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Social mobility, life chances, and the early years


  • Waldfogel, Jane


It is widely agreed that the early years are a particularly important time for efforts to increase social mobility, because a good deal of inequality is already apparent by the time children start school, and because children’s development may be less amenable to change after they enter school. But it is less clear how much policies can reduce inequality in the early years, or what policies might be most effective, given the multiple influences on development in the early years and given the complex effects of policies. In this paper, I review what we know from research about what affects development in the early years and examine the current UK policy framework in light of that research. I then make recommendations for priorities for next steps to improve social mobility and other desired outcomes in the early years and thereafter. We know a good deal from research about what quality means, and about what types of experiences are best for children. The research points to some clear next steps in early years policy. These include: extending paid parental leave to 12 months; offering a more flexible package of supports to families with children under the age of 2 or 3; providing high-quality centre-based care to 2 year olds, starting with the most disadvantaged; and providing a more integrated system of high-quality care and education for 3 to 5 year olds.

Suggested Citation

  • Waldfogel, Jane, 2004. "Social mobility, life chances, and the early years," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 6302, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:6302

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Pinka Chatterji & Sara Markowitz, 2005. "Does the Length of Maternity Leave Affect Maternal Health?," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 72(1), pages 16-41, July.
    2. Christopher J. Ruhm, 2004. "Parental Employment and Child Cognitive Development," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(1).
    3. Donohue, John J, III & Siegelman, Peter, 1998. "Allocating Resources among Prisons and Social Programs in the Battle against Crime," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(1), pages 1-43, January.
    4. Anderson, Patricia M. & Butcher, Kristin F. & Levine, Phillip B., 2003. "Maternal employment and overweight children," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 477-504, May.
    5. Heckman, James J. & Masterov, Dimitriy V., 2004. "Skill Policies for Scotland," IZA Discussion Papers 1444, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Magnuson, Katherine A. & Ruhm, Christopher & Waldfogel, Jane, 2007. "Does prekindergarten improve school preparation and performance?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 33-51, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. de Jong-Lenters, M. & Duijster, D. & Bruist, M.A. & Thijssen, J. & de Ruiter, C., 2014. "The relationship between parenting, family interaction and childhood dental caries: A case-control study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 49-55.

    More about this item


    Social mobility; parental leave; child care; early years;

    JEL classification:

    • D1 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • J2 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor


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