The Long-Term Impact of the Head Start Program

By Lauren Bauer and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach i ECONOMIC ANALYSIS AUGUST 2016

A growing body of rigorous evidence suggests that policy interventions aimed at early childhood bear fruit for decades. For example, reductions in air pollution in the first year of life and more experienced kindergarten teachers are associated with increases in later earnings, while childhood access to food stamps and Medicaid causes better health in adulthood. Across many studies of several programs, preschool attendance among disadvantaged children has been found to positively impact participants. Research has demonstrated strong long-term impacts of random assignment to high-quality preschool programs from the 1960s and 1970s, including Perry Preschool and the Abecedarian program. Head Start, the large-scale federal preschool program, has also been shown to improve post-preschool outcomes, including high school completion and health outcomes.

In this Economic Analysis, we investigate the impact of Head Start on a new set of long-term outcomes, extending landmark analyses further into adulthood and considering the effect of Head Start on participants’ children.1 Among the key takeaways of the analysis are:

? Consistent with the prior literature, we find that Head Start improves educational outcomes— increasing the probability that participants graduate from high school, attend college, and receive a post-secondary degree, license, or certification.

? Overall and particularly among African American participants, we find that Head Start also causes social, emotional, and behavioral development that becomes evident in adulthood measures of self-control, self-esteem, and positive parenting practices.

? We find that Head Start participation increased positive parenting practices for each ethnic group and for participants whose mothers did not have a high school degree when compared with the outcomes of children who went to a preschool other than Head Start.

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