Improving delivery of the social safety net: The role of stigma

37 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2022 Last revised: 9 Oct 2023

See all articles by Jessica Lasky-Fink

Jessica Lasky-Fink

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Elizabeth Linos

University of California, Berkeley - The Richard & Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy

Date Written: November 2022

Abstract

Many low-income households in the US miss out on social safety net benefits because of the information, compliance, and psychological costs associated with take-up of government assistance. Yet, the empirical evidence on the impact of learning and psychological costs on take-up, and how to reduce them, is mixed. Leaning on an administrative burden framework, this paper measures the role of reducing learning costs and stigma on demand for rental assistance in two field experiments (N = 117,073) conducted in two US cities. We find that providing information about emergency rental assistance increased program application requests by 52% compared to a no-communication control group. Moreover, subtle framing changes aimed at destigmatizing rental assistance increased engagement with the communication by 36% and increased application requests by about 18% relative to an information-only group, with potentially larger effects for renters of color. In two subsequent online experiments (N = 1,258), we document that the destigmatizing framing reduces internalized stigma, without affecting perceptions of the program itself.

Keywords: stigma, social safety net, field experiment, behavioral intervention

JEL Classification: H11, H75, H83

Suggested Citation

Lasky-Fink, Jessica and Linos, Elizabeth, Improving delivery of the social safety net: The role of stigma (November 2022). HKS Working Paper No. RWP22-022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4040234 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4040234

Jessica Lasky-Fink (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Elizabeth Linos

University of California, Berkeley - The Richard & Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy ( email )

2607 Hearst Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94720-7320
United States

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