Panel Paper: Two-Generation Human Capital Interventions for Low-Income Mothers and their Young Children

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Stetson G (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Elise Chor, Temple University

Socioeconomic achievement gaps emerge early and persist (Reardon, 2011). In recognition of the central roles that parents play in children’s lives, policymakers have sought strategies to address inequities that begin at home, but how best to design or target such interventions is not yet known. The federal Head Start prekindergarten program offers families supportive services including parenting education classes. Perhaps as a result, children’s Head Start participation leads to more enriching parenting practices (Gelber & Isen, 2013). Two-generation theory posits that more intensive focus on parent programming may be an effective way of boosting Head Start effectiveness into the long-term to address socioeconomic achievement gaps. In particular, a child human capital intervention like Head Start may be more beneficial if paired not only with parenting classes but also with a simultaneous parent human capital intervention that promotes parents’ economic stability and positive parenting (Chase-Lansdale & Brooks-Gunn, 2014).

This study tests the theory behind two-generation human capital interventions by asking whether Head Start is more effective at promoting children’s cognitive and socioemotional development when paired with maternal education programming, and whether parenting quality might explain any greater gains seen among Head Start children with mothers enrolled in school or job training during the Head Start year. The central question of interest is whether investments in low-income mothers and their children can be complementary, such that each generation receives greater benefits from an educational program if the other is also enrolled in school, and if so, why. The study draws on experimental Head Start Impact Study (HSIS) data that provides randomized variation in Head Start access, and matches similar mothers who are and are not enrolled in school or job training during the Head Start year with inverse probability weights to derive causal estimates. HSIS outcome measures have been widely used to study children’s development, allowing for comparison to other studies (e.g., Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement, Child-Parent Relationship Scale).

Preliminary findings suggest that mothers make greater gains as a result of participation in education or job training during the Head Start year if their children have access to Head Start, with an increased likelihood of holding a high school diploma, GED, or higher and a greater likelihood of employment at the end of the child’s third grade. At the same time, children receive larger and lasting socioemotional benefits from Head Start access if their mothers attend school or job training during the Head Start year, with more prosocial behavior and lower levels of behavior problems through third grade. Parenting appears to link children’s Head Start access, mothers’ school or job training, and child outcomes. Head Start access increases engagement in enrichment activities only among mothers enrolled in school or job training, and increases closeness between children and these mothers. Using an existing, federally funded data source in new ways not originally envisioned by the Head Start Impact Study’s developers (HHS, 2010), this study has implications for a burgeoning field of anti-poverty programming: intentional two-generation interventions based in Head Start.