The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program

Principal Investigator

James Heckman - Department of Economics, Center for the Economics of Human Development, University of Chicago
Dana Goldman - University of Southern California; Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics

Overview

Professor James Heckman and colleagues from the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics released a working paper analyzing the effects of two identical, randomized-controlled preschool experiments conducted in North Carolina in the 1970’s. Spanning from birth to age five, these programs provided comprehensive developmental resources to predominately disadvantaged African-American children, including nutrition, parental support, access to healthcare and early learning.

Findings

The research team found these programs had the potential to deliver a 13.7% per child, per year return on investment through better outcomes in health, education, and employment. The economic return of the two programs was substantially higher than had been previously found for preschool programs serving 3- to 4-year-olds, which have previously estimated only a 7-10% return on investment.

Although results varied by gender, children enrolled in the program saw marked improvements in outcomes, including permanent gains in IQ, higher rates of graduation, higher income levels, lower drug use and participation in crime, and lower blood pressure and hypertension.

Implications for Policy and Practice

It is estimated that approximately 19% of all African-American children today would be eligible for a program similar to the ones studied here. And while the costs of comprehensive early childhood education are relatively high, these investments pay off in the short- and long-run.

“Child poverty is growing in the United States; investing in comprehensive birth-to-five early childhood education is a powerful and cost-effective way to mitigate its negative consequences on child development and adult opportunity.

Elements of the ABC/CARE program exist today through a number of often disjointed home visiting, child well-being, nutrition, early learning, childcare and preschool programs. Policymakers would be wise to coordinate these early childhood resources into a scaffolding of developmental support for disadvantaged children and provide access to all in need.”

By increasing access to high-quality programming early on, local and state leaders can more effectively combat the negative effects of child poverty, and improve the health and well-being of their communities at large.

Published
in
The National Bureau of Economic Research