“The program differentially promotes the labor income, employment, and health of males and reduces their participation in crime,” the researchers wrote. “It differentially enhances the cognition, achievement, and educational attainment of girls. Boys placed in child care benefit relatively more than girls from participation in high-quality center-based care compared to low-quality center-based care.”
Essentially, girls reap long-term benefits from enriching programs, too, but not to the same extent as boys—a fact the researchers attribute to girls’ higher maturity levels and greater ability to resist and cope with high-stress situations at a young age. Indeed, according to a paper written by UCLA’s Allan Schore, parts of boys’ brains develop at slower rates than girls’, which affects the early stages of their social and emotional growth. Because of the gender disparity in the rate of brain maturation, girls are able to process and adapt to traumatic situations sooner than their male counterparts.
As a result, attending a low-quality childcare facility—what Heckman told me would more accurately be called a “child warehouse”—is acutely harmful for the boys and can impair their development further. And so, staying home with a loving parent is more beneficial for these children in the long-run because it fosters a stronger familial bond, even if the parent holds no formal training in early-childhood education or the family is not particularly well-resourced.
“A warm and fuzzy parent can actually be much better than a highly educated Freudian analyst who’s very dispassionate and may be very brilliant in some ways but wouldn't supply the warmth and attachment that seems to be a necessary ingredient for encouraging and supporting the child,” Heckman told me. “Mothers’ love is not anything to sneeze at.”
According to the new paper, the boys who attended a program with enriching activities, qualified faculty, and a nurturing environment were between 11 percent and 19 percent more likely than boys in a lower-quality facility to be employed by age 30. They also made between $19,000 and $24,000 more. And these monetary effects are not limited to the individual men. Society as a whole received an economic boon from these high-quality childcare facilities because the men enrolled in them were also less likely than the men who’d been enrolled in lower-quality facilities to commit costly crimes. This data dovetails nicely with previous research conducted by Heckman and his colleagues which identified a 13.7 percent annual return on investment in early-childhood programs for disadvantaged children.*
Girls, for their part, benefitted academically from participating in the high-quality programs. The researchers found that girls who attended the more robust facilities were between 13 and 25 percent more likely to graduate high school, 13 percent more likely to graduate college, and between 8 and 13 percent more likely to have a job at age 30 than those who attended the lower-quality programs.