Understanding the Mechanisms Through Which an Influential Early Childhood Program Boosted Adult Outcomes

Am Econ Rev. 2013 Oct;103(6):2052-2086. doi: 10.1257/aer.103.6.2052.


A growing literature establishes that high quality early childhood interventions targeted toward disadvantaged children have substantial impacts on later life outcomes. Little is known about the mechanisms producing these impacts. This paper uses longitudinal data on cognitive and personality traits from an experimental evaluation of the influential Perry Preschool program to analyze the channels through which the program boosted both male and female participant outcomes. Experimentally induced changes in personality traits explain a sizable portion of adult treatment effects.

Keywords: Perry Preschool program; academic motivation; cognitive traits; early childhood interventions; experimentally estimated production functions; externalizing behavior; factor analysis; human capital; human development; personality traits; social experiments.