Does starting universal child care earlier influence children’s skill development?

As many developed countries enact policies that allow children to begin universal child care earlier, understanding how starting universal child care earlier affects children’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills is an important policy question. We provide comprehensive evidence on the multi-dimensional short- and longer-run effects of starting universal child care earlier using a fuzzy discontinuity in child care starting age in Germany. Combining rich survey and administrative data, we follow one cohort from age 6 to 15 and examine standardised cognitive test scores, non-cognitive skill measures, and school track choice in a unified framework. Children who start universal child care four months earlier around age three do not perform differently in terms of standardised cognitive test scores, measures of non-cognitive skills, school track choice, or school entrance examinations. We also find no evidence of skill improvements for children with low socio-economic status, though we provide suggestive evidence that they may benefit from high quality care. Our estimates refer to children who start child care before they become legally entitled, and according to the literature one would hence expect low gains for these children. We provide further evidence on this relationship between parental resistance to and children’s potential gains from child care. Simply allowing children to start universal child care earlier is hence not sufficient to improve children’s skill development, in particular for children with low socioeconomic status.


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