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Quebec Gave All Parents Cheap Day Care — And Their Kids Were Worse Off As A Result

Programs for young children — whether you call them day care or preschool or even third grade — serve two purposes. On the one hand, they are educational settings that are supposed to help foster the kids’ long-term development. On the other hand, they are safe places where parents can put their children so they can go do other things during the day — things like work for a living. In an ideal world, of course, they do both. The best preschool programs have been shown to have significant lifelong benefits for their students, and they’re doubtless a huge help to parents too. But a sobering new analysisby Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber, and Kevin Milligan of Quebec’s effort to expand access to child care on the cheap is a painful reminder that the two issues can come apart.

The program was designed to increase mothers’ labor force participation rate, and it worked. Lots of people used the system, lots of moms went to work, incomes and GDP rose, and the program was quite affordable to the taxpayer. Kids’ test scores stayed flat.

But contrasting trends in Quebec kids with kids from other Canadian provinces, the authors find “a significant worsening in self-reported health and in life satisfaction among teens” who grew up exposed to the program* along with a “sharp and contemporaneous increase in criminal behavior among the cohorts exposed to the Quebec program, relative to their peers in other provinces.”