Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Universal Child Care and Children’s Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence from Natural Experiments

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Thomas van Huizen and Janneke Plantenga, Utrecht University
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) has become a major policy issue. Various studies point out that ECEC may generate social and economic benefits, including higher maternal employment rates, improved child development and higher levels of intergenerational mobility. This study focuses on the effects of ECEC on child development and children’s later life outcomes. Using meta-analytical techniques, we synthesize the findings from a recent strand of literature that exploits natural experiments to identify the causal effects of universal ECEC arrangements. We use 253 estimates from 31 studies conducted between 2005 and 2015. Our meta-regressions include estimates on a wide variety of children’s outcomes, ranging from (non-)cognitive development measured during early childhood to educational outcomes during adolescence and labor market performance during adulthood. We classify these diverse outcomes by whether the impact of ECEC on children’s outcomes is significantly negative, statistically insignificant or significantly positive. We estimate our main meta-analytical models with ordered probit models. Overall, the evidence on universal ECEC is rather mixed. Whether the impact is positive or negative cannot be explained by the age of enrollment or the intensity of the program. Quality, on the other hand, matters critically. Furthermore, the results indicate that the effects tend to fade out during childhood, but there is no evidence of fading out in the longer run (during adolescence/adulthood). The study shows that the gains of ECEC are concentrated within the group of disadvantaged children. Children with higher socio-economic backgrounds are unlikely to gain. These findings have important policy implications: policy makers should either focus on targeted ECEC programs or invest in high quality universal schemes. The latter strategy may produce beneficial outcomes for a larger share of the population, but requires a substantial amount of public spending.