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Is microfinance associated with changes in women’s well-being and children’s nutrition? A systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. Wanjiku Gichuru1,
  2. Shalini Ojha2,
  3. Sherie Smith3,
  4. Alan Robert Smyth3,
  5. Lisa Szatkowski1
  1. 1 Division of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Nottingham, Nottingham City Hospital, Nottingham, UK
  2. 2 Division of Graduate Entry Medicine, Derby Medical School, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
  3. 3 Division of Child Health, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Queen’s Medical Centre, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Shalini Ojha; shalini.ojha{at}


Background Microfinance is the provision of savings and small loans services, with no physical collateral. Most recipients are disadvantaged women. The social and health impacts of microfinance have not been comprehensively evaluated.

Objective To explore the impact of microfinance on contraceptive use, female empowerment and children’s nutrition in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Design We conducted a systematic search of published and grey literature (1990–2018), with no language restrictions. We conducted meta-analysis, where possible, to calculate pooled ORs. Where studies could not be combined, we described these qualitatively.

Data sources EMBASE, MEDLINE, LILACS, CENTRAL and ECONLIT were searched (1990–June 2018).

Eligibility criteria We included controlled trials, observational studies and panel data analyses investigating microfinance involving women and children.

Data extraction and synthesis Two independent reviewers extracted data and assessed risk of bias. The methodological quality of included studies was assessed using the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool for controlled trials and quasi-experimental studies and a modified Newcastle Ottawa Scale for cross-sectional surveys and analyses of panel data. Meta-analyses were conducted using STATA V.15 (StataCorp).

Results We included 27 studies. Microfinance was associated with a 64% increase in the number of women using contraceptives (OR 1.64, 95% CI 1.45 to 1.86). We found mixed results for the association between microfinance and intimate partner violence. Some positive changes were noted in female empowerment. Improvements in children’s nutrition were noted in three studies.

Conclusion Microfinance has the potential to generate changes in contraceptive use, female empowerment and children’s nutrition. It was not possible to compare microfinance models due to the small numbers of studies. More rigorous evidence is needed to evaluate the association between microfinance and social and health outcomes.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42015026018.

  • microfinance
  • female empowerment
  • community child health
  • global health

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  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Contributors WG, LS, SO and ARS conceived and designed the study. WG and LS independently carried out the title, abstract and full text screening and quality assessment. WG conducted the meta-analyses and wrote the first draft of the paper. SS updated the search in 2018 and completed the updated title and abstract screening. The updated full-text screening was performed by SO, SS and WG. All authors critically revised subsequent drafts, and have approved the final version.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Medical Research Council [grant number MR/M021904/1], UK.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement This is a secondary analysis of published data. We do not hold any unpublished data from the study. Further information about the data analysis can be obtained by contacting the corresponding author.