health and poverty in developing countries: Revisiting the relationship," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(3), pages 467-480, August.
    10. Ingrid Woolard & Murray Leibbrandt, 2010. "The Evolution and Impact of Unconditional Cash Transfers in South Africa," SALDRU Working Papers 51, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    11. Thompson, Owen, 2014. "Genetic mechanisms in the intergenerational transmission of health," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(C), pages 132-146.
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    Cited by:

    1. Haushofer, Johannes & Chemin, Matthieu & Jang, Chaning & Abraham, Justin, 2020. "Economic and psychological effects of health insurance and cash transfers: Evidence from a randomized experiment in Kenya," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 144(C).
    2. Alloush, Mo & Bloem, Jeffrey R., 2020. "Neighborhood Violence, Poverty, and Psychological Well-Being," 2020 Annual Meeting, July 26-28, Kansas City, Missouri 304341, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    3. Neryvia Pillay Bell, 2020. "The impacts of unconditional cash transfers on schooling in adolescence and young adulthood- Evidence from South Africa," Working Papers 10023, South African Reserve Bank.
    4. Fouksman, E. & Klein, E., 2019. "Radical transformation or technological intervention? Two paths for universal basic income," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 492-500.


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