Did you know that the most effective investment for childhood education is an investment for kids under five years old?


Look at the Twitter post by the World Bank.

This was posted to introduce the main topic of the Human Development Conference in Morocco. The topic was “Did you know that investments in the first years of life are 1.5 to 5 times more profitable than those made at another time in life?

In this case, “the first years of life” refers to a child’s age from birth to five, according to the article. How do you feel about this argument? I was a little bit suspicious about it because the statement asserts that it is better to invest in children before the age of five, as opposed to after the age of five. It didn’t make intuitive sense to me. Investing in a child who is two years old seems to be too young to get an education investment. This is the reason why I feel suspicious.

After a while, I gradually recalled that I learned something like this in an educational psychology course. So, I looked at my old course materials to find evidence of this argument.

I found a paper titled “The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children” written by James Heckman and Dimitriy Masterov in 2007. James Heckman is an economist at the University of Chicago and a Nobel prize winner in Economics in 2000 for his contribution to econometric methodology.

While it is a tough job to read this paper because it has a total of 48 pages, I found a graph about the argument regarding today’s topic on page 31.

この画像には alt 属性が指定されておらず、ファイル名は Screen-Shot-2019-09-22-at-09.42.29.png です
Heckman and Masterov. (2007). The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children.

This graph shows that the most effective timing of education for socially vulnerable children is before schooling and the return to investment gradually decreases year after year.

A two-page summary of their arguments in the paper, especially about the importance of early childhood education, is uploaded to James Heckman’s website. The title is “There’s more to gain by taking a comprehensive approach to early childhood development.“. The following quote stood out.

Investing in comprehensive birth-to-five early childhood education is a powerful and cost-effective way to mitigate its negative consequences on child development and adult opportunity


If you are interested in this discussion, read one of these papers. The two-page one is a written summary of his arguments and the 48-page one has a wide range of discussion using figures, data, and mathematics.

If we want to verify the validity of this research, the most difficult point is the length of research. It takes 10 to 20 years to see the results of early childhood education. In addition, since there are many external factors that affect children as they get older, it is not easy to verify the causal relationship. I really respect Heckman in trying to prove this issue with such long-term research.

Although I am not sure whether this outcome covers only socially vulnerable children or including children who are not socioeconomically disadvantaged, this research was a good finding for me to consider several aspects of early childhood education.

Note: The featured image was cited from the website below that reshapes Heckman’s graph.


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