Gender Differences in the Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program

Principal Investigator
Department of Economics, Center for the Economics of Human Development, University of Chicago
University of Southern California; Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics


ABC/CARE was a comprehensive, birth through age five early childhood development program that included early health, nutrition, parental education and early childhood education. Complementing their recent cost-benefit analysis of the ABC/CARE program, Dr. James Heckman and his team look at the differences in outcomes based on gender in their paper, Gender Differences in the Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program.


Consistent with a wide body of research, the team found gender differences in outcomes for disadvantaged boys and girls who participated in the program. ABC/CARE female participants showed substantial beneficial effects on education, human capital accumulation and employment compared to those who attended lower-quality care. Even stronger results were seen when the treatment group was compared to those who stayed at home. The study also determined that low-quality childcare has far more negative consequences for boys than for girls. Boys in the program saw significant advancements in health, education and income, while those who received low-quality care had negative outcomes.

Implications for Policy and Practice

Given the economic realities of today’s families, it is imperative to provide low-income families with high-quality childcare, health care and early learning that assists them in providing effective early childhood development to their children. Doing so will result in stronger families, higher achievement, reduced social costs and a stronger national economy. Failing to invest in quality is a missed opportunity, especially since quality programs pay for themselves in the short- and long-term.

*A revised version of this paper was published in the European Economic Review in June 2018. 

The National Bureau of Economic Research