the Perry Preschool project, the Carolina Abecedarian project, and the Chicago Child-Parent Centers to other types of interventions designed to benefit children’s development. They concluded that preschool education has a more favorable benefit-to-cost ratio than the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, the Nurse-Family Partnership, a class-size reduction initiative for grades K-3, and the Job Corps. There has been debate, however, regarding the benefits and costs of pre-K programs, including Head Start (Cook and Wong, 2007), the most heavily funded and widespread early childhood education program. Ludwig and Phillips (2007) attempt to resolve the debate by pointing out that Head Start costs about $9,000 per child, and would need to produce academic achievement gains only on the order of .1 to .2 standard deviations to confer equivalent benefits. They argue that the evaluation literature on Head Start strongly favors a benefit of this size or more, and that the program should be viewed as cost-beneficial. Heckman (1999, 2007) argues that investments in early childhood development, particularly for disadvantaged children, have greater payoff in terms of the development of skills needed for future success than do investments in any other period of life. A systematic review of economic analyses of programs targeting mental health outcomes or accepted risk factors for mental illness by Zeichmeister, Kilian, and colleagues (2008) concluded that, among the few available studies, the most favorable results were for early childhood education programs.

Youth Development Interventions

Although comprehensive interventions in early childhood have probably received more attention from scholars and policy makers, many comprehensive interventions for older (school-age) children and adolescents also appear to be cost-effective. Aos, Lieb, and colleagues (2004) found that five of the six youth development programs reviewed,14 whose aims include improving parent–child relationships and reducing problem behaviors, such as substance use and violence, are cost-beneficial, with benefit-cost ratios ranging from 3 to 28. These authors also found that several programs for juvenile offenders, with a range of goals mostly pertaining to improved behavior, are highly cost-effective, yielding net benefits per child well over $10,000 in many cases.


The programs determined to have benefits that exceed costs include the Seattle Social Development project, Guiding Good Choices, the Strengthening Families Program for Parents and Youth 10-14, the Child Development project, and the Good Behavior Game. CASASTART was determined to have costs exceeding benefits.

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