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Investigating the evolution and influences of spending patterns among low-income mothers receiving an unconditional cash transfer

Project Overview

This project is a companion research effort building on the Baby’s First Year clinical trial project led by principal investigators from the University of California Irvine, Teacher’s College, Columbia University, University of Wisconsin Madison, Duke University, New York University, and University of Maryland (See clinical trial overview).

The goal of this project is to descriptively examine spending patterns among low-income mothers who received an unconditional monthly cash transfer deposited on a debit card from the Baby’s First Year study. By pairing data on transaction timing, location, and amount with survey measures of household expenditures, we will explore how spending patterns relate to timing and receipt of social safety net programs and survey reports of financial hardship. We will also explore how spending patterns vary by availability of the 2021 expanded child tax credit and pandemic-related stimulus payments.

This research is supported by the Duke Social Science Research Institute grant program.


An emerging body of economic and policy research use panel data of financial transactions from credit, debit, and checking accounts to assess the economic impacts of government interventions. The granularity of these data provides a more detailed picture of the dynamics and volatility of households’ financial well-being compared to cross-sectional survey data alone and can better inform the design of income-stabilizing policies. This research will contribute to this growing literature by examining the spending patterns and their evolution over time among low-income mothers with young infants receiving a predictable, unconditional monthly cash transfer from the Baby’s First Year (BFY) study.





January 1, 2022 -


  • Lisa Gennetian, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Norbert Wilson, Duke World Food Policy Center, Sanford School of Public Policy/Duke Divinity School
  • Alicia Kunin-Batson, University of Minnesota
  • Laura Stilwell, Duke School of Medicine/Sanford School of Public Policy


Duke Social Science Research Institute