David Roodman posts a review of recent high-quality studies of microfinance.
Note that prior to these fairly recent studies, most impact studies in this area had serious flaws, as Mr. Roodman notes and as we argue in our year-old review of this area.
The studies Mr. Roodman discusses are randomized controlled trials, and so their conclusions are far more trustworthy. But the conclusions are also generally less encouraging.
- A consumer loan program in South Africa (i.e., loans that were not specifically for business expansion) had very positive effects: “Six to twelve months after they applied for the four-month loans, unrejected applicants were 10 percentage points more likely to have a job, 7 points less likely to be below the poverty line, and 6 points less likely to report that someone in the household had gone to bed hungry in the last month than those rejected.” (This study is included in our year-old review of this area.)
- A Philippines microcredit program targeting the middle class found “no changes in household income, spending, or diet 1–2 years later.”
- A savings program “appeared to help [women] accumulate money for investments such as stock for their stores, leading eventually to greater prosperity.”
- The one study of a traditional microfinance program targeting the very poor found “no impact on total income, spending, health, or school enrollment rates” overall, though some subgroups appeared to benefit.
It seems to us that rigorous studies have not shown the impact implied by success stories, and that the most encouraging effects have come from programs that are not centered around business expansion loans.