Wondering whether you should continue working given how much money you have to fork over for childcare? While some prefer to and choose to be a stay-at-home mom, those who worry whether the financial trade off is worth it should take heart. A new study led by Nobel Prize winning University of Chicago Economics Professor Joseph Heckman shows that an investment in high-quality daycare is worth it.

The longitudinal study spanning 35 years was based on studying two free, full-time childcare programs administered in North Carolina to low-income children under the age of 5. It compared the life outcomes of both the children and working mothers to a control group of children who were placed in lower-quality day-care or simply stayed at home.

In the end, the mothers of those in the experimental program earned more when the children attended preschool, and this difference in earnings persisted decades later. Moreover, the children themselves earned more than the children in the lower-quality care control group. Boys who reached the age of 30 earned on average of $19,800 more per year and had 6 months more education than those in the control group. Girls, too, who attended the high quality daycare program earned about $2,500 more per year and had 2 additional years of education compared to the girls in the control group.

How much did this high-quality childcare cost? $18,514 per child for the year. However, the study found that this price tag returned $7.30 in terms of additional income for the child and mother for every $1 spent. In other words, the return was more than 700%. The cost of this daycare program is above the national average cost for putting one child through daycare in the United States (which comes with a price tag of $16,514, according to a study by Care.com and The New America).

Professor Heckman told the New York Times that the children who participated in the high quality daycare program  are  “engaged more in the work force, they’re now active participants of society, they’re more educated, they have higher skills. So what we’ve done is promoted mobility across generations.”

While the study was based on a relatively small sample size, the results are compelling. That an investment in early childhood care and education pays off over the coming years should be a relief to any working moms out there wondering if expensive daycare is “worth it.”


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