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

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.