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Early childhood development and social mobility


  • Barnett, W. Steven
  • Belfield, Clive R.


Steven Barnett and Clive Belfield examine the effects of preschool education on social mobility in the United States. They note that under current policy three- and four-year-old children from economically and educationally disadvantaged families have higher preschool attendance rates than other children. But current programs fail to enroll even half of poor three-and four-year olds. Hispanics and children of mothers who drop out of school also participate at relatively low rates. The programs also do little to improve learning and development. Barnett and Belfield point out that preschool programs raise academic skills on average, but do not appear to have notably different effects for different groups of children, and so do not strongly enhance social mobility. In such areas as crime, welfare, and teen parenting, however, preschool seems more able to break links between parental behaviors and child outcomes. Increased investment in preschool, conclude Barnett and Belfield, could raise social mombility. Program expansions targeted to disadvantaged children would help them move up the ladder, as would a more universal set of policies from which disadvantaged children gained disproportionately. Increasing the educational effectiveness of early childhood programs would provide for greater gains in social mobility than increasing participation rates alone. The authors observe that if future expansions of preschool programs end up serving all children, not just the poorest, society as a whole would gain. Benefits would exceed costs and there would be more economic growth, but relative gains for disadvantaged children would be smaller than absolute gains because there would be some (smaller) benefits to other children.

Suggested Citation

  • Barnett, W. Steven & Belfield, Clive R., 2006. "Early childhood development and social mobility," MPRA Paper 858, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:858

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    Cited by:

    1. Baker-Henningham, Helen & López Bóo, Florencia, 2010. "Early Childhood Stimulation Interventions in Developing Countries: A Comprehensive Literature Review," IZA Discussion Papers 5282, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Jensen, Bente & Jensen, Peter & Rasmussen, Astrid Würtz, 2015. "Does Professional Development of Preschool Teachers Improve Child Socio-Emotional Outcomes?," IZA Discussion Papers 8957, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Eliseo Hernández-Ruiz, 2016. "Intervención temprana: una apuesta para la movilidad social," Working Paper Series Sobre México 2016001, Sobre México. Temas en economía.
    4. Barbara Bruns & David Evans & Javier Luque, 2012. "Achieving World-Class Education in Brazil : The Next Agenda," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 2383, March.
    5. Milagros Nores & Steven W. Barnett, 2012. "Benefits of Early Childhood Interventions Across the World: (Under) Investing in the Very Young," Educational Studies, Higher School of Economics, issue 1, pages 200-228.
    6. Baker-Henningham, Helen & López Bóo, Florencia, 2010. "Early Childhood Stimulation Interventions in Developing Countries: A Comprehensive Literature Review," IZA Discussion Papers 5282, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    7. Nina Drange & Tarjei Havnes, 2012. "Kindergarten for all: Long run effects of a universal intervention," Discussion Papers 695, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    8. Anna Christina D'Addio, 2007. "Intergenerational Transmission of Disadvantage: Mobility or Immobility Across Generations?," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 52, OECD Publishing.
    9. Belfield, Clive R. & Kelly, Inas Rashad, 2013. "Early education and health outcomes of a 2001 U.S. Birth Cohort," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 310-325.
    10. Drange, Nina & Havnes, Tarjei & Sandsør, Astrid M.J., 2016. "Kindergarten for all: Long run effects of a universal intervention," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 164-181.

    More about this item


    early childhood education; social mobility; benefit/cost analyses; income disparity; disadvantaged children;

    JEL classification:

    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household
    • J6 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers

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