BREAD Working Paper No. 278, June 2010

The miracle of microfinance? Evidence from a randomized Evaluation

Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, Rachel Glennerster, Cynthia Kinnan

Abstract

Microcredit has spread extremely rapidly since its beginnings in the late 1970s, but whether and how much it helps the poor is the subject of intense debate. This paper reports on the first randomized evaluation of the impact of introducing microcredit in a new market. Half of 104 slums in Hyderabad, India were randomly selected for opening of an MFI branch while the remainder were not. We show that the intervention increased total MFI borrowing, and study the effects on the creation and the profitability of small businesses, investment, and consumption. Fifteen to 18 months after lending began in treated areas, there was no effect of access to microcredit on average monthly expenditure per capita, but expenditure on durable goods increased in treated areas and the number of new businesses increased by one third. The effects of microcredit access are heterogeneous: households with an existing business at the time of the program invest more in durable goods, while their nondurable consumption does not change. Households with high propensity to become new business owners increase their durable goods spending and see a decrease in nondurable consumption, consistent with the need to pay a fixed cost to enter entrepreneurship. Households with low propensity to become business owners increase their nondurable spending. We find no impact on measures of health, education, or women’s decision-making.

Keywords: Microfinance, borrowing, investment, consumption

JEL classification codes: O16, G21, D21

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