The Impact of School Meals on School Participation: Evidence from Rural India

Farzana Afridi, Syracuse University

This paper assesses the effect of a nationally mandated free school meal program in India on school enrollment and attendance using survey data. School panel data allow a difference-in-differences estimation strategy, comparing the difference in the participation rates before and after the introduction of the program between treatment and control schools. The results show that the average monthly attendance rate of girls in grade 1 jumped up by more than 10 percentage points with the introduction of the program. Analysis of cross-sectional household data suggests that the program did not lead to a significant increase in overall enrollment levels although there was a small positive effect on the enrollment rates of girls from disadvantaged socio-economic groups. Overall the findings indicate that the program has been more successful in improving participation rates of girls, thereby reducing gender disparity in schooling.

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Presented in Session 6: Evaluating Social Development Programs in Low-Income Countries: New Initiatives