As the first major effort to use a behavioral economics lens to examine human services programs that serve poor and vulnerable families in the United States, the BIAS project demonstrated the value of applying behavioral insights to improve the efficacy of human services programs.
The Work of MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science
This issue focus describes how MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science has completed several large-scale field studies, incorporated behavioral science into other MDRC projects, and educated policymakers and practitioners about how to use behavioral science to improve their programs.
Improving Math Instruction in New York City
An evidence-based preschool math curriculum called Building Blocks, combined with ongoing professional development, was compared with “business as usual” pre-K programs across 69 public schools and community-based organizations. This report contains interim findings on the implementation of the model, the amount and quality of its math instruction, and children’s learning outcomes.
Using Behavioral Insights to Increase Incarcerated Parents’ Requests for Child Support Modifications
A behavioral intervention provided incarcerated noncustodial parents in Washington with materials about their eligibility for a child support order modification and how to request one. It increased the number of parents requesting a modification by 32 percentage points and the number of parents receiving a modification by 16 percentage points.
Findings from Family Rewards 2.0
A program in Memphis and the Bronx offered cash incentives, coupled with family guidance, to poor families for meeting certain health care, education, and work milestones. The program increased income and reduced poverty, increased dental visits and health status, reduced employment somewhat, and had few effects on students’ education.
A Conditional Cash Transfer Program in Two American Cities
This program spent a little over a dollar to transfer one dollar in cash rewards to families who met the required benchmarks. These rewards produced positive effects on some outcomes, but left others unchanged. While the program benefited participating families, the cost to taxpayers exceeded the economic value of these effects.
Using Behavioral Science to Improve Indiana’s Child Care Subsidy Program
Three behavioral interventions targeting low-income parents receiving child care subsidies were tested in Indiana. One combining mailed materials and a phone call increased the percentage of parents who chose a highly rated child care provider, and two others increased the percentage of parents who attended their first scheduled subsidy redetermination appointment.
Who Uses Them and Why?
Funded by MetLife Foundation, this paper uses a large and unusual data set, combining administrative data provided by subprime lenders with survey and in-depth interview data, to gain a better understanding of the backgrounds, experiences, and needs of people who use online subprime small-dollar credit.
What Worked, What Didn’t
Family Rewards offered cash incentives to low-income families to reduce both current and longer-term poverty, contingent on families’ efforts to build up their “human capital” through children’s education, preventive health care, and parents’ employment. While the program produced some positive effects on some outcomes, it left many outcomes unchanged.
Building a Body of Evidence
Over the past several years, MDRC has worked with the federal Administration for Children and Families to test low-cost behavioral interventions to improve child support services in a number of states. This issue focus describes what’s been learned so far — and what’s planned for the future.