Mounting evidence across different disciplines suggests that early-life conditions can have consequences on individual outcomes throughout the life cycle. Relative to other developed countries, the United States fares poorly on standard indicators of early-life health, and this disadvantage may have profound consequences not only for population well-being, but also for economic growth and competitiveness in a global economy. In this paper, we first discuss the research on the strength of the link between early-life health and adult outcomes, and then provide an evidence-based review of the effectiveness of existing U.S. policies targeting the early-life environment. We conclude that there is a robust and economically meaningful relationship between early-life conditions and well-being throughout the life cycle, as measured by adult health, educational attainment, labor market attachment, and other indicators of socioeconomic status. However, there is some variation in the degree to which current policies in the United States are effective in improving early-life conditions. Among existing programs, some of the most effective are the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), home visiting with nurse practitioners, and high-quality, center-based early-childhood care and education. In contrast, the evidence on other policies such as prenatal care and family leave is more mixed and limited.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- General Business, Management and Accounting
- Sociology and Political Science
- Public Administration