Panel Paper: Examining the Two-Generation Impact of Child Care Subsidies on Maternal Education and Children’s Kindergarten Outcomes

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Wilson A - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Owen N. Schochet and Anna Johnson, Georgetown University

The federal child care subsidy program – the Child Care and Development Fund – is among the government’s most substantial investments in the early care and education of low-income children: in 2015, federal and state governments spent nearly $8.5 billion on the subsidy program, serving 1.4 million children per month (US DHHS OCC, 2017). To date, much subsidy research has focused either on estimating associations between subsidies and maternal employment, or between subsidies and child outcomes, largely ignoring possible impacts on maternal education. This is surprising, given that increasing low-income mothers’ educational attainment has the potential to both elevate mothers’ human capital and enhance children’s wellbeing and readiness for school success.

Theoretically, receipt of a child care subsidy should free up parental time and resources that can be allocated toward the pursuit of additional education. Empirically, emerging results from our own quasi-experimental investigation of subsidy impacts on longitudinal gains in maternal education find that low-income subsidy-recipient mothers demonstrated, on average, a 13 percentage point increase in the likelihood of increasing their education relative to subsidy-eligible non-recipients (Schochet & Johnson, under review). Separately, an extensive literature suggests that advances in parental education may promote children’s academic and social learning (Davis-Keane, 2005; Magnuson, 2007). In the proposed study, we build on this literature, blending it with and extending our in-progress research to illuminate how subsidy receipt may not just elevate maternal education, but also children’s outcomes in kindergarten. Using quasi-experimental methods and national data, the current study is the first to bridge this divide by rigorously investigating the influence of increases in maternal education on children’s cognitive, noncognitive, and health outcomes in an exclusively subsidy-eligible sample.

We draw our data from the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), which collected rich information on children’s care experiences and arrangements (including funding source), household demographic and economic characteristics, mothers’ educational levels, and children’s outcomes. Data were collected when children were 9-months old, 2-years old, in preschool, and in kindergarten. Our analysis uses a combination of OLS regression and inverse propensity score weighting approaches to explore the possible role of maternal education increases in promoting children’s kindergarten cognitive, non-cognitive, and health outcomes. All analyses are conducted on a balanced, low-income, subsidy-eligible sample of mothers and their children.

Preliminary results from regression-adjusted models on this subsidy-eligible sample suggest that increases in maternal education predict a 1.5-point increase in children’s preschool math scores (SE = .59), a 1.7-point increase in their preschool language/literacy skills (SE =.62), and a .3 point decreases in Body Mass Index in preschool (SE = .14). Moreover, we observe enduring cognitive gains for children in subsidy-eligible families with mothers who improve their degree attainment at kindergarten entry with positive impacts on math scores (b = 2.08; SE = .75) and reading scores (b = 3.58; SE = 1.08). Our next analytic step is to more sensitively measure the impact of the timing and intensity of mothers’ educational increases on children’s preschool and kindergarten outcomes.