Can cash incentives lead to positive outcomes for teens?

Using a randomised control trial research design, MDRC is conducting an evaluation of the Opportunity NYC–Family Rewards programme. Implemented in New York City in 2007, this programme offered monetary incentives to families living in poverty for education, health, and workforce participation and job-training activities, with the ultimate goal of breaking the cycle of poverty.

In MDRC’s most recent report, researchers examine how parents and their teenage children were affected by Family Rewards two years into the programme. Their analyses focus on the differences between a treatment group and control group in areas such as time use, mental health, and risky behaviours, as measured by surveys.

Findings of their study show that Family Rewards:

  • Changed how teenagers spent their time. For a subgroup of academically proficient teenagers, it increased the proportion of those who engaged primarily in academic activities and reduced the proportion who engaged primarily in social activities;
  • Increased parents’ spending on school-related and leisure expenses and increased the proportion of parents who saved for their children’s future education;
  • Had no effects on parents’ monitoring of their teenage children’s activities or behaviour and did not increase parent-teenager conflict or teenagers’ depression or anxiety;
  • Had no effects on teenagers’ sense of academic competence or their engagement in school, but substantially reduced their self-reported problem behaviour, such as aggression and substance use;
  • Did not reduce teenagers’ intrinsic motivation by paying them rewards for school attendance and academic achievement.

MDRC’s next report on Family Rewards will examine the results after three years of the programme; a final report will include two years of post-programme follow-up.

Source: Using incentives to change how teenagers spend their time (2012), MDRC

What works and what does not for boys and girls

Child Trends has completed two new research briefs that examine programmes and strategies that work, as well as don’t work, for each gender:

Each brief synthesises findings from rigorously evaluated social interventions for young people. The outcome areas explored include academic achievement, delinquency, mental health, reproductive health, and social skills. One key finding for both boys and girls was that including parents in some way in interventions led to desirable impacts for mental health outcomes.

On the other hand, for reproductive health, one-on-one interventions led to positive impacts for females, but experiential learning activities that included group activities were often effective for boys. In addition, while social skills training interventions were not successful for female children and teenagers in reducing externalising behaviours (eg, aggression), in many cases for males, these types of interventions were successful.

Sources: What works for female children and adolescents: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions (2012), Child Trends

What works for male children and adolescents: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions (2012), Child Trends