From the Field

Research Notes: New Evidence of the Value of Preschool

The Perry Preschool Project, a demonstration preschool that operated in Ypsilanti, Michigan, between 1962 and 1967, was created to study the impact of excellent preschool education on 123 low-income Black children. The 58 children in the experimental group received teaching from well-qualified instructors in a ratio of one teacher for every six students, for 2.5 hours a day, five days a week, for two years. Perry Preschool also included weekly home visits that taught parents how to extend the preschool curriculum into home activities. For decades since, researchers have tracked the participants and the 65 non-participants (control group) to observe their life trajectories. This landmark project has become a cornerstone among research showing the long-term impact of preschool, notably, increased health and employment and reduced crime.

New data from Perry, which boasts the longest follow-up on any randomized early childhood education program, show that preschool continues to have direct benefits to former preschool students through late midlife (based on age-54 interviews) and has spillover effects on both their children and their siblings. For the first time in early childhood research, researchers Jorge Luis García of Clemson, Frederik H. Bennhoff of the University of Zurich, and Duncan Ermini Leaf of the University of Southern California have identified the spillover effects of preschool on participants’ children and siblings.

The researchers report in their working paper that male preschool students and male siblings of Perry preschoolers both increased their likelihood of being employed by 19 percentage points. [The effect on women was not statistically significant, which the researchers attribute to women’s different experiences in the labor market.]

Male preschool graduates were also less likely to go to jail, sparing their siblings the very heavy burden of supporting an incarcerated family member and protecting their children from the harms of having an incarcerated parent. Though the effects on male children and siblings were greater, the effects on both genders, especially on income, were large. The researchers estimated the benefit-cost ratio of Perry Preschool to participants at 6:1, but when they included the spillover effects on siblings and children, the benefit-cost ratio rose to 7.5:1.

This latest study of the life outcomes of Perry Preschool graduates provides further evidence that high-quality preschool can improve life outcomes not only for preschool children themselves, but also for their families and for subsequent generations.

The Dynastic Benefits of Early Childhood Education: Participant Benefits and Family Spillovers

August 2023

Jorge Luis García, Frederik H. Bennhoff & Duncan Ermini Leaf