Non-Cognitive Deficits and Young Adult Outcomes:
The Long-Run Impacts of a Universal Child Care Program
Michael Baker, University of Toronto and NBER
Jonathan Gruber, MIT and NBER
Kevin Milligan, University of British Columbia and NBER
Past research has demonstrated that positive increments to the non-cognitive development of
children can have long-run benefits. We test the symmetry of this contention by studying the
effects of a sizeable negative shock to non-cognitive skills due to the introduction of universal
child care in Quebec. We first confirm earlier findings showing reduced contemporaneous noncognitive development following the program introduction in Quebec, with little impact on
cognitive test scores. We then show these non-cognitive deficits persisted to school ages, and
also that cohorts with increased child care access subsequently had worse health, lower life
satisfaction, and higher crime rates later in life. The impacts on criminal activity are
concentrated in boys. Our results reinforce previous evidence on the central role of noncognitive skills for long-run success.
We thank Timea Molnar for outstanding research assistance. Much of the analysis for this paper was
conducted at the British Columbia Interuniversity Research Data Centre, which is part of the Canadian
Research Data Centre Network (CRDCN). The services and activities provided by the CRDCN are made
possible by the financial or in-kind support of the SSHRC, the CIHR, the CFI, Statistics Canada and
participating universities whose support is gratefully acknowledged. The views expressed in this paper
do not necessarily represent the CRDCN’s or that of its partners. Baker gratefully acknowledges the
research support of SSHRC (Grant, #410-2011-0724) and a Canada Research Chair at the University of
Recent advances in the study of early childhood development have emphasized the role
of non-cognitive skills in fostering later-life success (e.g., Heckman and Mosso 2014). Traits such
as perseverance and industriousness are viewed as equally important to cognitive skills for
better adult outcomes. In contrast, non-cognitive attributes such as impulsiveness and
emotional instability are associated with poorer outcomes at older ages. For example, Bertrand
and Pan (2013) examine how childhood non-cognitive deficits account for the gender difference
in teenage disruptive behavior.
Particularly striking evidence on this point comes from experimental or quasiexperimental studies finding interventions improving non-cognitive skills—while having little
persistent effect on cognitive ability—lead to improved long run outcomes. Experimental preschool interventions such as the Perry Preschool program provide a useful example. As
reviewed by Heckman et al. (2013), the Perry Preschool program had no lasting measurable
cognitive benefit, with any improvement in test performance fading out during the school
years. Yet there were enormous long run benefits of the program in terms of improved
economic outcomes and a lower incidence of criminal behavior, such that the annualized
measured rate of return to this investment is 6-10%. Heckman et al. (2013) document an
association of the Perry program with dramatic and lasting improvements in non-cognitive
This evidence is also consistent with evaluations of the Head Start program in the United
States. A number of studies, including a recent experimental evaluation, have found that
cognitive gains from this program fade out during the school years (e.g. Bitler et al., 2014). Yet
quasi-experimental studies have found sizeable long run benefits from Head Start program
participation. Carneiro and Ginja (2014) use a regression discontinuity design around program
eligibility rules to show that Head Start participation reduces behavior problems and obesity at
ages 12-13, and reduces depression, obesity, and criminality for those ages 16-17.
These findings raise an important question of symmetry: are there equally persistent
and important negative long-run impacts of interventions that foster a deterioration in noncognitive skills? 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.
We begin our investigation by replicating earlier results showing that exposure to the
Quebec child care program increased use of child care among children age 0-4, and led to lower
non-cognitive outcomes at those ages as well. We then provide new evidence for those aged 59 showing the negative effects on non-cognitive skills do not appear to have faded by those
ages—and in some cases are even stronger. In this way, our results are a mirror-image of the
Perry Preschool and Head Start evidence.
We next explore the longer run impacts of this child care intervention in the preteen
and teenage years. Using two large national data sets on test score performance, we find no
consistent evidence of any impact on test scores; the surveys give opposing answers for math
scores, and show no effect on English or science scores. We take this as further evidence that
any impacts at older ages are operating through the non-cognitive channel.
We do, however, find a significant worsening in self-reported health and in life
satisfaction among teens. Most strikingly, we find a sharp and contemporaneous increase in
criminal behavior among the cohorts exposed to the Quebec program, relative to their peers in
other provinces. We illustrate graphically a monotonic increase in crime rates among cohorts
with their exposure to the child care program, and we show in regression analysis that exposure
led to a significant rise in overall crime rates. We also find that these effects are concentrated
in boys, who also see the largest deterioration in non-cognitive skills.
Our results reinforce previous research emphasizing the importance of non-cognitive
development for later-life outcomes, and also provide an important input for the current
debate over child care policy. The rapid growth in female labor force participation has led policy
makers around the world to consider increased public entitlement to child care for two-worker
families. Most recently, the Obama Administration unveiled an ambitious child care agenda,
while the Mayor of New York has proposed universal pre-kindergarten availability.1 The
See https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/02/13/fact-sheet-president-obama-s-plan-earlyeducation-all-americans and http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/home/downloads/pdf/reports/2014/Ready-to-LaunchNYCs-Implementation-Plan-for-Free-High-Quality-Full-Day-Universal-Pre-Kindergarten.pdf
evidence presented here suggests that measurement of the near-term non-cognitive impact of
these policy efforts can serve as a key indicator of the likely long-run success of failure of the
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.
Our paper proceeds as follows. Part I provides a summary of the extant literature on
child care and child outcomes. Part II discusses the Quebec reform. Part III then introduces the
wide variety of data sources that we will use for the analysis, and discusses our empirical
strategy. Part IV presents our results, and Part V concludes.
Part I: Background
There is now an enormous literature on the impacts of child care and preschool on the
outcomes of young children, and a smaller literature that examines any longer run impacts as
the children age. Two important distinctions have emerged in the interpretation of the
evidence. First is whether the child care intervention being studied was targeted at children in
more disadvantaged families or was universal and targeted all families. Second, is any impact of
the intervention on, considered separately, cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes, both in the
short and long run. We review this literature to place our results in context, with an emphasis
on recent research.2
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 quasiexperimental 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
See a review of the literature up to 2008 in BGM, and in Baker (2011) and Cascio (2015).
work, Heckman et al. (2013) argue that the non-cognitive improvements were pivotal to the
long-run impact on participant outcomes.
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.
Exploiting variation in access to center-based preschool (versus a family-based
alternative) in Denmark, Datta Gupta and Simonsen (2010) report little effect on non-cognitive
outcomes at age 7, and a negative impact of family child care3 for boys of parents with low
education. Black et al. (2014) utilize a discontinuity in the price of child care in Norway,
reporting that while neither child care utilization or parental labor supply is sensitive to price,
they observe a positive impact on children’s junior high school outcomes, presumably from a
disposable income effect. Havnes and Mogstad (2011) explore an expansion of the Norwegian
system, reporting positive impacts. The public system led to higher educational attainment
(primarily for children of low education mothers) and earnings (mostly for girls) at ages 30–40.
In a related paper Havnes and Mogstad (2014) provide more detail, finding that the earnings
gains are primarily for children of low income parents and that children of upper class parents
experience an earnings loss. Felfe et al. (2015) exploit variation across states in the expansion of
Family child care is in private homes, but the carergivers are employed by the local
municipality. The municipality approves the facilities and the qualifications of the caregivers.
the Spanish child care system, finding improvements in reading skills at age 15 of 0.15 standard
deviations, driven by the impacts for girls and children from disadvantaged families. Finally,
Dustmann et al. (2013) explore a policy reform of the German child care system which entitles
every child to a place on their third birthday. They find child care attendance has a positive
impact on language and motor skill outcomes of children of immigrant ancestry but not on
children of native ancestry. While there are clearly studies here that report positive impacts of
universal children programs, in many cases these impacts are primarily enjoyed by less
advantaged children. There is a little clear evidence that these programs provide significant
benefits more broadly.
Universal preschool has also been a focus of recent research in the United States. Many
of these studies exploit age cutoffs for preschool enrollment comparing the youngest children
in a preschool cohort to the children just a little bit younger who had to wait an additional year
before enrolling. Perhaps the best known program is in Oklahoma. Gormley and Gayer (2005)
document positive impacts for Hispanics and blacks, but not for whites, which is correlated with
eligibility for free school lunch. Using a different cognitive measure Gormley et al. (2005) report
more broadly based gains. A study of New Mexico’s program (Hustedt et al. 2008) finds positive
effects on math achievement and literacy in a sample that over represents Hispanics and Native
Americans. Taking a wider view, Wong et al. (2007) examine preschool programs in five states
(a mix of targeted and universal programs) on a variety of outcomes. They record positive
impacts on a little more than half of the outcomes investigated. Finally, Fitzpatrick (2008)
studies the introduction of pre-K program in Georgia, finding positive impacts for
disadvantaged children in small towns and rural areas. 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.
Most relevant to the current paper is research on the introduction of universal child care
in Quebec. The initial evaluation of this policy in BGM found striking negative impacts of the
program on child non-cognitive and family outcomes. In a series of papers Kottelenberg and
Lehrer show that the most of these negative effects of the program on young children and family
outcomes measured shortly after it was introduced have persisted as the program has matured
(2013a), that the negative impacts on child outcomes are larger the younger the age the child
entered the program (2014) and that the impacts vary by the sex of the child (2013b). Haeck et
al. (2013) present evidence that the program had negative effects on children’s cognitive
development at age 5. Finally, Brodeur and Connolly (2013) report that the Quebec program led
to a small decrease in parent’s life satisfaction, although this was a result of large positive effects
for low education parents being offset by negative effects for highly educated parents.
To summarize, the literature on child care and preschool seems to indicate that highquality 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.
Part II: The Quebec Universal Child Care Policy
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. There was a phase-in period of 4 years starting with places for 4 year olds in
1997/98 and ending with places for 0 and 1 year olds in 2000/01.
Child care under the program was provided in two venues. The first were child care
centers (centres de la petite enfance--CPE) created out of existing nonprofit child care centers.
The second was home-based care staffed by regulated providers and organized into networks
affiliated with a local CPE. Typically older children enrolled in the CPE-based care and younger
children were enrolled in family home-based care. The daily fee was raised to $7 a day in 2004
and to $7.30 in 2014. Haeck et al. (2013) report that the number of regulated child care places
in the province rose from 78,864 in 1997 to 245,107 in 2012, while provincial subsidies to child
care rose from 288 million dollars in 1996/97 before the program to 2.2 billion dollars in
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. Child care providers in both CPEs and family
home facilities are unionized and have successfully used strikes to win better terms of
employment and wages. In our analysis, we cannot distinguish the impacts of these supply side
interventions on the quality of care from the reduction in fees which happened at the same
See BGM for more detail on the program.
The program was first introduced to four year olds in September, 1997. So, children
born before 1993 were not eligible. In 1998, three year olds were included, followed in 1999 by
two year olds. Finally, in 2000, both zero and one year old children were included. So, birth
cohorts from 1999 onward were eligible at all ages from zero to four, while those born between
1993 and 1998 were eligible for part of their early lives. This pattern of birth cohort eligibility
means that outcomes for 15 year olds are available in 2014 for one fully-eligible cohort (1999
birth year), six partially eligible cohorts (born in 1993 to 1998; observed at age 15 between
2008 and 2013), and also completely ineligible cohorts (born in 1992 or earlier; observed at age
15 at or before 2007). We depict this cohort eligibility pattern in Appendix Figure 1.
Part III: Data and Empirical Strategy
We make use of four types of data (consisting of six data sets) for our analysis to trace
the long-run impact of the Quebec program from the period of treatment through to young
adulthood, covering a variety of relevant outcomes. For all the data sources, our sample
selection decisions are guided by how each source covered the cohorts exposed to program
treatment. Below we describe each of the four data sources in turn.
Child Care Enrollment and Child Outcomes: NLSCY
Our first dataset is the National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth (NLSCY), which
was the primary dataset in BGM. The NLSCY is a nationally representative survey of children,
conducted biannually between 1994-95 (cycle 1) and 2008-09 (cycle 8). A cohort of about 2000
children for each age between 0 and 11 was selected in the initial cycle and followed
throughout the entire survey. In subsequent waves new cohorts of 0-1 year olds were added
but generally only followed until age 5. Therefore, in each wave the survey offers data on the
first wave cohort, as well as children aged 0-5.
We use the NLSCY for two purposes, each with a different sample. First, we re-examine
the contemporaneous impact of the Quebec Family Plan on some child outcomes. For this, we
take a sample of children aged 0 to 4 from cycles 1 through 5 (excluding the transitional cycle 3,
as in BGM). Second, we want to see if the estimated contemporaneous impacts persist into
grade school. To do this, we take a sample of 5 to 9 year olds in cycles 1 and 2 (the ‘pre’ period)
and compare them to 5 to 9 year olds in cycle 7. We restrict the sample to cycle 7 to ensure we
have the same set of ages for the treatment and control groups.5
We focus on a number of outcome measures. First is a binary indicator for the child
being in any type of non-parental care while the parent works or is at school. Next is a set of
parent reported non-cognitive scores. At ages 2 and 3 we observe indices of Hyperactivity,
Anxiety, Separation Anxiety, and Aggression, which are described in detail in BGM.6 For the 5-9
year olds we have indices of Hyperactivity, Anxiety, Aggression, Indirect Aggression and
Prosocial Behaviour. While some of indices for the older age group have the same names as
corresponding indices for the younger children, they are based on a different set of age
Cycle 7 is the only one with children at each age between 5 and 9 who are treated. The other
cycles have holes at some ages. We have also run our results using all cycle 4 to cycle 8
observations within the age 5 to 9 range and the results are similar. We view the restricted
sample we use for our main results as the more conservative approach.
6 For the non-cognitive outcomes we focus on 2-3 year olds (as in BGM) within the 0-4 age
group, because the measures do not exist for children ages 0-1 and as noted, the non-cognitive
indices for 4 year olds are based on different questions.
appropriate questions.7 We also investigate a parent report of how the child gets along at
school with his/her teacher. Finally, we examine the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT)
score as a measure of cognitive development.
Test Scores: SAIP/PCAP and PISA
To measure the impact of the Quebec program on test scores of older children, we turn
to two different data sets. The first data set combines data from the School Achievement
Indicators Program (SAIP) and subsequent Pan Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP), which
are initiatives of the Council of Ministers of Education. The SAIP initiated in 1993 is a set of
standardized tests to assess the performance of 13 and 16 year old students across the country,
in the core subjects of math, reading and science. The tests were conducted 9 times between
1993 and 2004, each time focusing on one of the core subjects. The PCAP succeeded the SAIP,
and has been conducted triennially starting in 2007. Like SAIP, one of math, reading or science
is the focus of each PCAP. Unlike SAIP, a smaller sample of students writes tests in the other
non-focal subjects. This means that scores for each subject are available in each PCAP wave. We
pool data from SAIP and PCAP to construct analysis samples for each subject area. Each subject
sample contains data from the 2007 and 2010 PCAPs, while the math sample adds SAIP data
from 1997 and 2001, the reading sample adds SAIP data from 1998 and the science sample
adds SAIP data from 1996.
The age range for the scores for younger children is 2-3, while a different set of questions is
used to form the scores for children from age 4 up.
The second data set comes from the Programme for International Student Assessment
(PISA), which is a triennial test of 15 year olds conducted by the OECD in countries around the
world. This testing program was initiated in 2000, and is conducted in the core subject areas of
math, reading and science. Because the test is conducted in many countries it is not tailored to
the curriculum of a particular school system. Our analysis sample includes the Canadian test
scores from 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012.
Health and Well-Being: CCHS and CHMS
To assess the impact of the child care intervention on the health of older children, we
use two further data sets. The first is the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). The
CCHS offers biannual data for 2001, 2003, and 2005 of approximately 130,000 observations;
followed by annual surveys of around 65,000 observations starting in 2007. We use all available
surveys—the latest data is for 2013. The sampling coverage of the survey is national, with a
range of questions on individual health behaviors and outcomes. We use questions on selfassessed health, life satisfaction, and mental health. We examine a sample of 12 through 20
year olds, which in the chosen years contains both individuals who were and were not exposed
to the child care program at younger ages.
The second is the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS), which started in 2007, with
data from 3 cycles—2007-2009, 2009-2011, 2012-2013—now available. This survey combines
information on health behaviors with a set of direct physical measurements. It is stratified—
collected only in 16 sites—but with weights, the sample of around 5,700 can recover nationallyrepresentative estimates. We select a sample of youth ages 15-20, which again contains both
individuals who were and were not exposed to the child care program at younger ages.8 We
examine self-reported measures of health, ranging from general health to stress to mental
health and life satisfaction.
Criminal Behavior: UCRS
We combine special tabulations of crime accusations9 and convictions from Statistics
Canada’s Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCRS) with single age population counts to
construct crime rates by age, sex, province, year cells. The UCRS is a survey of police reported
crime.10 This means that the crime incident has been substantiated by the police and therefore
the survey misses crimes that are never detected and/or not reported to the police.
We examine rates (separately) for crimes against persons and property (separately),
“other criminal code violations” and drug violations, as well as an aggregate crime rate based
on these four categories.11 For our age groups most “other criminal code violations” involve
failures to appear in court and breaches of probation.12
The CHMS surveys individuals aged 3-79, but all Quebec children younger than 15 were
exposed to the child care program in the survey years available.
The accused includes those charged plus those dealt with through the use of extrajudicial
Responding to the coverage is mandatory and survey compliance is reported as “virtually 100
11 We omit the traffic crime category as in most provinces the legal driving age is 16, and there
are graduated licensing schemes that impose significant restrictions on older teenaged drivers.
12 Other prevalent youth crimes are theft under $5000, assault, mischief, breaking and entering,
cannabis possession, uttering threats and possession of stolen property. There is also a residual
category for ‘other federal statute violations’, that includes violations under legislation such as
the Bankruptcy Act and the Competition Act. See Zhang (2014) for a recent comparison of
youth and adult crime rates by offence.
Our data is for the years 2006 through the latest available, 2013. Our choice to start the
analysis in 2006 is, as explained below, made to stay clear of any impact of the introduction of
the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2003. As in our analysis of the CCHS, we construct our sample
for 12 through 20 year olds.
For all but the crime analysis, the empirical strategy is a straightforward difference-indifference analysis that follows BGM. This empirical framework compares the pre and post
program outcomes of children/teenagers in Quebec, to the corresponding outcomes of
child/teenagers in the rest of Canada. We estimate models of the form:
Yipt = α + βEXPOSUREpt + πPROVp + δYEARt + λXipt + εipt
where i indexes individual children, p indexes province, and t indexes year in the survey. We
control for a set of province dummies (PROVp) and year dummies (YEARt ), as well as control
variables that vary (according to availability) by data set but can include gender, child’s age,
mother’s age and education, the number of older and younger siblings, urban status and
mother’s/father’s/family’s immigrant status and ethnicity. The full set of explanatory variables
by data set is reported in a table in the appendix. We focus on the estimation of β, the
coefficient on exposure to the Quebec child care program. Standard errors are clustered by
province by birth-year cohort.
For the crime analysis, we have data that covers a larger number of cohorts over a larger
number of years. This allows us to estimate a more flexible version of equation (1) in which we
introduce a full set of province/(own) age/gender interactions as well as province specific time
Scaling Reduced Form Results
As discussed in BGM, our modeling of outcomes is a reduced form of an underlying
process through which the Quebec policy impacts maternal labor supply and child care
utilization. To interpret the results structurally, in that paper we either scaled the estimated
effects by the impact of the Quebec policy on maternal labor supply (a 7% rise) or by its impact
on use of child care (a 14% rise). But we also noted that the effects could be even broader as
the program led to a large shift in the locus of child care as well. Haeck et al. (2013) show that
between the mid-1990s and 2008 the proportion of children, aged 1-4, who were in centerbased care as their primary arrangement rose in Quebec from under 10 percent to close to 60
percent, while in the rest of Canada it rose from about 10 percent to just under 20 percent. The
proportion in parental care fell from around 55 percent to roughly 25 percent in Quebec over
this same period, while the similar proportion in the rest of the country fell from just under 60
percent to about 50 percent, where it has stabilized since 1998. By this metric the proportion
of treated children in Quebec is much higher than the proportion who moved into non parental
care with the advent of the program.
There are therefore a wide variety of “first stage” estimates one could apply to the
longer run reduced form impacts we estimate here. As a result, we are reticent here to
interpret any of our longer run results in a structural way, and focus instead on the sign and
significance of our reduced form findings.
In our previous study of the Quebec program we limited our analysis sample to children
in two parent families. This was to minimize any possible confounding effects of concurrent
changes to Canada’s National Child Benefit on our sample of 0-4 year olds. Due to income
testing, this program benefits single parent households disproportionately. As noted in Baker
and Milligan (2010) roughly 90 percent of children are born into two parent families in Canada,
so this restriction is not as limiting as it might be in other countries.
As we turn our focus to children at older ages, the restriction to children in two parent
families makes less sense. Due to family dynamics, at older ages children currently living in
single parent families may have lived in two parent families when they were young. Likewise,
children currently in two parent families may have been born into single parent households. We
therefore sample children in all family types.
BGM report a limited set of results demonstrating that the main findings of the study
extend to the children of single-parent households. We extend this point below in our reexamination of the contemporaneous impacts of the program on the outcomes of young
children from all families. Milligan and Stabile (2011) report evidence that indicates the changes
to child benefits had positive impacts on child development. Therefore, any bias from including
children from single parent families in our sample will attenuate many of the impacts of the
Quebec Family Plan we report.13
The impact of child benefits is much more important for single-parent families, as the
benefits examined in Milligan and Stabile (2011) are narrowly targeted on a fairly modest range
of family incomes.
Another factor relevant to our analysis of teenage criminal activity is that the Youth Criminal
Justice Act (YCJA) came into effect on April 1, 2003. This is a federal act governing the
prosecution of youth crimes across the country. Quebec has a history of taking a more
rehabilitative approach to youth criminal activity. One of the impacts of the YCJA was to make
the rest of Canada more like Quebec, in that it encouraged the use of extrajudicial remedies
instead of the courts for less severe crimes.14 Correspondingly there appears to be a sharp drop
in the proportion of youth offenders charged in most provinces in 2003 and corresponding
uptick in the proportion chargeable but not charged (Carrington and Scholenberg 2005). An
exception is Quebec, no doubt reflecting the province’s pre-existing proclivity for extrajudicial
measures for youth crime. As evidenced by Bala et al. (2009), this impact appears mostly
discrete to the year the Act was implemented, and the rates of charged and otherwise cleared
youth crimes “settled” into new post YCJA levels by about 2005. As a result we use crime data
starting in 2006 to stay clear of this impact of the YCJA.
Part IV: Impacts on Non-Cognitive Skills
In this section we model the impact of exposure to the Quebec Family Plan on noncognitive skills of youths. We begin by replicating earlier analysis showing the negative effects
on non-cognitive skills of young children. We then extend the results to show that the
estimated deficits persist once these children enter school.
As argued by Trepanier (2004) the YCJA also put some limits on Quebec’s rehabilitative
approach (for example, no rehabilitation while accused is remanded in custody) and was
perceived as a triumph of the principle of proportionality over rehabilitation and reintegration.
The Impact of the Quebec Child Care program on the Outcomes of Young Children
In Table 1 we report the impact of the Quebec program on selected outcomes of young
children. This table is different from the analysis in BGM because we now include children of
both single-parent and two-parent families.
In the first row is the estimate of the effect of the Quebec program on the probability of
the child being enrolled in child care at ages zero through four. At just over 15 percentage
points, this result is marginally larger than the estimate in our previous paper (0.146).
However, it leads to the same conclusion that the effect of the program is to increase child care
use by a little more than one-third of the baseline rate.
In the next four rows are the estimates of the impact of the program on non-cognitive
outcomes at ages 2 and 3. Note that in each case a higher score indicates a poorer outcome.
The estimates echo the results in BGM in terms of statistical significance—statistically
significant estimates for Anxiety and Aggression but not for Hyperactivity and Separation
Anxiety. They are marginally larger in magnitude than the estimates in our previous paper,
although not enough to qualitatively change our inference. At 10 percent and 13 percent of a
standard deviation respectively, the inference for Anxiety and Aggression match well with the
conclusions in BGM.15
In the last row is the estimated impact of the program on a measure of cognitive
development—PPVT—at ages 4 and 5. It is almost 1.7 points, or 11 percent of a standard
deviation and is statistically significant at conventional levels. This result, while consistent with
In BGM the estimates for Anxiety and Aggression are 9 percent and 12 percent of a standard
Haeck et al. (2013), is not consistent with the estimate in BGM. The estimate in BGM was for
the sample of 4 year olds, and the addition of five years olds here explains the difference.
When we restrict the sample to 4 year olds we obtain an insignificant estimate of -0.250
(0.843), consistent with the insignificant result (0.36 with standard error of 0.75) in BGM.
The results in table 1 demonstrate that the main conclusions of BGM for young children
of two parent families extend to the full sample of young children from all family types. The
Quebec program led to a substantial increase in the use of child care and increases in children’s
levels of anxiety and aggression. One difference between the results here and in BGM is the
small negative impact on children’s cognitive development as measured by the PPVT, although
that distinction is driven by the age group used for the sample.
The Impact of the Quebec Child Care program on the Outcomes of Children aged 5-9 Years Old
We next extend the analysis in table 1 to children of older ages. As noted above, the
questions about behavior in the NLSCY are different for ages 4-11 than for ages 2-3. This means
that for older children, we have two new indices for Prosocial behavior and Indirect Aggression,
and that the indices for Hyperactivity, Anxiety and Aggression, while similar in name to the
indices in table 1, are based on a different set of age-appropriate questions. The index of
Prosocial behavior is coded so that a higher score indicates a poorer outcome.
The results presented in the first 5 rows of table 2 show that the Quebec program’s
negative effects on non-cognitive skills appear to strongly persist into school years, and in many
instances are larger than at younger ages. For Anxiety the impact is now just over one quarter
of a standard deviation, which is more than twice as large as for 2-3 year olds, while for
Aggression it is now just under one fifth of a standard deviation, or roughly 50 percent higher
than at younger ages. New here is a statistically significant impact on Hyperactivity of almost
10 percent of a standard deviation. For the two new indices we see a statistically significant
impact on Indirect Aggression of 16 percent of a standard deviation, and while the result for
Prosocial behavior indicates a poorer outcome in sign, it is not statistically significant.
For the older children we also have an alternative measure of behavior, a parentreported indication of how the child gets along with his/her teacher at school. The variable is
coded 0/1, where one indicates the child gets along very well with his/her teacher (there are no
problems). The estimate for this variable is in the last row of table 2. It is consistent with the
results for the non-cognitive indices, in that it indicates exposure to the Quebec program leads
to a statistically significant worse outcome.
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.
Unfortunately, there is no parallel cognitive measure available in the NLSCY at older ages to
follow up on the PPVT result in table 1.16 Instead we examine cognitive test scores at older
ages available from SAIP/PCAP and PISA.
While school aged children in the NLSCY did complete a standardized test in math, there
were problems with its delivery in waves 1-3. First, in the initial wave of the survey, a ceiling
effect—a disproportionate number of perfect scores—was detected. This ceiling effect was
particularly pronounced for the province of Quebec, and it persisted in the second wave of data
(see documentation of these problems with the math test in the NLSCY microdata user guides
for Cycle 1, Cycle 2, and Cycle 3). Second, the response rate to the math test was low and
variable in the first waves of the survey. For example, just over 50 percent in wave 1 completed
the math test. This response rate increased to 74 percent in wave 2, and then fell back down to
54 percent in wave 3. Since these waves wholly constitute the pre-program data available in
the NLSCY, we do not include the math scores in the analysis.
Part V: Impacts on Teen Outcomes
Having established that the Quebec program negatively affected non-cognitive
outcomes, and that this effect persisted into the school years, we next examine teen outcomes
along several dimensions. We look first at cognitive outcomes using standardized test scores.
This is followed by estimates for self reports of health and life satisfaction. Finally, we look for
any impact of the Quebec child care program on youth crime.
As noted above we are unable to follow any impact of the Quebec program on cognitive
outcomes at older ages in the NLSCY due to issues with the standardized math tests in the first
waves. Instead we use data from periodic standardized testing of Canadian teens through
SAIP/PCAP and PISA. Note that the 2009 PISA scores are likely to capture both teenagers in
Quebec who were and were not exposed to the child care program. We consider different
coding of the EXPOSURE dummy for the 2009 scores to discover how the estimates vary on this
The estimates are presented in table 3. The standard deviations of the scores are
approximately one so the point estimates can be read directly as proportions of a standard
deviation. In the first row are the results for the PCAP/SAIP tests. The estimates indicate a
marginally significant, negative impact of exposure to the Quebec program on math scores of
over 20 percent of a standard deviation, and statistically insignificant, small, negative impacts
on reading and science scores.
In the next two rows are the results for the PISA tests alternatively viewing the 2009
scores as capturing Quebec children who are not or who are exposed to the child care program.
If we view the 2009 scores as pre-program, we obtain a marginally significant positive impact of
exposure in math of almost 12 percent of a standard deviation and an almost equal marginally
significant negative impact in science. The impact on reading is positive, statistically
insignificant and very small. If instead we view the 2009 scores as post program, the impact on
math is still positive but larger and significant at the 1 percent level and one quarter of a
standard deviation, while the impact for reading and science are both statistically insignificant
and very small.
On balance the results in table 3 do not provide strong evidence of a persistent negative
impact of the Quebec program on cognitive ability, as first evidenced on table 1 in PPVT scores.
The least precise inference is for math scores. The estimates show exposure to the Quebec
program leading to over a 20 percent standard deviation increase or decrease in scores. 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.
Health and Life Satisfaction
We next study the impact of exposure to the Quebec program on health status and on
life satisfaction using the CCHS and CMHS surveys. The results of this analysis are shown in
Table 4. For the CCHS, we show the results for ages 12-20, while in the CHMS we use a sample
of 15-20 year olds. All health measures are coded so a higher score indicates a worse outcome.
The point estimates from each survey mostly indicate that exposure to the Quebec
program is associated with some worsening of self-reported health. For youths exposed to the
program, the health indicator rises in both surveys. The increase in the CCHS is 7.2 percent of a
standard deviation. The rise is a much larger in the CMHS but the standard error is larger as
well so that the estimate is not significant.
The estimate for life satisfaction is small and statistically insignificant in the CCHS, but
indicates a statistically significant poorer outcome in the CMHS; the effect is large, amounting
to more than one-third of a standard deviation. There are no significant effects on mental
health or stress, but quality of life measure also worsens significantly in the CHMS, once again
by more than a third of a standard deviation. 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.
Our final measure of longer-run outcomes is youth criminal activity. In evaluations of
the Perry Preschool program, the long-run impact on crime was a vital component of the
analysis.17 Our aim here is to investigate whether the link between non-cognitive development
and crime holds up in a symmetric case where there is a decrease in measured non-cognitive
Belfield et al. (2006) find that crime reduction by males provides most of the long-run
financial benefit of the Perry Preschool program. Heckman et al. (2013, p. 2070) find in their
study of Perry that “…the evidence from this paper suggests that reducing early externalizing
behavior reduces crime.”
As noted above, we have two measures of criminality—rates of accused and
convictions. We focus on four crimes (personal, property, other criminal code convictions and
drugs), as well as an aggregate measure of the incidence of all of these crimes.
To lay the foundation for this analysis, Figures 1 and 2 show cohort-specific age profiles
of differences in the aggregate crime rates per 100,000 people between Quebec and the rest of
Canada, in which the cohorts vary by their exposure to the Quebec program. For example, the
bottom light dashed line in each graph shows the difference between the crime rate in Quebec
and the crime rate in the rest of Canada, at each age, for those born before 1993. These
children were not exposed to the child care program in Quebec. The light grey long dashed line
shows the same differences for those born in 1993, who had one year of exposure (at age 4).
The solid light grey line shows the differences for those born in 1994, who also had one year of
exposure. The dark grey lines show the results for cohorts born between 1995 and 1997, who
had two to three years of exposure. The final set of black lines at the top shows the results for
cohorts born from 1998 to 2000, who had three to five years of exposure.
The differences in the age profiles by cohort in these graphs are quite striking: there is a
mostly monotonic decrease in the difference between the crime rates in Quebec and the rest of
Canada with years of exposure to the Quebec program. That is, as cohorts in Quebec were
more exposed to the program, their crime rates rose relative to the rest of Canada.
This visual representation allows us to rule out the argument that this is just an aging
effect: more exposed cohorts have higher differential crime rates at every age. It also allows us
to rule out the idea that this is just a time series effect – at any year, crime rates are higher for
more exposed children (this can be seen by following the points diagonally – e.g. in 2010 those
born in 1993 are 17 and have a much lower differential than those born in 1997, who are 13 at
that year). This is striking evidence that exposure to this program is associated with higher
levels of crime.
In the appendix we show similar figures for the four specific crime types that we study.
The story is similar to that told by figures 1 and 2-- a positive effect of exposure to the child care
program on crime rates for each type of crime. For drug accusations, the profiles are more
compressed, but still show the same pattern.
In table 5 we formalize this inference with regression estimates. In column (1) we
present the simple difference-in-differences results, where we control for fixed effects for
province, year, age, and gender. In addition, we also include a set of dummies for crime type in
the pooled regression for all crime types. In column (2) is a richer specification that includes the
full set of second order interactions between province, age and gender (and crime type in the
regressions for the aggregate rates). Finally, in column (3) we add controls for province*year
trend to allow for province-specific trends in crime rates (as well as crime type*province*year
in the aggregate rate regressions).
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. This estimate for rates of accused does
not change much when we add the second order province/age/gender interactions in the
second column, but there is an increase in the estimates for convictions. In column (3) the
estimate for accused falls but remains sizable and highly significant, while the estimate for
convictions returns to the level seen in column (1).
The estimates from the richest specifications indicate sizeable effects on crime rates.
For accused, we estimate a rise of 300 crimes per 100,000 children, compared to a mean of
7,970 crimes. This is a rise of 3.7 percent. The result is slightly higher in percentage terms for
convictions per 100,000 (4.6 percent).
The remaining rows of the table show the results for each type of crime. 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
Heterogeneity in the Impact of the Quebec Child Care program on the Outcomes of Children at
We next present estimates of the effect of the Quebec program by gender. Gender
differences are of potential importance as there is recent evidence that the impacts of nonparental care vary by gender,18 as well as growing interest in gender differences in childhood
In addition to the evidence in table 6 see, for example, Datta Gupta and Simonsen (2010),
Felfe et al. (2015) and Kottelenberg and Lehrer (2013b).
and adult success.19 Gender differences in life outcomes have also captured the popular
imagination, with some arguing that male attributes are at odds with changes in social and
economic norms (e.g., Rosin 2012). Certainly the increasing prevalence of the non-parental
care of children in developed countries, make it an obvious candidate to explain any emerging
differences in the outcomes of men and women.
In Table 6 are estimates of the impact of the Quebec program on non-cognitive skills at
ages 5-9, by gender. 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 noncognitive development.
See for example, Baker and Milligan (2013), Bertrand and Pan (2013), Cornwell et al. (2013),
Fortin et al. (2013) and Jacob (2002).
20 Baseline crime rates are also higher for boys, but what matters here is not the share of crimes
committed by boys but whether there is more criminal activity when there is a reduction in
population non-cognitive skills.
Part VI: Conclusions
The rapid growth in the labor force participation of mothers of young children has led to
a strong policy interest in expanding access to non-parental child care. In particular, there has
been much interest expressed in “universal” child care availability. Although that term has
come to take many meanings, the best example in North America is clearly the program
introduced in Quebec in the late 1990s. This program made child care much cheaper for all
residents and led to an enormous expansion in use of child care by the population. Previous
work has shown that this policy change led to a large decline in measured non-cognitive skills
among young children exposed to the subsidized child care. This is a striking finding that allows
us to assess whether the growing consensus that increases in non-cognitive skills foster later life
success is symmetric to decreases in non-cognitive skills.
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.
The implications of these findings for early child care policy are profound. They provide
strong support for the argument that non-cognitive development is a crucial determinant of the
long-term success of child care programs. This suggests that measuring the impact of child care
programs on the non-cognitive development is important. When a child care program fails to
improve non-cognitive development, it may have no long-standing positive effects on children.
As non-cognitive skills can be evaluated relatively easily in the short-run, this suggests noncognitive skill development can act as an important guide for policy in this area.
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
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Table 1: Impact of Exposure to the Quebec Family Plan on Non-cognitive and
Cognitive Outcomes at Young Ages
Notes: Authors’ calculations from NLSCY data. Sample—all families. The sample ages are
0-4 years for In Care, 2-3 years for Hyperactivity, Anxiety, Separation Anxiety and
Aggression, and ages 4-5 for PPVT. Reported is the coefficient on a dummy indicating
exposure. Significance at the 10, 5, and 1 percent levels is indicated with 1, 2, and 3
Table 2: Impact of Exposure to the Quebec Family Plan on Non-cognitive Outcomes
at ages 5-9
Child gets along with Teacher
Notes: Authors’ calculations from NLSCY data (waves 1, 2 and 7). Sample—all families.
Reported is the coefficient on a dummy indicating exposure. Significance at the 10, 5, and 1
percent levels is indicated with 1, 2, and 3 asterisks respectively.
Table 3: Impact of Exposure to the Quebec Family Plan on Standardized test Scores
Notes: Authors’ calculations from SAIP/PCAP and PISA test score data. Sample—all
families. Reported is the coefficient on a dummy indicating exposure. Significance at the
10, 5, and 1 percent levels is indicated with 1, 2, and 3 asterisks respectively.
Table 4: Impact of Exposure to the Quebec Family Plan on Self-Reported Health
Quality of Life
Notes: Authors’ calculations from CCHS and CHMS data. Sample—all families. Reported is
the coefficient on a dummy indicating exposure. Significance at the 10, 5, and 1 percent
levels is indicated with 1, 2, and 3 asterisks respectively.
Table 5: Impact of Exposure to the Quebec Family Plan on Crime Rates, Ages 12-20
Notes: Authors’ calculation from the Uniform Crime Reporting data. In column (1) are
estimates from the difference in differences specification. In column (2) are estimates that
add all second order province, age, gender interactions. In column (3) are estimates that
add province, year trend interactions. Reported is the coefficient on a dummy indicating
exposure. Significance at the 10, 5, and 1 percent levels is indicated with 1, 2, and 3
Table 6: Gender Differences in the Impacts of the Quebec child care program on Non
Notes: Authors’ calculations from NLSCY data (waves 1, 2 and 7). Sample—all families.
Reported is the coefficient on a dummy indicating exposure. Significance at the 10, 5, and 1
percent levels is indicated with 1, 2, and 3 asterisks respectively.
Table 7: Impact of Exposure to the Quebec Family Plan on Crime Rates by Gender, Ages 12-20
Notes: Authors’ calculation from Uniform Crime Reporting data. In rows titled (1) are estimates from the difference in
differences specification. In rows titled (2) are estimates that add all second order province, age, gender interactions. In
rows titled (3) are estimates that add province, year trend interactions. Reported is the coefficient on a dummy indicating
exposure. Significance at the 10, 5, and 1 percent levels is indicated with 1, 2, and 3 asterisks respectively.
Appendix Table: Control Variables Available in the Various Analysis Samples.
Month of Birth
Highest Education in Family
Two Parent Family
Number of Younger Siblings
Number of Older Siblings
Number of Children in
Mother is Immigrant
Father is Immigrant
Child born in Canada
Family is not “white”
Appendix Figure 1: Cohort Map for Program Eligibility.
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
3 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
3 3 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
4 3 3 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0
5 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 0 0 0
5 5 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 0 0
5 5 5 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 0
5 5 5 5 4 3 3 2 2 1 1
5 5 5 5 5 4 3 3 2 2 1
5 5 5 5 5 5 4 3 3 2 2
Notes: The figure shows eligibility for the Quebec childcare program for a child reaching the given age in the given year. The
eligibility reported is the number of years of lifetime exposure, so a child age 9 who was eligible from ages 0 to 4 has 5 years of
lifetime eligibility. The eligibility ranges from zero for those born before the program was introduced to 5 for those who were
eligible from ages 0 to 4.
Appendix Figure 2
Appendix Figure 3
Appendix Figure 4
Appendix Figure 5
Appendix Figure 6
Appendix Figure 7
Appendix Figure 8
Appendix Figure 9