Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 393–422 | Cite as

Can’t buy mommy’s love? Universal childcare and children’s long-term cognitive development

  • Christina FelfeEmail author
  • Natalia Nollenberger
  • Núria Rodríguez-Planas
Original Paper


What happens to children’s long-run cognitive development when introducing universal high-quality childcare for 3-year-olds mainly crowds out family care? To answer this question, we take advantage of a sizeable expansion of publicly subsidized full-time high-quality childcare for 3-year-olds in Spain in the early 1990s. Identification relies on variation in the initial speed of the expansion of childcare slots across states. Using a difference-in-difference approach, we find strong evidence for sizeable improvements in children’s reading skills at age 15 (0.15 standard deviation) and weak evidence for a reduction in grade retentions during primary school (2.5 percentage points). The effects are driven by girls and disadvantaged children.


Universal high-quality childcare Long-term consequences Cognitive skills 

JEL Classification

J13 I28 



We would like to thank the editor, Erdal Tekin, and three anonymous referees for helpful comments that greatly improved the paper. The authors are also grateful to Manuel Bagues, Paul Devereux, Susan Dinarsky, Maria Fitzpatrick, Libertad González, Lídia Farré, Michael Lechner, Oskar Nordström Skans, Björn Öckert, Xavi Ramos, Antonio Cabrales, Ismael Sanz Labrador, Uta Schönberg, Anna Sjögren, Anna Vignoles, Conny Wunsch, Natalia Zinovyeva, as well as participants from the V INSIDE-MOVE, NORFACE, and CReAM Workshop on Migration and Labor Economics, the III Workshop on Economics of Education “Improving Quality in Education,” the CESifo Area Conference on the Economics of Education, the RES Annual Meeting, the SOLE Annual Meeting, the ESPE Annual Meeting the EALE Annual Meeting as well as seminars at DIW, IFAU, University College Dublin, Ludwigs-Maximilians Universität, and University of St Gallen. The authors also would like to thank the Spanish Instituto Nacional de Evaluación Educativa (INEE) del Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte for facilitating access to the geo-codes for PISA 2000 and Brindusa Anghel from FEDEA for her support with the Spanish Labor Force Survey.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christina Felfe
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Natalia Nollenberger
    • 3
  • Núria Rodríguez-Planas
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Universität St. GallenSt. GallenSwitzerland
  2. 2.CESifoMunichGermany
  3. 3.School of Business and ManagementQueen Mary University of LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.Queens CollegeCUNYQueensUSA
  5. 5.IZABonnGermany

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