NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Plan To Keep Children In Poor Countries In School

November 24, 1999

Children from poor families in countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Zaire and India often put their very young children to work just to put bread on the table. So the children don't get the schooling they need and the cycle of poverty continues for yet another generation.

Nobel laureate economist Gary S. Becker, of the University of Chicago and the Hoover Institution, is proposing a plan to give the parents of these children an incentive to send them to school.

Here is how it could work:

  • Pay poor mothers an incentive bonus if schools report that their children attend classes regularly.
  • The payment should not be much less than what the children would earn if they worked.
  • Since poor parents in some countries routinely withdraw their daughters from school when they become teenagers, payments should be a little more for daughters who continue their education.
  • Funds could be siphoned off from universities which often receive a disproportionate level of funds available for education in poor nations.

The Mexican government has initiated such a program, covering about two million very poor families, with payments of about $25 per family -- in a country where most poor families earn only about $100 a month.

Reports say the Mexican program is highly successful. After only a couple of years in operation, it significantly raised the educational level of children in very poor areas. It has also narrowed the education gap between girls and boys and reduced the labor force participation of boys.

Source: Gary S. Becker (University of Chicago and Hoover Institution), "'Bribe' Third World Parents to Keep their Kids in Schools," Business Week, November 22, 1999.


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