Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


daycare

(ILLUSTRATION: RON AND JOE/SHUTTERSTOCK)

How to Ease Inequality on the Cheap

• July 26, 2013 • 10:40 AM

(ILLUSTRATION: RON AND JOE/SHUTTERSTOCK)

The Obama Administration wants to make daycare universal for four-year-olds. But more basic short-term support for poor families with babies could greatly increase the child’s future earnings.

The president wants Congress to expand daycare access to every child in America, an expensive and politically complicated proposition according to critics. But much less intensive pre-k support for moms could still produce major windfalls down the road for their babies, claims a new working paper from the World Bank. The authors found that once-a-week, one-hour visits from a childcare aide for mothers and kids in poor Jamaican communities resulted in nearly 50 percent higher earnings and improved mental health when those babies became adults—20 years after only a two-year intervention.

Findings are consistent with a well-established body of evidence that suggests early childhood interventions like daycare might be a better investment than the stock market.

In 1986, a group of researchers enlisted 129 nine-to-24 month-old babies from Kingston, Jamaica, all with poverty-stunted physical growth. The babies were split into four randomized groups: one group received food supplements (things like baby formula and cornmeal) every week; another group received nothing; a third group of kids and their mothers received one-hour weekly sessions with a child development aide that had received a few months of training in primary health care, teaching methods, and toy making; a fourth group received the aide’s visit, as well as the extra food. The study team monitored things like the babies’ years of schooling, IQ, and mental health (and, eventually, their earnings) throughout the first two years, then every few years until age 18. In the late 2000s, the World Bank paper authors—including James Heckman, Nobel laureate from the University of Chicago who has figured prominently in debates over daycare—picked up the thread, re-interviewing these study subjects around age 22.

You might think starving kids that got extra food saw the best outcomes later in life. But previous surveys of the kids’ lives established that the food aid had no long-term effect on health and earnings. On the other hand, the impact of the one-hour weekly visits from an aide appeared far greater: Average earnings for 22-year-olds whose moms participated in those weekly sessions were 42 percent higher than the control group. But kids who received an aide’s intervention didn’t just leave behind their stunted-growth peers—their earnings actually caught up to a group of children from the same neighborhoods that grew up less impoverished and received no such intervention. The aides’ efforts appear to have nipped starting-line inequality in the bud.

So what was the aides’ secret? They relayed a little knowledge about childcare to the moms, and encouraged them to talk to and to play more with their kids. They also tried to boost the self-esteem of the child and the mother through praise. Pretty basic stuff, but the authors were willing to infer causality, not just correlation, between these weekly interactions and kids’ improved outcomes: Part of the initial study looked at the parents’ level of engagement with their babies outside the time spent with aides, finding that that little weekly boost inspired more engagement for two years, then enthusiasm dissipated. The kids nevertheless continually outpaced the control group and even caught up with their non-stunted peers.

It’s worth noting that, like the few American studies that have undertaken long-term, randomized efforts to track outcomes for kids in programs like Jamaica’s, the sample size was small. Another caveat: Every child in the study was given free health care. Absent that expensive component, a broken leg and a stack of huge medical bills might negate the benefits of teaching a mom how to mother.

But the findings are consistent with a well-established body of evidence that suggests early childhood interventions like daycare might be a better investment than the stock market. And improved educational attainment, mental health, and earnings for young adults 20 years after a once-a-week check-in seems like a lot of bang for your buck.

Michael Fitzgerald
Michael Fitzgerald is an associate editor at Pacific Standard. He has previously worked at The New Republic and Oxford American Magazine.

More From Michael Fitzgerald

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.