Breaking the Cycle? The Intergenerational Effects of Head Start
Andrew Barr, Texas A&M University and Chloe Gibbs, University of Notre Dame
Head Start began in 1965 as a federal program targeting low-income, preschool-aged children and their families for comprehensive child development, health, and parenting services. The program continues today, with an increased focus on early childhood education, serving approximately 950,000 children at a cost of nearly eight billion dollars per year. In this project, we consider the impact of Head Start on the participating child’s future family. Given quasi-experimental evidence of Head Start effects on long-term outcomes for participants and related evidence on the intergenerational effects of increased education, Head Start participation effects may transfer across generations in the form of improved outcomes for participants’ children. Such a finding would substantially influence cost-benefit analyses of the program and could inform current policy efforts around early childhood investments. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) and the NLSY79 Children and Young Adults (C-NLSY) survey, we will leverage both sibling comparisons and the rollout of the Head Start program in the late 1960s to estimate the effect of mothers’ Head Start program participation on their children’s educational attainment and labor market outcomes, health, and risky behaviors. To combat cyclical poverty, we must understand whether the government’s pivot to non-traditional safety-net policies, such as early childhood education, can break the intergenerational cycle that stacks the odds against children. This question is directly relevant to the center’s core research interests in (1) children and the intergenerational transmission of poverty, and (2) non-traditional safety net policies, and has implications for policies designed to improve educational attainment and labor market participation among impoverished families.