US: Study shows that early childhood learning yields benefits later in life


A recent study shows that high quality early childhood education programs reap benefits for children later in life.

Professor James Heckman, a labor economist and Nobel Laureate in economics in 2000, along with his colleagues from the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center, released a study called “The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program.”

The study showed that high-quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13 percent per child, per year return on investment through better outcomes in education, health, social behaviors and employment. This can potentially reduce taxpayer costs down the line and prepare the country’s workforce for a competitive future.

Researchers found that significant gains were realized through better life outcomes by analyzing the effects of two identical, random-controlled preschool studies conducted in North Carolina in the early 1970s: The Carolina Abecedarian Project and the Carolina Approach to Responsive Education.

Heckman previously established a 7 to 10 percent return on investment based on the analysis of the Perry Preschool program, which served 3- and 4-year-olds. The CAP/CARE studies were a comprehensive model from birth to age 5, which combined health, nutrition, family engagement, child care and early learning that in turn provided long-term benefits that outweighed the costs.

By calculating the value of child care in helping mothers enter the workforce and of CAP/CARE’s health benefits, the researchers confirmed a higher rate of return over the long term.

The beneficial adult health outcomes, particularly the reduction in metabolic syndrome among males, were quantified by Heckman’s colleagues at the USC Schaeffer Center. The researchers also found that CAP/CARE were some of the few programs that permanently boosted IQ.

According to Heckman, that lasting effect in cognition combined with increased social and emotional skills that are known to drive achievement, were factors in better outcomes and returns on investment.

These landmark findings underscore the need for increased access to comprehensive, high-quality child care and preschool options for disadvantaged children and families. Programs like CAP/CARE don’t just help parents make ends meet.

“High-quality early childhood programs can boost the upward mobility of two generations by freeing working parents to build their careers and increase wages over time while their child develops a broad range of foundational skills that lead to lifelong success,” Heckman said.

This research bolsters the case for investing in high-quality early childhood interventions that target very young disadvantaged children, engage parents and teach a full range of skills.

“The data speaks for itself,” Heckman said. “Investing in the continuum of learning from birth to age 5 not only impacts each child, but it also strengthens our country’s workforce today and prepares future generations to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”