Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Education, University of Virginia
Head Start began in 1965 as a federal program targeting low-income, preschool-aged children and their families for comprehensive education, health, and parenting services. The program continues, serving approximately 950,000 children at a cost of nearly eight billion dollars per year. While there is not consensus on what the intended outcomes of Head Start participation are, debates about the program’s effectiveness have existed since its inception and persist today. In this paper, we consider as-yet-unexplored outcomes of Head Start participation, the impact on the participating child’s future family. Given quasi-experimental evidence of Head Start effects on long-term outcomes for participants, it is plausible that Head Start participation effects may transfer across generations in the form of improved human capital for participants’ children. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) and the NLSY79 Children and Young Adults (CNLSY) survey, we leverage both sibling comparisons and the rollout of the Head Start program during the 1960s to estimate the effect of participation in and the availability of a Head Start program on children’s educational attainment and risky behaviors. Capturing the broader range of outcomes that Head Start may affect for participants and their families, including these intergenerational effects, facilitates more comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the program.