The Unintended Consequences of Conditional Cash Transfer Programs for Violence: Experimental and Survey Evidence from Mexico and the Americas

Because conditional cash transfer programs (CCTs) can address the deep roots of violence, many scholars and policymakers have assumed them to be an effective and innocuous tool to take on the issue. I argue that while CCTs may have positive economic effects, they can also trigger social discord, criminal predation, and political conflict and, in doing so, increase violence. To test this claim, I take advantage of the exogenous shock caused by the randomized expansion of Mexico’s flagship CCT, PROGRESA/Oportunidades. I find that that the experimental introduction of the program increased rather than decreased violence. Then, I analyze all the data compiled by LAPOP on the issue over the years. I find that, other things constant, Latin Americans are more exposed to violence and insecurity when they participate in CCTs than when they do not. These findings urge us to reconsider the effects of social programs on violence.


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