Ever wonder if there’s a way to predict how well you’ll do in your career? Turns out the earliest days of your life can have an extensive impact on what the rest of your life will look like—including your job prospects.
In Professor James Heckman’s recent study, The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program, Heckman and his teams from the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center determined that a child’s access to early education can predict not just how well that child does in school, but how they do for the rest of their life
The study looked at very early education—for children birth to age five. That timeframe covers what is considered the most important part of a child’s intellectual growth (from birth to age three, during which time 90 percent of a child’s brain growth occurs).
Trouble is, many children growing up in poverty don’t have access to quality education during this vital time. That puts them significantly behind their contemporaries from wealthier families once they enter school. Of course, a family’s financial wherewithal is a huge factor in determining their ability to participate in early education, but it’s not the only factor: there are still 10 states out there with no publicly funded preschool programs at all.
That’s where Heckman’s research comes in. His study found that high quality birth to age 5 programs for disadvantaged children deliver 13 percent per child, per year return on investment due to positive outcomes in things like education, health, social behavior, employment, and more.
So education during that key time period could very well determine how successful a person’s career ends up being. It could also have a huge impact on the economy at large.
Unlike a lot of previous research, Heckman’s team followed children in the study from childhood into adulthood to look at the long-term effects of early education. From birth to age 8, data was collected annually on cognitive abilities, social skills, and home environment. Afterward, data was collected every few years until the study subject was 35.
The result? Children who were involved with early education had significantly better life outcomes than those who didn’t.
In the published report, Heckman urges politicians, educators, and parents to push for more early education options. “Inaction is a tragic loss of human and economic potential that we cannot afford,” he writes.
So if we’re truly concerned not only with children’s educations, but also their futures, it’s important to prioritize early education opportunities, particularly for children coming from low-income households. With that sort of educational support, who knows what amazing careers these children could grow up to have!