From the Field

Quantifying the Life-Cycle Benefits of a Prototypical Early Childhood Program

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Researchers have been looking at outcomes from early education programs since the 1970s. Some of the most famous programs, like the Perry Preschool Project and Chicago Child-Parent Centers, have found long-term fiscal and societal benefits from quality early education, with a high benefit-to-cost ratio. This National Bureau of Economic Research working paper analyzes outcomes from two other well-known programs: the North Carolina Abecedarian Project and the Carolina Approach to Responsive Education.

These programs starting in the mid-1970s studied cohorts of children from 8-weeks-old to 8-years-old, with follow up research and comparisons with a control group. This paper recorded outcomes from the students in their mid-30s and reinforced prior reports, finding that the programs had positive effects on criminal activity, labor income, IQ, schooling, and maternal education. The positive outcomes resulted in a benefit-to-cost ratio of 13.7 percent, a benefit of $7.30 for every dollar spent on the programs.