Data Shows Why Investing in Your Child’s Early Education Is Pricey — But Worth It

As parents, we want to give our kids the world. And there are many avenues we can take to get to that goal — one of which is to provide our children with a blue-ribbon education.

But, as we all know, that typically comes with a hefty — and often unaffordable — price tag.

So, how do we measure the investment in our children’s future? Let’s think about the bigger picture first: Could starting young children off with a solid educational foundation improve a generation’s overall health, increase incomes and lower crime rates?

If you like where this is headed, keep reading.

A new paper, published by researchers in Illinois and California, suggests that investing in top-notch schooling for children as young as 8 weeks old could positively alter the course of their life — and possibly the future of a generation.

The Study

Analysts from the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center, led by co-author James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and the director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development, published “The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program in mid-December — and their findings are trending upward.

The study shows a “13 percent ROI [return on investment] on early childhood programs,” a figure that researchers touted as a “substantial increase from the 7 to 10 percent of previously calculated data.”

This is considerable news for those parents with small children, and especially those kids whom the study focuses on the most: disadvantaged and low-income households.

The study followed young kids between the ages of 8 weeks to five years old, and focused on programs that primarily benefit “lower-income, predominantly African-American families,” according to NPR.

“This is a huge, huge investment return. It competes favorably with almost any other public program,” Heckman, a Nobel laureate, told NPR during a recent interview about the findings.

Early education programs aren’t just vital to kids — they’re vital to their caregivers, too.

Nearly 11 million children, under the age of 5, are put into child care while their parents are at work, according to Every Child Matters, a non-partisan children’s advocacy organization.

“What we’ve done [in this study] is shown the benefits across two generations of the study of these enriched early child care programs. Not only providing child care for working mothers — allowing them to get more education — but primarily to get more work experience, higher earnings gains through participating in the workforce, but also getting high-quality child care environments that turn out to be developmentally rich,” Heckman told NPR. “It promotes social mobility within — and across — generations. That I think is an important finding of this study.”

Heckman tells NPR that the program really enhances learning for “disadvantaged children” through increased verbal attention, enrichment, and providing parents with more resources.

“It supplements the early lives,” he told NPR.

The program does more than just boost early learning — it offers health care screenings to children under the age of 5, according to NPR. Heckman lauded this as a benefit of the program. While it does not cover the costs of healthcare, it may alert parents to an issue they were not aware of, he told NPR.

But, like health care, education comes at a price. Heckman estimated to NPR that costs can range anywhere from $16,000 to $18,000 annually. Every Child Matters estimated that 22 percent of all children live in families below the federal poverty level.

So at what point do the benefits outweigh the cost? Heckman told NPR that quality early education programs at a young age can have “enormous social benefit” that can “help solve a lot of social problems.”

A few years back, Heckman helped author a similar study to this and the findings complement the his most recent research.

“We showed that children who are in this program were much less likely to be obese, to have hypertension, to have precursor environments that would promote diabetes,” he told NPR about the previous education investigation.

From working moms to more single-parent households, Heckman acknowledged to NPR the American family is changing, too. Through his research, he hopes to help guide this group through the importance of enriching a child’s early education experience to change a future generation of kids who are just learning to understand the world they’ve been handed.

“People say, ‘We want to reduce crime. We want to promote health.’ We do what is, I think, a very limited kind of notion: looking at one problem at a time and one solution very closely linked to that problem. I would encourage people who see the price tag to also look at the benefit tag. They’re well-documented,” Heckman told NPR.

You can read Heckman’s full interview with NPR here, and the paper in its entirety here.

Originally published at

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