What were the impacts of Bolsa Família?


In order to tackle major issues in the access to education, in the mid-nineties, the Federal Government of President Henrique Cardoso launches Bolsa Escola. Later on, President Lula expanded the domains of the program and gave it a wider range of impact.

Bolsa Família Program (BFP) was, thus, created as a major public policy to reduce the levels of extreme poverty, inequality and foster the access to education and health care.

The Program

The program is a Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) which means that beneficiaries only receive the public cash transfer upon fulfillment of specific conditions.

The CCT in Mexico Oportunidades was the first CCT and, like BFP, aims to alleviate extreme-poverty in a short-term dimension. Moreover, according to Skoufias, there’s a wider impact in human capital because CCTs block intergenerational vicious cycles of poverty.

The beneficiaries need to fulfill conditionatilies that, according to Lindert, make all Government institutions to coordinate local solutions and cross-cut through different levels of Government.

Impacts of the Program

According to the World Bank from 2003 to 2009, poverty rates dropped from 25% to 15%, representing approximately 30 million people that jumped out from poverty. In 2014, those levels decreased to 7.4%. The Gini coefficient declined from 0.60 to 0.53. The Financial Times stated that this signified that 40 million people moved up from poverty to the middle-class.

Furthermore, Bither-Terry argues that measuring impact on poverty alleviation based on income may not include further information to reflect on the intensity of the program. Moreover, the analysis must take into account the main concept of poverty and until which extent each family meets basic human needs.

These impacts on income and poverty alleviation were aligned with economic returns (2013), whereas the program represented low impact in the national budget with less than 0.5 of the GDP (2007). From each real spent in Bolsa Família, there is a generation of R$1.60 to the economy as a result of increasing consumption by the beneficiaries in goods and services.

When it comes to particular impacts in education, the outcome are correlated with the conditionalities imposed to the beneficiaries in the first place. It’s also possible to state that the outcomes are not equivalent across all regions. In rural areas, the program appears to boost school participation levels by 8 percent in children aged 6–17 years and grade progression by 10 percent between girls.

 On another hand, in urban areas, this result just appears in girls aged 15–17 years. Furthermore, there’s a 21% increase in school attendance in girls aged above 15 year old beneficiating from BFP (2013).

According the School Census of 2012 (2014), the North and Northeast states express deep impact of BFP, as beneficiary students lower the rate of dropout (8.7% and 7.7%, respectively) when compared with those who don’t beneficiate from it (17.1% and 17.5%, respectively). We can see similar analysis in the high school pass rate in the public system between students with BFP with 79.8% compared with other students with 71.1%, in the North region. The same result happens in the Northeast, comparing an 82.6% from students beneficiating from BFP against 72% to other students.

As Craveiro & De Aquin stated that there’s contradictory dynamic, in rural areas when it comes to Child labor. In fact, boys between 15-17 years old beneficiating from BFP have more 10% chance of working in agriculture at the same time they are in school, that those who don’t beneficiate.

Conditionaties may not result in desirable outcomes, since families still rely on revenues from child labor, particularly in rural areas. A part from that, relying on these two sources of income lead some authors stated that children are still exposed to situations of violence.

Women were a society sector in which BFP had particular impacts, when it comes to contraception, particularly in urban areas. Brauw and Gilligan stated conditionalities beyond potential paternalism on how money should and should not be spent by families, it may also create a debate on societal roles of men and women in traditional concepts of family.

Some critics affirmed that BFP was similar to a helicopter launching money to the poor and its utility was debatable. Although more criticism, regarding paternalistic attitude by the Government and political convenience (2016) of BFP, the program still needs to evolve towards more developed concepts of conditionalities and productive incentives to find jobs and to include labor income incentives, through earnings disregards.

José Afonso


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