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Does Microfinance Really Help the Poor? New Evidence from Flagship Programs in Bangladesh

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  • Jonathan Morduch

    (Harvard University and Stanford University)

Abstract

The microfinance movement has built on innovations in financial intermediation that reduce the costs and risks of lending to poor households. Replications of the movement's flagship, the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, have now spread around the world. While programs aim to bring social and economic benefits to clients, few attempts have been made to quantify benefits rigorously. This paper draws on a new cross-sectional survey of nearly 1800 households, some of which are served by the Grameen Bank and two similar programs, and some of which have no access to programs. Households that are eligible to borrow and have access to the programs do not have notably higher consumption levels than control households, and, for the most part, their children are no more likely to be in school. Men also tend to work harder, and women less. More favorably, relative to controls, households eligible for programs have substantially (and significantly) lower variation in consumption and labor supply across seasons. The most important potential impacts are thus associated with the reduction of vulnerability, not of poverty per se. The consumption-smoothing appears to be driven largely by income-smoothing, not by borrowing and lending. The evaluation holds lessons for studies of other programs in low-income countries. While it is common to use fixed effects estimators to control for unobservable variables correlated with the placement of programs, using fixed effects estimators can exacerbate biases when, as here, programs target their programs to specific populations within larger communities.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Morduch, 1998. "Does Microfinance Really Help the Poor? New Evidence from Flagship Programs in Bangladesh," Working Papers 198, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
  • Handle: RePEc:pri:rpdevs:morduch_microfinance_poor.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Jonathan Morduch, 1999. "The Microfinance Promise," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(4), pages 1569-1614, December.
    2. Mark M. Pitt & Shahidur R. Khandker, 1998. "The Impact of Group-Based Credit Programs on Poor Households in Bangladesh: Does the Gender of Participants Matter?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(5), pages 958-996, October.
    3. Robert Moffitt, 1991. "Program Evaluation With Nonexperimental Data," Evaluation Review, , vol. 15(3), pages 291-314, June.
    4. Jonathan Morduch, 1995. "Income Smoothing and Consumption Smoothing," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 103-114, Summer.
    5. James Heckman, 1997. "Instrumental Variables: A Study of Implicit Behavioral Assumptions Used in Making Program Evaluations," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 32(3), pages 441-462.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    microfinance; project evaluation; Grameen Bank; Bangladesh;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty

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