¿Son perjudiciales los programas de guardería universales?

A child is a curly, dimpled lunatic.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON

En episodios anteriores de Katalepsis, vimos que el estado de la literatura actual sobre los efectos de programas de guardaría universales es que éstos no tienen efecto sobre las habilidades cognitivas a largo plazo, pero que sí los tenían para las no-cognitivas, y que eso a su vez mejoraba las condiciones de vida futuras del niño, reduciendo la criminalidad, etc.

Recientemente ha salido un artículo que, sin cuestionar agresivamente lo anterior, pone sobre la mesa un contraejemplo: Un programa de guardaría universal implementado en Ontario que ha causado un empeoramiento de las habilidades no-cognitivas, y que ha supuesto un empeoramiento en la calidad de vida de los niños. ¿Cómo es eso posible?

El estudio es Non-cognitive deficits and young adult outcomes: The Long Run Impacts of a Universal Child Care Program, de Baker, Gruber y Milligan (2015). Es un working paper, no un artículo publicado en un journal revisado por pares. No obstante, en el artículo citan otros estudios de trabajos previos sobre el programa de Ontario que confirman su tesis.

El propósito del paper en sí no es tanto confirmar que el programa en cuestión tiene los efectos que tiene, sino ver si estos efectos (empeoramiento de habilidades no-cognitivas) conllevan deterioros en salud, satisfacción vital o criminalidad.

In this paper, we develop a causal estimate of the relationship between negative shocks to young children’s non-cognitive skills and their later life outcomes. To do so we study the longer-run impacts of the largest experiment with universal child care in North America in recent years: an introduction of very low cost child care for children aged 0-4 in Quebec beginning in 1997. In an earlier paper (Baker, Gruber & Milligan 2008, henceforth BGM) we documented that relative to the rest of Canada, where child care services remained unchanged, Quebec saw large increases in maternal labor supply and in the placement of children in child care (see also Lefebvre and Merrigan 2008 and Lefebvre et al. 2009). However, at the same time, there was a large, significant, negative shock to the preschool, non-cognitive development of children exposed to the new program (with little measured impact on cognitive skills). Subsequent research (Kottelenberg and Lehrer 2013a) has confirmed that this negative impact of the program on young children’s non-cognitive development has persisted as the program has matured.

Los autores indican también que la evidencia sobre estos programas en Europa no es clara, pero que el programa de Quebec es similar a los Europeos en su universalidad, y que es de interés para estudiar estos programas en general, y su aplicación particular a la región Norteamericana.

Our paper also extends the record of North America’s best known experiment in universal preschool care and education. Universal programs like the one in Quebec, are more common in Europe. While the evaluation of their impacts is mixed (Dustmann et al. 2013, Felfe et al. 2015, Datta Gupta and Simonsen 2010, Havnes and Mogstad 2011), the external validity of the European evidence to other jurisdictions is not clear. European programs are run under different funding levels, which reflect the public’s greater acceptance of an active state and government’s assumption of a larger proportion of economic activity. The Quebec experience is important for understanding a universal initiative within the context of North American tax structures and labor market norms.

Apuntan también a que algunos estudios en EEUU que señalan que las guarderías no aumentan las habilidades cognitivas, pero sí deterioran las no-cognitiva, aunque esa literatura tiene problemas. Reseñan también los estudios experimentales como el Abecedarian y el de Perry Preschool, que no eran universales, sino enfocados a los niños provenientes de familias de renta baja. Estos programas sí encontarron mejoras:

A recent view of effects of previous child care exposure on outcomes in adolescence suggest that more hours in child care in general does not affect test scores, but has a negative effect on non-cognitive outcomes, such as impulsivity and risk-taking (Vandell et al., 2010). That study, typical of many in the literature, relies on parental choice of child care mode, raising the question of whether any estimated impacts of child care mode are causal or due to selection by parent type. Similar problems plague the large existing literature in economics on maternal work and child outcomes.
A growing body of evidence comes from the use of experimental and quasi-experimental methods to examine the impacts of child care. Perhaps best known are programs targeted toward at-risk children; for example the experimental variation embedded in the evaluations of the Abecedarian and Perry Preschool interventions. These randomized trials from the 1960s have shown that high quality pre-school targeted to low-income children has substantial positive effects. For example, Heckman et al. (2010) estimate a statistically significant annual return of between 7 and 10 percent for the Perry Preschool intervention. Carneiro and Heckman (2003) summarize the evidence from these programs as improving motivation and social skills, while reducing crime and related behavior. Importantly for our work, Heckman et al. (2013) argue that the non-cognitive improvements were pivotal to the long-run impact on participant outcomes.

Recalcan que este artículo es de un programa universal, no uno dirigido como los que acabamos de citar:

Unlike the experimental evaluations of model programs, our paper focuses on a universal program that services a more economically and socially diverse group of children. In contrast to the literature on programs targeting at-risk children, the evidence on broader programs is mixed (see Baker 2011 and Cascio 2015 for recent overviews). In addition to the previous studies of the Quebec program, which are documented below, there have been evaluations of programs in Denmark, Norway, Spain and Germany.

[…] As with the European studies, the recent
American evidence mostly fits the pattern that the positive impact of universal programs is concentrated in more at-risk children.

[…] To summarize, the literature on child care and preschool seems to indicate that high-quality interventions for low-income populations deliver both short and long-run benefits. But broader child care expansions do not appear to provide short-term benefits, with mixed evidence on long-term effects.

A continuación presentan el programa de Quebec

Introduced in September 1997, the goal of the Quebec child care policy was to provide regulated child care places to all children aged 0-4 in the province at a price of $5 per day, with the rest of the cost covered by government subsidy. This program raised child care subsidies to almost 80 percent on average in the province, which can be compared to subsidies of roughly one-third in the other provinces.4 Children were eligible for the program whether or not their parents worked.

Junto al subsidio, también se intentó mejorar la calidad del personal cuidador:

The introduction of the program was accompanied by some important reforms of the structure of child care provision. Formal qualifications for caregivers were raised and operational regulations were modified. The government also introduced new wage policies in the sector to make employment more attractive

En el apartado de estudio empírico, mencionan algunos índices a medir: ansiedad, agresión, hiperactividad, o comportamiento prosocial, así como habilidades cognitivas a través de tests estandarizados. En el caso de adolescentes, tomaron también medidas de criminalidad.

En las habilidades cognitivas, no obtuvieron una variación apreciable.

The inference for science and reading scores is a more consistent story of no impact of the Quebec program. Overall there is no strong evidence in these estimates that the Quebec Family Plan had a lasting impact on children’s cognitive development.

En las no-cognitivas, replican estudios anteriores sobre el impacto del programa:

Taken together, the negative impact of the Quebec program on the non-cognitive outcomes of young children appears to persist and grow as they reach school ages.

Y como aportación nueva, añaden los efectos del programa en los niños y en los adolescentes que ya pasaron por el programa:

[…] Overall, these results give strong indications of a worsening of both health and life satisfaction among those older youths exposed to the Quebec child care program.

[…] The estimates are generally consistent with the graphical evidence: exposure to the Quebec program leads to higher rates of crime. Looking first at all crime counts, the estimates from the simple difference-in-differences specification indicate increases in both the rates of accused and convictions that is statistically significant.

[…] The impact of exposure to the Quebec program is largest for other criminal code convictions; the estimates from the richest specification show an increase in accusations of these crimes of 321 per 100,000 children, or nearly 19 percent of the mean, and for convictions for these crimes of 310 per 100,000, or about 28 percent of the mean. The estimated impacts on property crimes are almost as large. Consistently smaller are the estimated impacts on crimes against persons, at 11 percent of the mean for both accusations and convictions. Finally, the impact for drug crimes is 7.5 percent of the mean for accusations but over 17 percent of the mean for convictions.

El empeoramiento no fue similar para niños y niñas. Ellos tuvieron mayores incrementos de agresividad, y ellas, mayores caídas de prosocialidad.

We see much stronger impacts on hyperactivity and aggression for boys, even relative to their higher standard deviations. For example, the negative impact on Aggression is primarily for boys, and the estimate in this case is one third of a standard deviation. For girls the strongest effect is on prosocial behavior, which worsens by 22 percent of a standard deviation. The larger impacts for boys on aggression in particular suggest that there may be gender differences in the impact of the program on criminal activity later in life.
Indeed, that is what we see in the gender splits in crime rates in Table 7. The estimates indicate larger absolute impacts on the crime rates for boys, particularly for other criminal code violations and drugs.20 Therefore, the gender differences in the impacts of the Quebec program on crime rates line up with the gender differences in the impact of the program on non-cognitive development.

Concluyen:

[…] Indeed, our evidence is consistent with such symmetry. We find that the Quebec policy had a lasting negative impact on the non-cognitive skills of exposed children, but no consistent impact on their cognitive skills. At older ages, program exposure is associated with worsened health and life satisfaction, and increased rates of criminal activity. Increases in aggression and hyperactivity are concentrated in boys, as is the rise in the crime rates.

In evaluating the implications of our results for the universal option, the key question for policy-makers is whether the evidence of negative impacts are particular to the Quebec program, or whether the lessons apply more broadly to other such expansions in child care. Our findings for young children clearly contrast with those of the Perry, Abecedarian, and Head Start studies. These latter programs both provide higher quality care and are targeted at less advantaged children. An important outstanding question is whether universally provided child care can have widespread positive impacts on non-cognitive development, which our results together with evidence such as Heckman et al. (2013) suggest should lead to long run positive outcomes.

La última parte parece contradecir al propio estudio, que demuestra que un programa universal es perjudicial para los niños, pero leyendo bien dice que lo que ellos y otros han probado es que hay una relación positiva entre habilidades no-cognitivas y condiciones de vida. En este artículo prueban que la relación es simétrica, cosa que estaba poco estudiada.

La cuestión es: ¿Por qué unos programas funcionan y otros no? En el artículo no se aborda esta cuestión, pero podemos elucubrar una hipótesis: Dado que los programas que funcionan bien son los enfocados a los niños desfavorecidos, y los programas universales no dan resultados claros, es posible que una guardería sea mejor que el cuidado de los padres del niño en el primer caso, pero que sea peor que el de los padres del primero.

~ Nira ~

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