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Citizen Empowerment and Social Pensions in Delhi, India

Location: Delhi, India
Sample: 1,400 women
Research Initiative: Governance Initiative
Target Group: 
Urban population
Women and girls
Outcome of Interest: 
Social service delivery
Intervention Type: 
AEA RCT Registration Number: 

The Delhi government provides pensions to widows and other disadvantaged women, yet the majority of eligible women are not enrolled in this scheme. Researchers are using a randomized evaluation to measure the impact of providing information and assistance with the application process on the take-up of the Widow Pension Scheme.

Policy Issue 

Governments often support disadvantaged citizens by providing pensions, commonly in the form of monthly cash transfers. A long-standing puzzle is why potential beneficiaries of social pensions often do not access them. It is possible that these social programs unintentionally exclude certain groups by requiring citizens to navigate bureaucratic processes and prove their eligibility to enroll. Eligible citizens may lack information regarding the program or demonstrate confusion about the application process. Furthermore, eligible citizens may feel that receiving benefits will lead to stigma or discrimination, which prevents them from applying. One approach to improve access to pension programs is to provide eligible citizens with information and assistance with the application process. What are the constraints particularly disadvantaged citizens face in accessing pension programs, and what are the welfare impacts of these pensions once obtained?

Context of the Evaluation 

Widows are one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in India’s social hierarchy. In order to support these women, the Indian government offers national and state-level pension schemes for widows and other disadvantaged women. One state-level program is the Delhi Widow Pension Scheme, which is available to widowed, divorced, separated, or abandoned women ages 18- 59 with a household income below a given threshold (at age 60 they become eligible for old-age pensions). Eligible women receive Rs. 1,500 (USD 24.40) per month, but several eligible women never apply for this pension program and many others do not make it through the application process successfully. According to the World Bank, 33 percent of women who receive these pensions report having no other source of personal income yet only 34 percent of eligible women were enrolled in the scheme in 2013.

Details of the Intervention 

Researchers are using a randomized evaluation to measure the impact of providing information and various forms of assistance with the application process on the take-up and subsequent welfare impact of the Delhi Widow Pension Scheme. The study targets 1,400 women from 75 slums in Delhi who are eligible for, but not enrolled in, the pension program and have all or almost all required documents to apply. Participants are randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups or a comparison group:

  • Information: Women receive information regarding pension eligibility, benefits, and the application process in both verbal and written form (350 women).

  • Application Assistance: Women receive the information provided to the information treatment group as well as assistance in completing the application form. (350 women).

  • Accompaniment to Office: Women receive the support provided to the assistance treatment group and are also accompanied to the local politician’s office to have the application form signed before submitting the application to the district office (350 women).

  • Comparison group: Women receive no information or assistance (350 women).

Results and Policy Lessons 

Project ongoing; results forthcoming.