The children who participated in two of the nation’s oldest preschool programs during the 1970s are now well into their 40s and 50s.
And new research, which looked at their quality of life at age 35, shows that the high-quality child care they received in their early years and support for their parents yielded great economic, health and social benefits.
The study, released Monday, shows that the services offered by the two North Carolina programs led to an increase in lifetime earnings for the children and their parents. All the children, who were African American and lived in low-income families, received an array of services from birth to age 5, aimed at improving their education, nutrition and health.
The new research comes at a time when policymakers are debating when to offer help to families who may not have the means or know-how to encourage their child’s development, and how much public money to devote to it.
“The data speaks for itself,” said James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development at the University of Chicago. “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.”
His team, which included researchers from the University of Chicago and University of Southern California, studied the long-term impact of two preschool experiments conducted in North Carolina during the ‘70s.
With an adjusted yearly cost of $18,514 per child, the programs offered 50 weeks a year, for five years, of intensive support for newborns and their parents, who were randomly selected to participate. The program provided high-quality child care that allowed parents to continue working or further their own education, health screenings that caught problems early, and training for parents on how to support their child’s development at home.
The researchers found that overall the program generated an annual return of 13 percent on the investment in each child. In previous research, Heckman established a 7-10 percent annual return for preschool programs serving just 3- and 4-year-olds.