A literature review of the impact of microfinance

David Roodman called 2009 a “milestone year for microfinance.” And it certainly was – providing two separate randomized studies on the impact of microcredit. Simultaneously, other studies have also emerged on the broader topic of microfinance. Yet, certainly the literature of microfinance cannot be so new? After all, governments have long known that increasing access to rural and low-income finance was important. India instituted a rural bank expansion program in 1977. Mexico did something similar in 1992.

In order to help get some kind of bearing on the impact of microfinance, we present here a short literature review on how microfinance affects the lives of the poor. The selected papers are organized into three categories: the broader context, the impact of microcredit, and the impact of microsavings (surprisingly, there seems to have been more work done on savings than credit).

The broader context

Effects of Financial Access on Savings by Low-Income People
Fernando Aportelo, Bank of Mexico
December 1999

This paper assesses the impact of increasing financial access on low-income people savings. Effects on households’ saving rates and on different informal savings instruments are considered. The paper uses an exogenous expansion of a Mexican savings institute, targeted to low-income people, as a natural experiment and the 1992 and 1994 National Surveys of Income and Expenditures. Results show that the expansion increased the average saving rate of affected households by more than 3 to almost 5 percentage points. The effect was even higher for the poorest households in the sample: their saving rate increased by more than 7 percentage points in some cases. Furthermore, the expansion, in general, had no effect on high income households. In the case of informal savings instruments, evidence of crowding out of these instruments caused by the expansion is limited. Results do not rule out the possibility that a considerable fraction of the increase in households’ savings could have come from new savings.


Do Rural Banks Matter? Evidence From The Indian Social Banking Experiment
Robin Burguess & Rohini Pande; LSE, Yale University
August 2003

Lack of access to finance is often cited as a key reason why poor people remain poor. This paper uses data on the Indian rural branch expansion program to provide empirial evidence on this issue. Between 1977 and 1990, the Indian Central Bank mandated that a commercial bank can open a branch in a location with one or more bank branches only if it opens four in locations with no bank branches. We show that between 1977 and 1990 this rule caused banks to open relatively more rural branches in Indian states with lower initial financial development. The reverse is true outside this period. We exploit this fact to identify the impact of opening a rural bank on poverty and output. Our estimates suggest that the Indian rural branch expansion program significantly lowered rural poverty, and increased non-agricultural output.


The Economic Lives of the Poor
Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo; Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, MIT
October 2006

This paper uses survey data from 13 countries to document the economic lives of the poor (those living on less than $2 dollar per day per capita at purchasing power parity ) or the extremely poor (those living on less than $1 dollar per day). We describe their patterns of consumption and income generation as well as their access to markets and publicly provided infrastructure. The paper concludes with a discussion of some apparent anomalous choices.


The Impact of Microcredit

Expanding Microenterprise Credit Access: Using Randomized Supply Decisions to Estimate the Impacts in Manila
Dean Karlan, Jonathan Zinman;
Yale University, Darthmouth College, IPA, Financial Access Initiative, MIT Jameel Poverty Action Lab
July 2009

Microcredit seeks to promote business growth and improve well-being by expanding access to credit. We use a field experiment and follow-up survey to measure impacts of a credit expansion for microentrepreneurs in Manila. The effects are diffuse, heterogeneous, and surprising. Although there is some evidence that profits increase, the  mechanism seems to be that businesses shrink by shedding unproductive workers. Overall, borrowing households substitute away from labor (in both family and outside businesses), and into education. We also find substitution away from formal insurance, along with increases in access to informal risksharing mechanisms. Our treatment effects are stronger for groups that are not typically targeted by microlenders: male and higher-income entrepreneurs. In all, our results suggest that microcredit works broadly through risk management and investment at the household level, rather than directly through the targeted businesses.

The miracle of microfinance? Evidence from a randomized evaluation
Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, Rachel Glennerster, Cynthia Kinnan; MIT Jameel Poverty Action Lab, Indian Centre for Micro Finance, Spandana
October 2009
Hyderabad, India

The researchers from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT and the Indian Centre for Micro Finance worked with Spandana to randomize the roll-out of its microcredit operations in Hyderabad, India’s fifth-largest city. Spandana chose 104 areas of the city to expand into eventually, rejecting some districts as having too many construction workers, who come and go and might take Spandana’s money with them. In 2006–-07 Spandana started lending in a randomly chosen 52 of the 104. Researchers followed up by surveying more than 6,000 households between August 2007 and April 2008, restricting their visits to families that seemed more likely to borrow: ones that had lived in the area at least three years and had at least one working-age woman. The surveyors made sure not to visit an area until Spandana had been there at least a year. They surveyed in “treatment” areas (ones where Spandana worked) and control ones (where it did not yet).


The impact of microsavings

The Impacts of Savings
Dean Karlan
Financial Access Initiative
January 2008

A summary of literature on the impact of microinsurance up to January 2008.

Female Empowerment: Impact of a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines
Nava Ashraf, Dean Karlan, Wesley Yin; HBS and Jameel Poverty Action Lab, Yale, University of Chicago
March 2008

Female “empowerment” has increasingly become a policy goal, both as an end to itself and as a means to achieving other development goals. Microfinance in particular has often been argued, but not without controversy, to be a tool for empowering women. Here, using a randomized controlled trial, we examine whether access to and marketing of an individually-held commitment savings product leads to an increase in female decision-making power within the household. We find positive impacts, particularly for women who have below median decision-making power in the baseline, and we find this leads to a shift towards female-oriented durables goods purchased in the household.

Savings Constraints and Microenterprise Development: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Kenya
Pascaline Dupas and Jonathan Robinson; UCLA, UCSC, NBER
March 2009

We conducted a field experiment to test whether savings constraints prevent the self-employed from increasing the size of their businesses. We opened interest-free savings accounts in a village bank in rural Kenya for a randomly selected sample of poor daily income earners. Despite the fact that the bank charged substantial withdrawal fees, take-up and usage was high among women and the savings accounts had substantial, positive impacts on their productive investment levels and expenditures. These results imply that a substantial fraction of daily income earners face important savings constraints and have a demand for formal saving devices (even for those that offer negative de facto interest rates).

Tying Odysseus to the Mast: Evidence from a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines
Nava Ashraf, Dean Karlan, Wesley Yin
July 2005

We designed a commitment savings product for a Philippine bank and implemented it using a randomized control methodology. The savings product was intended for individuals who want to commit now to restrict access to their savings, and who were sophisticated enough to engage in such a mechanism. We conducted a baseline survey on 1777 existing or former clients of a bank. One month later, we offered the commitment product to a randomly chosen subset of 710 clients; 202 (28.4 percent) accepted the offer and opened the account. In the baseline survey, we asked hypothetical time discounting questions. Women who exhibited a lower discount rate for future relative to current tradeoffs, and hence potentially have a preference for commitment, were indeed significantly more likely to open the commitment savings account. After twelve months, average savings balances increased by 81 percentage points for those clients assigned to the treatment group relative to those assigned to the control group. We conclude that the savings response represents a lasting change in savings, and not merely a short-term response to a new product.

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    2 thoughts on “A literature review of the impact of microfinance”

    1. Any post on microfinance related to Kenya will be of great help as soon im to start a research on its Implication on the socio-economic lifestyle of the poor in rural Nyanza-Kenya. Any financial aid to the same from any source will equally be wellcomed


      Charles Momanyi Oange

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