The Health and Social Returns of Early Childhood Education

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

High-quality, early childhood education (ECE) boosts early-life skills in disadvantaged individuals. These skills translate into better outcomes later in life, in areas like employment, education, income, and criminal activity. But ECE is also costly, and as such, it is important to have a complete picture of the social returns throughout life. In particular, it is not known whether ECE can improve health over the course of a lifetime. This study will examine two important ECE programs—the Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC) and the Carolina Approach to Responsive Education (CARE) programs in North Carolina—to assess lifetime health returns to ECE.

In ABC and CARE, 'at-risk' children born in the 1970s received intensive (and costly) child care and education starting at very early ages. A control group received more traditional social support. ABC and CARE have been shown to reduce crime, improve earnings, and promote education. Evidence shows important health benefits, including lower risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic disease in early adulthood, and this study will forecast the health returns over the lifetime. Overall, this study should provide an economic rationale for combining separate interventions into a comprehensive approach that fosters better human development, economic, health, and social outcomes for disadvantaged children.

Evidence

Showing 1 - 2 of 2

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.

The research team found that high-quality early childhood education 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.