More Bad News for Microfinance

20 May 2013 at 3:01 pm 1 comment

| Peter Klein |

Microfinance and microenterprise have been touted as a new model for economic development, a way to encourage investment, innovation, and business creation and raise living standards without having to go through large-scale industrialization. We’ve tended to be skeptical, however, particularly about the most touted microfinance providers such as the Grameen Bank. Theoretically, the kinds of repayment plays that make microfinance feasible (high interest rates, strong peer monitoring) seem to limit its scope; besides, not everyone wants to be a business owner. The empirical evidence has not been encouraging — microfinance may achieve some social goals, like a sense of empowerment among microenterprise owners, but does not seem to have much impact on overall economic activity. It may not be possible to jump from a largely rural, agrarian society to an entrepreneurial capitalist one without going through a period of large-scale industrial development.

These musings are inspired by a new NBER working paper from the J-PAL group which uses a randomized controlled trial to study the effects of microfinance in an urban Indian setting. The results confirm the suspicions above: access to microfinance brings about some changes in behavior, but has no noticeable effect on standards of living or overall economic performance. Here’s the info:

The Miracle of Microfinance? Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation
Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee, Rachel Glennerster, Cynthia G. Kinnan
NBER Working Paper No. 18950, May 2013

This paper reports on the first randomized evaluation of the impact of introducing the standard microcredit group-based lending product in a new market. In 2005, half of 104 slums in Hyderabad, India were randomly selected for opening of a branch of a particular microfinance institution (Spandana) while the remainder were not, although other MFIs were free to enter those slums. Fifteen to 18 months after Spandana began lending in treated areas, households were 8.8 percentage points more likely to have a microcredit loan. They were no more likely to start any new business, although they were more likely to start several at once, and they invested more in their existing businesses. There was no effect on average monthly expenditure per capita. Expenditure on durable goods increased in treated areas, while expenditures on “temptation goods” declined. Three to four years after the initial expansion (after many of the control slums had started getting credit from Spandana and other MFIs ), the probability of borrowing from an MFI in treatment and comparison slums was the same, but on average households in treatment slums had been borrowing for longer and in larger amounts. Consumption was still no different in treatment areas, and the average business was still no more profitable, although we find an increase in profits at the top end. We found no changes in any of the development outcomes that are often believed to be affected by microfinance, including health, education, and women’s empowerment. The results of this study are largely consistent with those of four other evaluations of similar programs in different contexts.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Entrepreneurship, Financial Markets, Institutions, Myths and Realities. Tags: .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Wei  |  25 June 2013 at 6:36 am

    This article is educational. I assume microfinance should be an enabler for the poor individuals who have the ambition to make a difference in their lives. Randomised Control Trails (RCTs), which is a controversial method oringinated from Medical Science, may unlikely to prove the change on the individual level. The magic of microfinance might be an evidence that human development without international aid is possible.

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