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Investing in early human development: Timing and economic efficiency

  • Doyle, Orla
  • Harmon, Colm P.
  • Heckman, James J.
  • Tremblay, Richard E.

Policy discussions to ameliorate socioeconomic (SES) inequalities are increasingly focused on investments in early childhood. Yet such interventions are costly to implement, and clear evidence on the optimal time to intervene to yield a high economic and social return in the future is meagre. The majority of successful early childhood interventions start in the preschool years. However socioeconomic gradients in cognitive skills, socio-emotional functioning and health can be observed by age three, suggesting that preventative programmes starting earlier in childhood may be even more effective. We discuss the optimal timing of early childhood intervention with reference to recent research in developmental neuroscience. We motivate the need for early intervention by providing an overview of the impact of adverse risk factors during the antenatal and early childhood periods on outcomes later in life. We provide a brief review of the economic rationale for investing early in life and propose the "antenatal investment hypothesis". We conclude by discussing a suite of new European interventions that will inform this optimal timing debate.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Economics & Human Biology.

Volume (Year): 7 (2009)
Issue (Month): 1 (March)
Pages: 1-6

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Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:7:y:2009:i:1:p:1-6
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622964

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  1. Cunha, Flavio & Heckman, James J. & Lochner, Lance, 2006. "Interpreting the Evidence on Life Cycle Skill Formation," Handbook of the Economics of Education, Elsevier.
  2. Robert Haveman & Barbara Wolfe, 1995. "The Determinants of Children's Attainments: A Review of Methods and Findings," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(4), pages 1829-1878, December.
  3. Eliana Garces & Duncan Thomas & Janet Currie, 2000. "Longer Term Effects of Head Start," Working Papers 00-20, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  4. Najman, Jake M. & Aird, Rosemary & Bor, William & O'Callaghan, Michael & Williams, Gail M. & Shuttlewood, Gregory J., 2004. "The generational transmission of socioeconomic inequalities in child cognitive development and emotional health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 58(6), pages 1147-1158, March.
  5. Leon Feinstein, 2003. "Inequality in the Early Cognitive Development of British Children in the 1970 Cohort," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 70(277), pages 73-97, February.
  6. Carneiro, Pedro & Heckman, James J., 2003. "Human Capital Policy," IZA Discussion Papers 821, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Korenman, Sanders & Miller, Jane E. & Sjaastad, John E., 1995. "Long-term poverty and child development in the United States: Results from the NLSY," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 17(1-2), pages 127-155.
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