How Much is Too Much? The Influence of Preschool Centers on Children's Social and Cognitive Development

Susanna Loeb, Margaret Bridges, Bruce Fuller, Russ Rumberger, Daphna Bassok

NBER Working Paper No. 11812
Issued in December 2005
NBER Program(s):   CH   ED

Previous research has demonstrated that attending center care is associated with cognitive benefits for young children. However, little is known about the ideal age for children to enter such care or the "right" amount of time, both weekly and yearly, for children to attend center programs. Using national data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K), this paper asks whether there are optimal levels of center care duration and intensity and whether these levels vary by race or income. We consider pre-reading and math skills as measured by assessments administered at the beginning of kindergarten, as well as teacher-reported social-behavioral measures. We find that on average attending center care is associated with positive gains in pre-reading and math skills, but negative social behavior. Across economic levels, children who start center care between ages two and three see greater gains than those who start centers earlier or later. Further, starting earlier than age 2 is related to more pronounced negative social effects. Results for center intensity vary by income levels and race. For instance, poor and middle-income children see academic gains from attending center intensively (more than 30 hours a week), but wealthier children do not; and while intense center negatively impacts Black and White's social development, it does not have any negative impact for Hispanic children.

download in pdf format
   (222 K)

email paper

This paper is available as PDF (222 K) or via email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w11812

Published: Loeb, Susanna, Margaret Bridges, Daphna Bassok, Bruce Fuller and Russell W. Rumbergerd. "How much is too much? The influence of preschool centers on children's social and cognitive development." Economics of Education Review 26, 1 (February 2007): 52-66. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Magnuson, Ruhm, and Waldfogel w10452 Does Prekindergarten Improve School Preparation and Performance?
Carpenter and Cook w13046 Cigarette Taxes and Youth Smoking: New Evidence from National, State, & Local Youth Risk Behavior Surveys
Gordon w7833 Does the "New Economy" Measure up to the Great Inventions of the Past?
Loeb, Fuller, Kagan, Carrol, and Carroll w9954 Child Care in Poor Communities: Early Learning Effects of Type, Quality, and Stability
Cawley and Liu w13609 Mechanisms for the Association Between Maternal Employment and Child Cognitive Development
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us