From Childhood to Adult Inequality: Parental Investments and Early Childhood Development

By Diego Daruich

Standard macroeconomic analysis of inequality focuses on the optimal choice of progressive taxation. However, early childhood environment has been shown to significantly impact adult outcomes. Using children’s time diaries, we show that parental quality time with children is strongly associated with children’s skills—which is later associated with their education. To compare the quantitative role of standard policies to ones that target early childhood, we extend the standard general-equilibrium heterogeneous-agent life-cycle model with earnings risk and credit constraints to allow for endogenous education, parental time and money investments towards children’s skill development, and family transfers. The model includes two types of college majors: STEM and non-STEM. We evaluate three policies: progressive taxation, college tuition subsidies, and parenting education. Progressive taxation is the most effective at reducing disposable income inequality, but it does not promote the development of skills necessary to increase college graduation or social mobility. College subsidies promote only non-STEM graduation, since STEM is a better alternative only for high-skilled individuals. Parenting education is the most effective at increasing intergenerational mobility and the only one able to promote STEM graduation.

There is hardly anything surprising in the results of this paper, but they really need to be emphasized: Reducing college tuition is not helping with subsequent income inequality and the very first years of life are the most important for adult outcomes. Public policies should focus on helping parents doing the right thing when they are catapulted into parenthood.


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