Strand 6: International comparisons of child development

Leader: Paul Gregg Strand Publications

A growing body of research highlights that child development can be affected by maternal employment, childcare and family income (see Gregg et al. 2005, Waldfogel 2004, Blanden and Gregg 2004, and many others). In analyses for the US and the UK, the proposed research will exploit the existence of several cohort studies that give rich data on child outcomes for children born both before and after recent changes to the welfare system to investigate these factors.

For the UK, the ALSPAC cohort of children born in the early 1990s and the Millennium Cohort Study of children born in 2000 span the introduction of a number of early childhood education reforms and benefit increases. The comprehensive assault on child poverty has raised incomes of families with children and the phased introduction of the Sure Start programme, the expansion of free ½ day childcare for 3’s and 4’s has profoundly altered the early childcare system. ALSPAC and the MCS cohorts offer a unique opportunity to study developmental differences before and after these reforms. The US has two very similar dated cohorts in the NICHD and ECLSB cohorts. The US also underwent a number of reforms notably the welfare reforms of 1996 but the impact on incomes was very different. Hence we can utilise differencein- difference analysis to examine to what extent childcare and welfare reforms have resulted in improvements in child health and development among low-income children.

There are a large range of potential outcomes to be looked at, cognitive, behavioural and health and a number of common or closely related measures of mediating influences such as parental teaching of the child, pre-school experiences, maternal 15 employment, stress levels and health. This will allow not only the measurement of differences in development but also what substantive differences in mediating influences have occurred.

6.1 SES Gradients after Welfare and Childcare Reform in the US and UK

Researchers: Gregg; Waldfogel

This will chart the patterns of SES gradients in cognitive, behavioural and health outcomes across the Atlantic and across time. The large pattern of child related reforms in the UK and a very different pattern of reforms in the US will facilitate an assessment of whether the UK and US have diverged or converged in the extent of social disadvantage in early years development. The project will assess development in IQ scores, early literacy and numeracy, obesity and a range of behavioural outcomes up to age 7.

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6.2 Welfare Systems and Child Development

Researchers: Gregg, Propper, Waldfogel

Among the most recent cohorts the study can be expanded to study the implications of differing welfare systems for early childhood attainment. This question will be explored using a coincident set of cohort studies from the UK, the US and Norway. The Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort (MCC), the UK MCS cohort and the US ECLSB are all cohorts born in similar time widows of 1998-2001. This will hence allow us to explore the implications of three very different systems of welfare and early childcare provision for a wide range of child outcomes. This will be undertaken by tracking SES gradients for a range of outcomes across the three countries as the children age.

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6.3 Welfare Reform and Early Child Development

Researchers: Gregg, Waldfogel

Recent welfare reforms in the UK have produced sharp increases in the financial support for low-income families with young children. Gregg, Waldfogel, and Washbrook (forthcoming) have shown that recent tax and benefit changes have increased low-income families' expenditures on cars, food and many child-related items and led to a convergence in spending and durable ownership between low and higher income families. In the US welfare reform highlighted employment and welfare transfers were restricted or time limited, with the result that low-income families’ expenditures did not increase as much as they did in the UK (Kaushal, Gao, and Waldfogel, in progress). The US based NICHD and ECLSB and the UK ALSPAC and MCS straddle these reforms and contain detailed information on family income and some further information on material hardship. This can be exploited to assess whether changes in family incomes among low-income families in both countries are associated with differences in child development trajectories. The study will endeavour to control for other major policy and economic changes that occurred between the dates of the studies.

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6.4 Childcare for 3 and 4 year olds

Researchers: Gregg, Waldfogel

The UK government ended a system of childcare vouchers and replace them with a free ½ day place for all four year olds. These were available in all childcare sectors but lead to a large expansion in nursery places inside schools Waldfogel (2004). 16 Before the MCS cohort reached the age of 3, this policy arrangement was extended to 3 year olds. Hence between the two UK birth cohorts exposure to pre-school learning shifted substantially from being utilised by a narrow majority of parents to an overwhelming 94% for 4 year olds. This policy shift was not replicated in the US nationally. Instead, access to and use of preschool continued to vary widely by state as well as by family characteristics, with children from low-income families less likely to be enrolled (Meyers et al, 2004; Bainbridge et al, 2005). From these differences a measure of the sensitivity of child development to pre-school childcare can be assessed.

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