Working Paper

IDS Working Paper 460

Evaluating the Targeting Effectiveness of Social Transfers: A Literature Review

Published on 20 July 2015

Many methodologies exist for dividing a population into those who are classified as eligible for social transfers and those who are ineligible. Popular targeting mechanisms include means testing, proxy means tests, categorical, geographic, community-based, and self-selection.

This paper reviews empirical evidence from a range of social protection programmes on the accuracy of these mechanisms, in terms of minimising four targeting errors: inclusion and exclusion, by eligibility and by poverty. This paper also reviews available evidence on the various costs associated with targeting, not only administrative but also private, social, psycho-social, incentive-based and political costs. Comparisons are difficult, but all mechanisms generate targeting errors and costs. Given the inevitability of trade-offs, there is no ‘best’ mechanism for targeting social transfers. The key determinant of relative accuracy and cost-effectiveness in each case is how well the targeting mechanism is designed and implemented.


Image of Stephen Devereux
Stephen Devereux

Research Fellow

Image of Rachel Sabates-Wheeler
Rachel Sabates-Wheeler

Research Fellow

Image of Dolf J.H. te Lintelo
Dolf J.H. te Lintelo

Research Fellow and Cities Cluster Co-Leader

Publication details

published by
Devereux, S., Masset, E., Sabates-Wheeler, R., Samson, M., te Lintelo, D. and Rivas, A. M.
IDS Working Paper, issue 460
978 1 78118 250 5


About this publication

Programmes and centres
Centre for Social Protection
Research themes
Inequalities and Poverty

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