Family wealth affects children’s education. Wealth provides families with several advantages, ranging from being able to rely on secure resources to purchase extracurricular resources and services to increased psychological security in dealing with long-term investments.
Since the 1990s, the idea to tackle wealth inequality in education centered on programs through incentivized savings has taken hold. Major applications include Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) and the newer Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) or Child Development Accounts (CDAs). Under these programs, participants deposit small savings into a dedicated account, for shorter or longer periods, and receive an amount multiplied by a factor that varies from program to program on the condition that the amount of money is spent on one of the purposes set forth in the program. But do they really work?
Within the WILL – Educare al Futuro project, we implement and evaluate through a randomized controlled study the effectiveness of an education savings program targeting first-year middle school students from low-income families. Participants have the opportunity to save small amounts of money (€6 per week up to a maximum of €1,000 over a 4-year period) in a digital wallet. Household deposits are multiplied by four if the money is spent on proven educational expenses (e.g., computers/internet; culture, book purchases; various school expenses, language or computer courses, sports, transportation). In addition to the savings account, beneficiaries are offered a financial education program, educational support and guidance.
WILL is co-funded by Impresa Sociale Con i Bambini, Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo (Torino) and Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze. Participating in the partnership, coordinated by Un Sogno per Tutti Cooperativa Sociale (Turin), are: Associazione Vides Main onlus; Caritas Teramo Atri; Consorzio solidarietà aprutina società cooperative; Cooperativa Sociale le Api; Diaconia Valdese; Fondazione Solidarietà Caritas onlus; Il Mio Mondo Società Cooperativa Sociale; Il Nostro Pianeta; Ufficio Pio Della Compagnia di San Paolo.
Preliminary results show that, in the first two years of the intervention, beneficiary families saved regularly and used the resources provided for the intended educational purposes. In addition, following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a massive reorientation of expenditures from more classic items such as “books” and “sports activities” to “new technologies” (PC/tablet or internet connections), which have become essential for distance education attendance. The study of the effects of the program on educational outcomes is still ongoing.