Zeina Jamaluddine and Maia Sieverding

Cash transfers have become an increasingly common feature of social protection systems in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, including in humanitarian settings. Globally, there is strong evidence that cash transfers are effective in improving basic needs outcomes such as food insecurity. However, attention to the potential psychosocial effects of cash transfers, including improved mental health or subjective wellbeing, has been more recent and there is very little literature from the MENA region. In this paper we examine the associations between household receipt of cash transfers, food insecurity and the subjective wellbeing of youth in Jordan. Youth in Jordan, as elsewhere in the region, face numerous health and socioeconomic challenges during the transition to adulthood. The potential of cash transfers to improve psychosocial wellbeing during this period of life could therefore have long-term positive consequences. Our analysis relies on the 2020-21 Survey of Young People in Jordan, which is nationally representative of Jordanian and Syrian youth aged 16-30. We use ordinary least squares regression models to examine the predictors of household food insecurity and youth subjective wellbeing. Through step-wise model building we examine the potential role of food insecurity as a mediator in the relationship between receipt of cash transfers and youth subjective wellbeing. Twenty percent of Jordanian-headed households and 90% of Syrian-headed households with youth received at least one cash transfer. Nevertheless, household-level food insecurity was high, at 45% of Jordanian and 74% of Syrian households. There was also a substantial burden of poor subjective wellbeing among Jordanian (39%) and Syrian (52%) youth. Household receipt of social assistance was not predictive of subjective wellbeing among Jordanian youth.  Only receipt of all three major United Nations agency cash transfers for refugees was a significant predictor of better subjective wellbeing among Syrian youth. While household food insecurity was a significant predictor of worse subjective wellbeing among youth of both nationalities, we do not find strong support for the hypothesis that food security is an important mediator of the association between cash transfers and subjective wellbeing for this population.

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