Reducing Inequality Through Dynamic Complementarity: Evidence from Head Start and Public School Spending
We explore whether early childhood human-capital investments are complementary to those made later in life. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we compare the adult outcomes of cohorts who were differentially exposed to policy-induced changes in pre-school (Head Start) spending and school-finance-reform-induced changes in public K12 school spending during childhood, depending on place and year of birth. Difference-in-difference instrumental variables and sibling- difference estimates indicate that, for poor children, increases in Head Start spending and increases in public K12 spending each individually increased educational attainment and earnings, and reduced the likelihood of both poverty and incarceration in adulthood. The benefits of Head Start spending were larger when followed by access to better-funded public K12 schools, and the increases in K12 spending were more efficacious for poor children who were exposed to higher levels of Head Start spending during their preschool years. The findings suggest that early investments in the skills of disadvantaged children that are followed by sustained educational investments over time can effectively break the cycle of poverty.
Jackson and Johnson are equal authors on this paper. We wish to thank the PSID staff for access to the confidential restricted-use PSID geocode data. We are grateful to Edward Zigler and seminar participants at the NBER education/children’s meetings, the University of Michigan, UC-Berkeley, Penn, Brown, Vanderbilt University, University of Wisconsin/IRP Summer Workshop, and UC-Davis for helpful comments; and thank Martha Bailey & Andrew Goodman-Bacon, and Doug Miller & Jens Ludwig, for sharing data on 1960 county poverty rates and data from the National Archives & Records Administration. This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Russell Sage Foundation (to Johnson), and the National Science Foundation (to Jackson). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- The effects of increases in Head Start spending on academic outcomes were larger when participants in the program subsequently...
Rucker C. Johnson & C. Kirabo Jackson, 2019. "Reducing Inequality through Dynamic Complementarity: Evidence from Head Start and Public School Spending," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, vol 11(4), pages 310-349. citation courtesy of