Panel Paper: Two-Generation Programs in the 21st Century

Friday, November 8, 2013 : 8:00 AM
Washington (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Northwestern University and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Columbia University
Two-generation programs mean many things to different constituencies. In this paper, we define two-generation programs as those that intentionally and strategically link education, job training, and career-building programs for low-income parents simultaneously with high-quality early childhood education for their young children. This definition thus emphasizes an investment strategy to build human capital for both children and parents and implies an intensive, extended approach. This type of two-generation program may represent a promising and innovative antipoverty strategy for families. In the past 5 years, the renewed appeal of a human capital two-generation perspective has led to a number of initiatives on the ground, a significant advance over earlier efforts along these lines in the 1980s and 1990s. Ironically, the theoretical and empirical evidence for recent innovation lags behind current policy and practice and flies in the face of discouraging efforts in the past.

A resurgence of interest in two-generation programs appears to be a partial consequence of synergies among visionary leaders in philanthropy. In addition, the prominent public policy focus in the past several decades regarding welfare dependency has since given way to a concern about the United States’ competitive position in the world economy, and the fact that the U.S. lags behind so many other countries on multiple indicators of educational attainment. This is combined with widespread acknowledgement that education beyond high school is essential for success in the global economy of the 21st century. With advancing technology and globalization, many jobs in the U.S. increasingly require higher levels of education and training than in the past, reflecting the significant disappearance of family-supporting, low-skilled jobs. Yet, many members of our current and future workforce are unprepared for the demands of the 21st century, especially evident in the inadequate levels of schools success among low-income children and their parents. In addition, childhood poverty remains persistently high at 21.5%, and social mobility has decreased substantially.

As a consequence, various national conversations are underway in search of promising new approaches to combat the pressing issues of economic hardship, low education, and their deleterious consequences for families and society –including two-generation human capital programs for parents and children. The purpose of this paper is to integrate theories from developmental science, economics, and education to evaluate the assumptions underlying two-generation programs, to outline possible mechanisms of effects on children, to synthesize what has been tried to date, and to describe some emerging, promising programs across the nation.

Our bottom line: The jury is out and will be for some time regarding whether new human capital two-generation programs can be successfully implemented, as pilot programs or at scale. Very little data are available on whether their impacts are higher than those of single-generation programs. Yet, this paper will argue that new approaches to two-generation human capital programs are worth pursuing and testing.