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What Happens When You Teach Parents to Parent?

A new working paper (abstractPDF) by Paul Gertler, James Heckman, and several other co-authors examines the impressive long-term effects of a Jamaican program that taught low-income parents better parenting skills.  Here’s the abstract:

We find large effects on the earnings of participants from a randomized intervention that gave psychosocial stimulation to stunted Jamaican toddlers living in poverty. The intervention consisted of one-hour weekly visits from community Jamaican health workers over a 2-year period that taught parenting skills and encouraged mothers to interact and play with their children in ways that would develop their children’s cognitive and personality skills. We re-interviewed the study participants 20 years after the intervention. Stimulation increased the average earnings of participants by 42 percent. Treatment group earnings caught up to the earnings of a matched non-stunted comparison group. These findings show that psychosocial stimulation early in childhood in disadvantaged settings can have substantial effects on labor market outcomes and reduce later life inequality.

The program worked through three primary channels: it “increased maternal investment in children during the intervention period,” positively affected “schooling, cognitive development, and psychosocial development,” and increased the likelihood of participant migration to the U.S. or U.K. where participants could “gain[ed] access to higher quality schools and better labor markets.”  The authors also pointed out that the effects of the Jamaican program were substantially larger than the documented effects of U.S. programs such as Perry Preschool and Head Start.