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Field Experiments in Early Childhood Education and Care

Paper Session

Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM (EST)

Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: Philipp Lergetporer, Ifo Institute Munich

It All Starts with Beliefs: Addressing the Roots of Educational Inequities by Changing Parental Beliefs

John A. List
,
University of Chicago
Julie Pernaudet
,
University of Chicago
Dana Suskind
,
University of Chicago

Abstract

Rising educational and income inequalities have been documented in nearly every corner of the earth. A key to understanding the data patterns is to document the sources underlying the observed inequalities. We begin by showing that across socioeconomic backgrounds, there are dramatic differences in parents’ beliefs about whether their investments even matter for their child’s development. Furthermore, those beliefs importantly predict later child outcomes. To explore the mutability of such beliefs, beginning a few days after delivery, we use two field experiments leveraging the health care system. We find that providing low-SES parents with informational nudges and tips to foster their baby’s development leads them to update their beliefs durably. The augmented beliefs lead to enriched parent-child interactions and child outcomes improve, revealing that changing parental beliefs can be an important pathway to raising parental investments and child outcomes.

The MPACT Initiative: Using Behavioral Tools to Improve Children’s Early Math Skills

Susan E. Mayer
,
University of Chicago
Ariel Kalil
,
University of Chicago
William Delgado
,
University of Chicago

Abstract

We study the causal effect of a low-cost, behaviorally-informed treatment intended to overcome present bias on parental engagement and child’s early math skills. Present bias is the tendency to over-value immediate payoffs to one decision (i.e., to spend time in leisure) and under-value future greater payoffs to a different decision (i.e., to spend time in developmental activities with children), thus present-oriented parents would procrastinate and underinvest in their children. We recruited more than 1,400 parents of preschool-age children attending 29 Head Start Centers in the City of Chicago. The intervention has four treatment arms in addition to a (C) control group, but here we focus on: (T1) provision of a game board and card deck (the MKit) illustrating everyday math activities parents could do with their child and (T2) the MKit plus text messages (four per week) designed to overcome parents’ present bias. The intervention lasted for 12 weeks, and outcomes were measured right after the intervention, 6 months, and 12 months postintervention. We also estimate parental present bias through incentivized tasks. We are conducting analysis of data, and preliminary results show an increase in the math environment at home.

Reducing the Gender Gap in Early Learning: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Norwegian Preschools

Andreas Fidjeland
,
University of Stavanger
Mari Rege
,
University of Stavanger
Ingeborg F. Solli
,
University of Stavanger
Ingunn Størksen
,
University of Stavanger

Abstract

In the last decade, one of the inequities given most attention from policymakers and researchers is the gender gap in academic achievement. A voluminous body of research consistently shows that girls outperform male classmates across a variety of subjects and educational contexts. Several studies suggest that the discrepancy starts in early childhood, but the sources of these gaps remain unclear.

Providing universal, high-quality preschool programs is often put forward as one of the primary policy tools for ensuring equal opportunities for children to succeed in school. This is motivated by an emerging literature demonstrating that participation in preschool can be beneficial for child development, especially for disadvantaged children. However, this evidence is far from unified and provides a limited understanding of the conditions under which preschool is effective, and if these conditions are different for boys and girls.

One dimension along which preschool programs differ substantially is the intentionality with which the curricular focus promotes children’s school readiness skills. A focused and engaging curriculum may be especially important for boys as they struggle more with self-regulation than girls at early ages. Structured yet play-based learning activities may help boys stay on track and support their development within crucial learning areas during the transition from childcare to formal schooling.

In this study we investigate if a more structured curriculum focusing on key school-readiness skills for five-year olds can reduce the gender gap in early learning.
We conduct a field experiment with 71 Norwegian preschools and collect novel data on children’s development in mathematics, language, and executive functioning. While girls score higher than boys on all our skill measures at baseline, we find that the curriculum intervention primarily benefits the boys. The treatment effects persist into formal schooling, suggesting that our structured curriculum could reduce the gender gap in academic achievement.

Not Wanting or Not Knowing? A Behavioral Intervention to Promote Applications for Universal Child Care Among Disadvantaged Families

Henning Hermes
,
FAIR Center of Excellence and Norwegian School of Economics-Bergen
Philipp Lergetporer
,
Center for the Economics of Education and Ifo Institute Munich
Frauke Peter
,
German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies and DZHW Hannover
Simon Wiederhold
,
Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt

Abstract

Universal child care is an essential tool to support child development and to mitigate educational inequality early in life. However, while children from families with lower socioeconomic status (SES) tend to benefit more from universal child care, their enrollment rates are substantially lower. This paper investigates whether alleviating informational and behavioral barriers reduces the SES gap in applications for universal child care. In a randomized controlled trial with more than 600 families with infant children in Germany, we provide parents of young children with information about the universal child care system and application assistance. At baseline, we document substantial SES gaps in parental knowledge about the universal child care system and the application process. Low-SES parents also plan to start universal child care later than high-SES parents.

Our intervention substantially improves parental knowledge about the universal child care system, almost fully closing the SES gap in child-care-related knowledge at baseline. Most importantly, the treatment increases the likelihood to apply for a universal child care slot, particularly for low-SES families. The treatment effect of 20 percentage points among low-SES families entirely closes the SES gap in the probability to apply for universal child care. Thus, our low-cost behavioral intervention seems to be an effective instrument to promote applications for universal child care among disadvantaged families and to tackle educational inequality early on.
Discussant(s)
Bertil Tungodden
,
FAIR Center of Excellence and Norwegian School of Economics-Bergen
Susanna Loeb
,
Brown University
John Eric Humphries
,
Yale University
Philip Oreopoulos
,
University of Toronto
JEL Classifications
  • J1 - Demographic Economics
  • C9 - Design of Experiments