The Impact of Center-Based Childcare Attendance on Early Child Development: Evidence from the French ELFE Cohort”.
The most rigorous evidence to date indicates that high-quality center-based childcare has positive impacts on child development, particularly for disadvantaged children. However, much of this evidence has come from randomized evaluations of small-scale intensive programs and from the U.S. and other Anglo/English-speaking countries. Evidence is more mixed with respect to large-scale center-based childcare provision, particularly in the context of widespread or universal access to such care. Moreover, much existing evidence reflects center-based childcare provision for 3- to 5-year-old children; less is known about the impact of center-based care in earlier childhood. The French context is particularly suited to such interrogation as the majority of children who attend center-based care during early childhood do so in high-quality, state-funded, state-regulated centers, known as crèches. We use data from a large, nationally representative birth cohort, the Etude Longitudinale Français depuis l’Enfance (Elfe), and an instrumental variables strategy that harnesses exogenous variation in both birth quarter and local crèche supply to estimate whether crèche attendance at one year of age has an impact on language, motor skills, and child behavior at approximately age 2. Results indicate that crèche attendance has a positive impact on language skills and, to a lesser extent, motor skills, but also a negative impact on behavior. Moreover, the positive impact on language skills is particularly concentrated among children with less-educated and immigrant mothers, whereas the negative impact on behavior is concentrated among more advantaged children, suggesting that, within the French setting of universal high-quality care, facilitating disadvantaged families in accessing crèche may hold potential for decreasing early socioeconomic disparities in child development.