Supporting the independent education community

Intergenerational impacts


New research has demonstrated that quality early childhood education programs can impact life outcomes in ways that span generations.


In a pair of companion papers published recently by Nobel laureate James Heckman from the University of Chicago, research has found that the children of those who participated in a landmark 1960s study saw improvements in education, health and employment without participating in the same programs as their parents, suggesting that early education can contribute to lasting upward mobility and help break cycles of poverty. Mr Heckman describes his findings as saying “for the first time, we have experimental evidence about how a case of early childhood education propagates across generations”.


The research draws on analysis of survey data, and shows that when compared with the children of non-participants, those who descended from participants of the original study were more likely to have completed high school without suspension, more likely to be employed full time and were less likely to have ever been arrested.


Mr Heckman, Director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development, said the new papers offer “more evidence that successful early education programs hinge on engaging with children and building social and emotional skills”.


Fostering those sorts of environments, he said, “can lead to better life outcomes than trying to measure cognitive improvements”. The research appears to validate the return on investment (ROI) represented in early childhood education, demonstrating an expansion of ROI when the generational flow on effects are taken into account.


The latest findings are outlined in two papers co-authored by Mr Heckman, The Perry Preschoolers at Late Midlife: A Study in Design-Specific Inference and Intergenerational and Intragenerational Externalities of the Perry Preschool Project.