Jonathan Gruber's latest research undercuts Hillary Clinton's policy agenda

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber (yes, that Jonathan Gruber) is the co-author of a paper which finds there were long-term negative effects for some children after the introduction of a universal child care program in Quebec. The Christian Post reports:

In a paper recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Gruber et al. studied increased childcare access in Quebec and found it to be detrimental to child development.

“We first confirm earlier findings showing reduced contemporaneous non-cognitive development following the program introduction in Quebec, with little impact on cognitive test scores,” reads the abstract for the study.

“We then show these non-cognitive deficits persisted to school ages, and also that cohorts with increased child care access subsequently had worse health, lower life satisfaction, and higher crime rates later in life. The impacts on criminal activity are concentrated in boys.”

The National Bureau of Economic Research described the results of a previous paper (by the same three authors covering the same general topic) this way [emphasis added]:

In Universal Childcare, Maternal Labor Supply, and Family Well-Being (NBER Working Paper No. 11832), authors Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber, and Kevin Milligan measure the implications of universal childcare by studying the effects of the Quebec Family Policy. Beginning in 1997, the Canadian province of Quebec extended full-time kindergarten to all 5-year olds and included the provision of childcare at an out-of-pocket price of $5 per day to all 4-year olds. This $5 per day policy was extended to all 3-year olds in 1998, all 2-year olds in 1999, and finally to all children younger than 2 years old in 2000. Since welfare reform and other changes were occurring for single mothers over this time period, the authors focus on the effects of this policy on the married and cohabiting women and their children who received most of the new subsidies under this policy. They use data from the National Longitudinal Study of Canadian Youth (NLSCY), a large longitudinal survey of children inside and outside of Quebec, to develop the first comprehensive analysis of a universal subsidized childcare program, following its impact from childcare use through employment and finally to children’s and parent’s outcomes.


Disturbingly, the authors report that children’s outcomes have worsened since the program was introduced along a variety of behavioral and health dimensions. The NLSCY contains a host of measures of child well being developed by social scientists, ranging from aggression and hyperactivity, to motor-social skills, to illness. Along virtually every one of these dimensions, children in Quebec see their outcomes deteriorate relative to children in the rest of the nation over this time period. Their results imply that this policy resulted in a rise of anxiety of children exposed to this new program of between 60 percent and 150 percent, and a decline in motor/social skills of between 8 percent and 20 percent. These findings represent a sharp break from previous trends in Quebec and the rest of the nation, and there are no such effects found for older children who were not subject to this policy change.

Obviously that’s not much of a recommendation for similar programs in the United States, but that is road which Hillary Clinton’s universal preschool proposal seems to be pointing toward. Clinton points to research suggesting “high-quality” preschool is beneficial for kids, but sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia says the truth of the matter is more mixed. Writing for National Review, he says that some kids do appear to benefit from early care while others are harmed by it:

Child care seems to be most beneficial for children from low-income, disadvantaged homes. These kids often benefit from the more structured and stimulating environments found in formal child care versus their homes. By contrast, children from middle- and upper-income homes headed by two parents were more likely to be harmed by spending extensive time in non-maternal care as infants. A Columbia University study, for instance, found that children’s cognitive outcomes were worse when “mothers were working 30 hours or more per week and with effects more pronounced for certain subgroups (i.e., children whose mothers were not sensitive, boys, and children with married parents).” Child care, then, may be better for some kids and worse for others, a possibility often ignored in public debates about the subject, and in Clinton’s push for more public spending on child care.

This doesn’t make much of a selling point for Clinton or anyone promoting such policies. Saying ‘my policy will have mixed results on children’s long term development’ sounds like a reason to think very carefully before spending lots of taxpayer money on such programs.