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Wheels of power: Long-term effects of the Bihar Cycle Programme

  • Blog Post Date 04 March, 2019
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Shabana Mitra

Indian Insitute of Management Bangalore

The Bihar government introduced a programme in 2006 to give cash to grade 9 girls to buy bicycles to go to school. Based on a survey undertaken in 2016, this article shows that beneficiaries were more likely to complete their education, look for productive jobs outside agriculture, and delay marriage. However, a lot of them were not permitted to work or did not find suitable jobs. 


The Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojana was initiated by the government of Bihar in 2006. Under the scheme every girl who enrolled in grade 9 would receive a cash amount to buy a cycle, which she would use to go to school. The idea was that since school density is low and girls drop out of school, having a cycle reduces the time to reach distant schools. So without much investment you are able to bring the school closer. The initial reports of the scheme were very favourable. It worked without much misuse: Enrolment increased by over 30% in the first year itself (Muralidharan and Prakash 2017); leakages from the scheme were below 5% (Ghatak, Kumar and Mitra 2016). 

These results are impressive enough. Yet, a girl on a cycle is not just a girl going to school: she signifies a change in society and the rise of new social norms and aspirations. To assess the impact of the cycle programme as a mere increase in enrolment numbers would limit the scope of the scheme. The total impact must include an assessment of the changes in attitudes of both males and females towards the role of girls and women in society. It is in this broader context that we study the long-term impact of the cycle programme (Mitra and Moene 2017; International Growth Centre (IGC) research).

Ten years since its inception, the first beneficiaries of the scheme would now be in their early twenties. Many important life decisions are taken by them, including the decision to continue studying and in some cases decisions to marry and to have children. We compare the outcomes of girls who benefited from cycle programme with those who just missed it, being older by a few years (15-16 years as opposed to 13-14) in 2006. We also compare the girls from Bihar with those from the neighbouring states of Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh where there was no such scheme. To do all this we conducted a survey in January-April 2016 in six districts across Bihar, Jhakhand, and Uttar Pradesh. The total sample size was 3,500 households and over 20,000 individuals were interviewed.1 

Likelihood of completing education

Our analysis shows that a girl who got a cycle under this scheme has a 27.5% higher chance of completing grade 10 than a girl who did not get a cycle. This is the direct intended effect of the scheme. What is surprising, however, is that the girls continue to pursue their studies even when the cycle cannot directly help them. The senior secondary schools and colleges are usually located further away from the villages in Bihar and the density is very low. This implies that the girls cannot use the cycles to access them. Yet, our results show that a girl who went to school after the cycle yojana was introduced is 22.9% more likely to go ahead and complete her school education than a girl who did not get a cycle. Hence, the cycle is not just helping address a barrier to accessing secondary schools; it is also vehicle of change and a means to new aspirations. 

Figure 1. How the likelihood of selected outcomes compares for cycle and non-cycle girls in Bihar

Note: The figure shows how much more likely a girl from Bihar who got a cycle under the scheme, is to complete a certain level of education or to get married or work, vis-à-vis a girl from Bihar who did not get a cycle, with everything else about these two categories of girls being the same. 

Girls who got the cycle have a 5% higher chance of completing college than girls who did not get cycles. Given the low percentage of girls who actually go to college in Bihar, this is not a small number even though it does point to supply-side constraints. The cycle programme is able to change attitudes towards education, as is evident from the higher completion of school rates. The sudden drop in completion of college may be indicative of the absence of colleges in the area rather than the disinclination towards letting girls study further. 

Opening up avenues for girls to study is known to have spiral effects on other choices they make. We studied two decisions: their job choices and their marriage decisions. 

Work choices

On the job front, our results show that girls with cycles are less likely to be working (in agriculture). This seems surprising, given that they are studying more. Once we delved deeper, we found that the primary occupation available to the girls was a job in agriculture. The girls choose not to work the land, but rather to wait for ‘more suitable’ work. Our study found that girls with cycle are 4.17% less likely to be working in agriculture. When asked why they were not working, however, over 45% say that they would like to work, but their families do not give permission and over 10% say that they have not found suitable work.  

More education has changed the aspirations of girls and they want more from their lives. They were willing to wait for a suitable job to come their way rather than take a low paying agricultural job. The lack of jobs constrains them. This again points to the need for other policies that can supplement the work done by the Mukhyamantri Cycle Yojana. The girls have in several ways been empowered, but they now need to be given the means to become independent. This requires more efforts and new policies by the state – to create more jobs. 

Marriage decisions

The second decision that we studied is the decision to marry. In India the marriage age is low – -the average marriage age for women is 21.2 years (20.7 years for rural women), according to 2011 Census data, and for Bihar this is 20.7 years (20.5 years for rural women). Marriage at a young age has several complications associated with it. However, it is hard to change society’s mindset. Surprisingly we find that girls who went to school on cycles are delaying their marriages. We find that cycle girls are likely to be, on average, six months older at the time of marriage than the girls who did not have access to the cycle programme. This shows yet another positive aspect of making education for girls easier. 

Concluding remarks

Overall the cycle programme has resulted in enhanced aspirations among beneficiaries as well as changes in attitudes towards women. Girls are more likely to complete school, attend college, and look for productive work outside of agriculture. In the social context too, it has brought about important changes. Girls have become less likely to marry early and they delay childbearing.

Our analysis has also identified other bottlenecks and obstacles that the cycle girls face in pursuing their new dreams. They have difficulties in finding jobs and there are not enough good colleges in the areas where they are. It is also a serious obstacle that society changes at a slow pace and that many girls still face resistance at home to pursue their aspirations. 


  1. Methodological note: Our findings are based on a difference-in-difference-in-difference (triple difference) framework. We compare girls in Bihar who got the cycles with those that were slightly older (15-16 years of age in 2006) and so hence, eligible (first difference). We compare this difference with the same difference among boys in Bihar (second difference). The comparison of boys and girls removes any trend effects from comparing older girls with younger girls. This difference-in-difference we compare to the same Difference-in-Difference for the neighbouring states (third difference). The triple difference coefficient gives the effect of cycles on girls in Bihar, compared to (hypothetical) similar girls who would not have got the cycle. This video explains the concept of triple difference in lay terms: 

Further Reading

  • Muralidharan, Karthik and Nishith Prakash (2017), “Cycling to school: Increasing secondary school enrolment for girls in India”, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 9(3): 321-50.
  • Ghatak, Maitreesh, Chinmaya Kumar, and Sandip Mitra (2016), “Cash versus kind understanding the preferences of the bicycle programme beneficiaries in Bihar”, Economic and Political Weekly, March 2016, 11.
  • Mitra, S and K Moene (2017), ‘Wheels of Power: Long-term effects of targeting girls with in-kind transfers’, IGC Working Paper.
1 Comment:

By: Girish Wadhwa

Thanks for analysis. Importance of humble cycle particularly in under developed areas is humongous.

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