(cross-posted with the Scattergood Foundation)
In a recent New York Times Opinionator column, James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate and a leading economist at the University of Chicago, called for investments in early childhood development as a way to reduce inequality and promote shared prosperity. Quality early childhood programs for disadvantaged children, he notes, more than pay for themselves in better education, health and economic outcomes.
The evidence base for this assertion is strong, and growing. Heckman was, in fact, one of the first economists to formally model the importance of early childhood (defined as in utero through age five). We now know quite a bit about the effects of early childhood development on social outcomes such as educational attainment, marriage, and labor market success. We have learned a great deal about the importance of early childhood for physical health outcomes and longevity. But we have learned less about how early childhood affects behavioral health outcomes, such as mental health and substance use and abuse.