Labor market returns to an early childhood stimulation intervention in Jamaica

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Science  30 May 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6187, pp. 998-1001
DOI: 10.1126/science.1251178

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Help as hungry children helps young adults

Supporters of early childhood interventions follow the rule “better early than late,” but so far there's been limited evidence that the rule applies to disadvantaged children in developing countries. Gertler et al. looked at the earnings of young adults in Jamaica, 20 years after, as toddlers, they were given 2 years of help from community health workers. The earnings of the treatment group caught up to those of a comparison group of well-fed children, but the control group of undernourished children that did not receive the health worker visits has lagged behind.

Science, this issue p. 998


A substantial literature shows that U.S. early childhood interventions have important long-term economic benefits. However, there is little evidence on this question for developing countries. We report substantial effects on the earnings of participants in a randomized intervention conducted in 1986–1987 that gave psychosocial stimulation to growth-stunted Jamaican toddlers. The intervention consisted of weekly visits from community health workers over a 2-year period that taught parenting skills and encouraged mothers and children to interact in ways that develop cognitive and socioemotional skills. The authors reinterviewed 105 out of 129 study participants 20 years later and found that the intervention increased earnings by 25%, enough for them to catch up to the earnings of a nonstunted comparison group identified at baseline (65 out of 84 participants).

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