Positive Parenting Newsfeed—a Child Trends Project—is Supported by the National Science Foundation

Quality Early Care and Education Pays Off for Two Generations

CHICAGO, Ill. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Early childhood care and education in the United States can be expensive. The average cost of care alone ranges from $9,000 a year to a high of more than $23,000. A new study suggests that some high-quality programs are making a difference and yielding a big payoff.

Every year, millions of kids are enrolled in programs that parents hope will build the foundation for school success.

One parent told Ivanhoe that “Pre-K time is really important and more emphasis needs to be put on that.”

Another parent said, “I wanted him to be learning his ABC’s but also in a fun way.”

But does the cost of early education pay off over a lifetime?

“What we do in this program—what we do that is different—is follow long-term outcomes,” detailed Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, PhD of the University of Chicago.

Researchers analyzed decades of information from two government-funded early childhood programs that served disadvantaged kids from birth to age five. One of these programs, ABC/Care, offered cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development. Heckman said that, for every dollar spent on this program, there was a return of more than six dollars.

Heckman explained, “What we are getting is the structure of returns—when we include the health returns—are as high as 14 percent per annum, [which is] a huge benefit-cost ratio.”

Children who participated in the programs had higher test scores and less grade retention. At age 35, their health was better. Men had lower blood pressure and lower drug use. Women had better adult employment.

Researchers say that high-quality programs focus on the whole child, not just academic learning. Parents can look for programs where there is a focus on health—for example, having nurses on staff and developmental screenings. Also, check to see that children are provided with meals and snacks to ensure access to good nutrition—early childhood options that may pay off years down the road.

Professor Heckman said that there is a two-generation impact from high-quality childhood education. Mothers are able to continue their education and enter the workforce due to the availability of child care. For more information about childcare and early education choices, Child Care Aware provides tips and resources for every state at www.childcareaware.org.


Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

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