Research / BFI Working PaperOct 27, 2022

Parenting Promotes Social Mobility Within and Across Generations

Jorge Luis García, James Heckman

This paper compares early childhood enrichment programs that promote social mobility for disadvantaged children within and across generations. Instead of conducting a standard meta-analysis, we present a harmonized primary data analysis of programs that shape current policy. Our analysis is a template for rigorous syntheses and comparisons across programs. We analyze new long-run life-cycle data collected for iconic programs when participants are middle-aged and their children are in their twenties. The iconic programs are omnibus in nature and offer many services to children and their parents. We compare them with relatively low-cost more focused home-visiting programs. Successful interventions target both children and their caregivers. They engage caregivers and improve the home lives of children. They permanently boost cognitive and noncognitive skills. Participants in programs that enrich home environments grow up with better skills, jobs, earnings, marital stability, and health, as well as reduced participation in crime. Long-run monetized gains are substantially greater than program costs for iconic programs. We investigate the mechanisms promoting successful family lives for participants and find intergenerational effects on their children. A study of focused home-visiting programs that target parents enables us to isolate a crucial component of successful programs: they activate and promote parenting skills of child caregivers. The home-visiting programs we analyze produce outcomes comparable to those of the iconic omnibus programs. National implementation of the programs with long-run follow up that we analyze would substantially shrink the overall US Black-White earnings gap.

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