The rate of return on a good early-childhood program is about 13 percent, according to a new analysis from the labor economist and Nobel laureate James Heckman, who directs the Center for the Economics of Human Development at the University of Chicago. That’s a higher return than the 7 to 10 percent that has often been associated with preschool programs. And, as Heckman noted during a call with reporters recently, that’s also a better deal than many stocks.
Past research has typically focused on programs that serve 3- and 4-year-olds, and researchers have often focused narrowly on specific benefits (say, academic performance) and limited timeframes (say, third grade). Heckman thinks those approaches are shortsighted. In actuality, he and several colleagues at the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California argue, when a range of factors are taken into account over a long span of time, quality early-childhood programs that begin at the very beginning of life may offer greater benefits than previous research has indicated.