19 August 2020

Long-term positive effects of universal preschool programs

Many children spend a substantial share of their early childhood in preschool programs. We know from a large body of literature that early childhood is important for children's development, but we know surprisingly little about the long-term impact of formal preschool programs on children's later life.

A newly published systematic literature review by CEBI phd student Ida Lykke Kristiansen and co-authors, finds unambiguously positive long-term effects of attending a universal preschool program on adequate school progression, years of schooling, highest degree completed, employment, and earnings, while the results on test scores and on measures related to health, well‐being, and behavior are mixed. Universal preschool programs tend to be more beneficial for children with low socioeconomic status, while there are no consistently different effects for boys and girls.

Universal preschool programs involve a substantial amount of public spending, and the most important information for policymakers is perhaps whether, and by how much, the total benefits outweigh the cost of implementation. Three of the included studies calculate benefits‐to‐costs ratios and find ratios clearly above one. The majority of studies and estimates, therefore, indicate that universal preschool programs have beneficial long‐term average effects; effects that are found across heterogeneous preschool programs and across countries with very different political and social contexts.

The paper uses systematic review methods to maximize the chances of finding all relevant studies and to increase the transparency of the analyses and conclusions. All included studies use natural experiments to obtain a plausible identification of the effects of universal preschool programs. The included outcomes are only limited with respect to measurement timing (measurement occurs in third grade or later). Systematic literature reviews are important as they collect, critically select, and analyze results across many empirical studies and aim to provide a complete and thorough summary of current evidence within a strain of literature.

You can read the full article in Journal of Economic Surveys here