In 1965, the Head Start program was introduced as part of War on Poverty. There
was a hope that intergenerational transmission of poverty could be broken down by a
comprehensive preschool program for low income children and their families. Since then,
a number of studies have explored the impact of the program. The majority of those
studies have focused on cognitive development and educational outcomes, and they
generally suggest that the program produces short-term effects, but that most of them
disappear in the long-term. However, most previous studies suffered from comparability
problems (i.e. different background characteristics) between program participants and
non-participants. Further, although the main purpose of the program was to reduce
poverty in the long run, confirmation of the idea has been almost ignored from the
research for the last 40-plus years. The main purpose of this study is to conduct a more
rigorous evaluation in regard to the long-term effects of the Head Start participation on
adulthood educational attainment and economic status (as measured by personal earned
income, the family income to poverty ratio, and welfare dependency).
This study utilized data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) from
1970 to 2005. To examine the effects of Head Start participation on adulthood income, a
total of 1,765 young adults (aged 19 to 35 in 2005) were selected from the original PSID
sample: 161 with long-term Head Start participation, 171 with short-term Head Start
participation, 611 with other preschool participation, and 822 with no preschool
participation. Propensity Score Matching (PSM) analysis was employed to control preexisting
differences that might have an influence on preschool experience. To ensure
whether the findings are consistent regardless of how control groups are matched, four
matching models were examined: one-to-one matching without replacement, one-to-one
matching with replacement, two-nearest neighborhood matching, and radius matching.
Using the matched samples, a series of multivariate analyses were conducted: ordered
logistic regression for educational attainment, Tobit analysis for personal earned income,
OLS regression for family income to poverty ratio, and logistic regression for welfare
dependency. To control the influence of other factors, a variety of variables at the
community, family, and child levels were also included in the analyses.
Most of the pre-existing differences between groups were sufficiently controlled
by the PSM. According to the results of the following multivariate analyses, Head Start
provided sizeable gains to its participants in terms of educational attainment if they
attended the program at least one year. Long-term Head Starters were more likely to have
higher level of educational attainment by approximately 1.5 to 2 times than no preschool
children, 2 to 3.2 times than other preschool children, and 1.9 to 2.1 times than short-term
Head Starters. However, no significant effects were found among short-term Head Start
participants. Regarding the effects on economic status, long-term Head Start participation
had indirect effects on personal earnings and family income to poverty ratio through
higher educational attainment as compared to short-term Head Start participation or no
preschool experience. However, the effects on welfare dependency were not clear.
Although some studies have questioned the long-term effects of Head Start
participation, this study confirmed that Head Start had provided long lasting effects to its participants on their adulthood educational attainment and economic status.
Consequently, more efforts should be made to minimize the barriers that interfere for low
income children to attend the program. The programs’ coverage should be expanded and
the quality of the program increased to reduce intergenerational poverty.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2009. Major: Social Work. Advisor: Clifton David Hollister, Ph.D. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 178 pages, appendix A.
Long-term effects of Head Start enrollment on adulthood educational attainment and economic status: a Propensity Score Matching approach..
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