New research says boys benefit from starting child care early

Published on Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Last updated on Saturday, 14 November 2020

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The early bird catches the worm, and when it comes to child care, recent research suggests that boys also reap the rewards of an early start.

A Canadian study has found that boys who begin daycare between the age of six months and 36 months have a better chance of finishing high school and do better economically when they grow up, compared to boys who start later or don’t attend child care at all.

This is big news, so let’s look at the study in more detail to see how early enrolment in child care can boost boys’ prospects.

What did the study involve?

Researchers from the Université de Montreal followed a group of 2,905 francophone children born between 1980 and 1981 to see how formal child care (in infancy or as a toddler) impacted their later life.

Instead of focusing on one gender or one socio-economic group, the researchers looked at boys and girls from all walks of life who started daycare as infants, then went on to complete high school and earn incomes between the ages of 18 and 35 years.

For the first time, they used official income-tax data (not just self-reported data from surveys and questionnaires) to measure the economic standing of participants.

What were the main results of the study?

The researchers found that starting daycare early had no significant effect on girls’ graduation rates and incomes, but it did positively influence boys’ future prospects.

For the first time, an association was found between early child care, greater rates of high school graduation and lower risks of poverty in young adulthood.

Specifically, this study found that boys who started child care in infancy had greater odds of graduating than those who never went to child care, and the researchers say, ‘The results were revealing: The earlier they started daycare, boys were 8 per cent more likely to finish high school and 4 per cent less likely to have low income as young adults.’

What does this mean for boys and for society as a whole?

Lead author, Professor Sylvana Côté says, ‘Dropping out of high school has a major economic cost, both for individuals and for society in general,’ so the idea that child care can reduce school drop-out rates for boys and bring them long-term socio-economic gain is good news for everyone – especially since boys are most at risk of dropping out of school.

Professor Côté explains that child care, ‘Can be a cost-effective way to spur social development, economic opportunity and to protect against poverty;’ and while we often think of child care as a great way to prepare children for school and free up parents to work, this study suggests that formal child care at an early age can help boys do better as educated, earning adults.

What else does the study tell us?

After studying almost 3,000 Canadians, the researchers also found that:

  • Children who started daycare in infancy were less likely to come from families with low levels of education or ‘low occupational prestige’ compared with children who started child care as a toddler or never went to child care, and
  • Children who started daycare in infancy were more likely to have a working mother.

The takeaway from all this is that starting child care between the age of six months and 36 months may lead to a better education and healthier bank balance for boys, but it’s worth remembering that the ‘when and where’ of child care is a personal decision.

Your family’s work arrangements and your child’s personality will influence when they start at child care, and whether you have a son or daughter, this article may help you choose the right age for your under five’s first foray into early childhood education.


Université de Montreal

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