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Parenting skills and early childhood development: production function estimates from longitudinal data

Abstract

We provide evidence on the importance of specific inputs for child cognitive skills by estimating alternative specifications of the early childhood production function, between birth and kindergarten. We identify a new input measure, parent–child interaction, which is both important for development and amenable to policy intervention because parenting skills can be taught. We find that the application of reading books and singing songs and sensitive and engaging parent–child interactions as early as 9 months of age have an important effect on reading among kindergarten children.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. In poor countries, early cognition are strong determinants of school enrollment and achievement scores in adolescence, grade repetition, and overall grade attainment (Grantham-McGregor et al. 2007). This pattern in the achievement gap is also documented for a developing country in Paxson and Schady (2007).

  2. In particular, factors that represent relative prices (such as state of residence) or income do not enter into the production function. Region of residence may serve as a proxy for inputs that do directly affect cognition (such as environmental contamination or epidemiological conditions) in which case they may justifiably be included in the EPF. Race may reflect access to resources, which would also influence input choice, but not the technical relationship itself. However, if race reflects cultural practices, which in turn influences how inputs are applied, this reflects technical efficiency and would enter the CDPF.

  3. Note that a large literature exists regarding VAMs in the economics of education literature for school-aged students (e.g., Sass et al. 2014; Koedel et al. 2015; Chetty et al. 2014); however, we restrict our focus here on how VAMs guide the specification of early childhood inputs, not as a method to evaluate teachers (or in our case—parents) in the development of human capital.

  4. This assumption also applies to the historical impact of endowed mental capacity (µ).

  5. Todd and Wolpin (2003) discuss the issue of unmeasured inputs in the production function. To the extent that these are correlated with measured inputs they will also bias production function estimates in standard OLS type analysis.

  6. Note that there are differences in sample sizes across waves. See Table 1 for further detail.

  7. Unfortunately, the ECLS-B does not measure maternal intelligence directly through IQ tests or other similar assessments. This is noted in other recent studies using the data, which use educational attainment as the sole measure of maternal cognitive ability (e.g., Fryer et al. 2013; Rothstein 2012).

  8. Number of books was not measured at the 9-month wave.

  9. The NLSY data used in Todd and Wolpin (2007) has the complete HOME-SF measure (sum of all binary items), which serves as their sole measure of home inputs.

  10. We also control for child’s age in months at the time of assessment to account for between-child differences in the actual timing of the assessment as they were collected during the ECLS-B.

  11. Many children in our sample are missing this input (50% at 9 mo and 2 years, 21% at age 4, 60% at kindergarten).

  12. Because the dependent variable is now reading skills at the age-4 wave, the maximum number of lags available is 2. Also, the models in Table 2 suggest that a third period lag added very little information.

  13. Of course the age-5 estimates do not include school inputs, which can be an important source of omitted variable bias. This source of bias is less of a concern for the age-4 (pre-school age) models.

  14. The ECLS-B investigators report that the subscales 9-month NCATS data have low alphas, which suggests that these subscales do not measure unitary constructs (see ECLS-B 9-Month Psychometric Report (Andreassen, Fletcher and West 2005) Section 6.5, for more detail). For this reason we did not investigate the components of the 9-month assessment.

  15. While many of the caregivers in our sample where mothers, this is not to say that these aspects of parenting wouldn’t be just as beneficial with fathers (Tamis-LeMonda et al. 2004).

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Jenkins, J.M., Handa, S. Parenting skills and early childhood development: production function estimates from longitudinal data. Rev Econ Household 17, 121–147 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11150-017-9376-y

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Keywords

  • Early childhood development
  • Parenting skills
  • Education production function
  • Human capital formation

JEL Classification

  • D1
  • I2
  • J1