Cycling to school: Increasing high school enrollment for girls in Bihar

In 2006, the government of the Indian state of Bihar introduced an innovative program that aimed to improve school access and reduce the gender gap in secondary school enrollment by providing girls who continued to secondary school with a bicycle. This paper evaluates the bicycle program and measures its impact on girls’ access to secondary schools in Bihar.

Using data from a large household survey, the researchers employ a triple difference approach for the evaluation, using boys and the neighbouring state of Jharkhand as comparison groups. They find that the Cycle program was successful in increasing girls’ enrollment in secondary schools. Being in the Cycle program increased girls’ age-appropriate enrollment in secondary school by 30% and reduced the gender gap in enrollment by 40%. This increase in enrollment mostly took place in villages where the nearest secondary school was further away, suggesting that program impact was driven by the reduced time and safety cost of school attendance made possible by the bicycle.

The study also finds that the Cycle program was substantially more cost effective at increasing girls’ enrollment than comparable conditional cash transfer programs in South Asia. This suggests that the Cycle program may have resulted in additional positive outcomes beyond the cash value of the program, including improved safety for girls cycling to school in groups and changes in patriarchal social norms that proscribed female mobility outside the village.