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Effects of attending preschool on adolescents’ outcomes: evidence from China
11.26.2016  Views:666   Author:Shiying Zhang 

Shiying Zhang

To cite this article: Shiying Zhang (2016): Effects of attending preschool on adolescents’

outcomes: evidence from China, Applied Economics, DOI: 10.1080/00036846.2016.1243217

To link to this article:

Published online: 10 Nov 2016.


This study examines whether attending preschool enhances the cognitive abilities, health and socialization of junior high school students in China. Using propensity score matching to control for a rich data set of student, family and school characteristics, I find that attending preschool enhances cognition among seventh graders but those gains fade among ninth graders. The greatest benefits from preschool accrue to both seventh and ninth graders from economically disadvantaged families. Results for non-cognitive categories are mixed, and no evidence suggests superior health outcomes. Evidence also shows cognitive benefits among adolescents – especially those economically disadvantaged – who entered preschool earlier.

JEL classification: I21; I28; J13
Keywords: Preschool; junior high school outcomes; propensity score matching; China

I. Introduction

The effects of preschool education have attracted considerable attention from economists, especially in the United States, because preschools provide childcare and build children’s human capital, which predicts their future outcomes (Heckman 2006). Numerous studies examine how early interventions,such as Head Start and Perry Preschool, affect social and educational outcomes of students from disadvantaged families (Currie and Thomas 1995; Garces, Thomas, and Currie 2002; Heckman et al. 2010). These studies generally associate early intervention with higher test scores, earnings and less likelihood of criminality in later life (Duncan and Magnuson2013).

Despite these findings and their significance for students from disadvantaged families, the case for universal preschool education has not been researched extensively (Elango et al. 2015). This article offers new evidence from China’s adolescents. Preschool is not compulsory in China, and there is substantial variation in attendance among children between ages three and six.

This analysis employs newly collected data from the China Education Panel Survey (CEPS), an ongoing nationwide survey. The CEPS contains rich data about junior high school students, families, teachers and schools. Moreover, it administers internationally standardized cognitive tests and surveys self-reported health and social behaviours.

I use propensity score matching (PSM) to estimate the causal effects of attending preschool on later outcomes. PSM provides a good means to estimate the treatment impact underlying the assumption of selection on observables, and it is used in recent literature to evaluate the effects of early childhood education (Goodman and Sianesi 2005; Hawkinson et al. 2013; Apps, Mendolia, and Walker 2013). This study relates closely to that by Apps, Mendolia, and Walker (2013), who investigate the relation between nursery attendance and outcomes among adolescents. Using matching methods, they find that preschool childcare improves cognitive

outcomes at ages 11, 14, and 16, and it has a lasting effect on intentions towards further education and economic activity at ages 19 and 20. They also find positive effects on health behaviours. Despite its potential importance, little research investigates the ‘dosage effects’ of attending preschool (Loeb et al. 2007; Domitrovich et al. 2013).

In this analysis, I replace the binary variable of preschool attendance by a series of age of entrance dummies, using the OLS method to gauge the causal effects.

My results show that attending preschool is associated with an increase of 0.163 in standard deviations of cognitive scores for the seventh graders, but these gains fade among ninth graders. The greatest benefits of preschool attendance appear among seventh and ninth graders from economically disadvantaged families. Results for non-cognitive outcomes are mixed, with some positive effects on communication skills, but no evidence suggests improvement on self-reported health. Evidence also shows that the age at which students enter preschool matters: adolescents who entered preschool at younger ages exhibit cognitive benefits later, especially if they belong to economically disadvantaged families.

This study advances the literature in several respects. It is the first to evaluate the effects of attending preschool using a representative sample of Chinese students. Two previous studies focus on impoverished Chinese rural areas: Rao et al. (2012) examine preschool attendance and academic achievement of first graders. Wong et al. (2013) evaluate how a 1-year voucher/conditonal cash transfers (CCT) intervention affects preschool attendance and academic readiness in a poor county in Henan Province. These studies document positive impacts of preschool attendance on student outcomes, but small sample sizes limit their results.

Also, they examine only short-term outcomes and offer no confident basis on which to frame educational policy for China as a whole.

Second, this study analyses how the age at which children enter preschool influences later outcomes.

Third, it examines heterogeneous effects among families of different socio-economic status. The study’s collective findings have policy implications for education design, especially during the current debate about universal preschool education in China.

This study proceeds as follows. Section II introduces China’s childcare and education system. Section III describes data and defines variables. Section IV delineates identification strategies. Section V presents baseline estimates of relationships between attending preschool and child outcomes. Then it examines the heterogeneous effects of attending preschool on students from differing economic strata and the effect of the age at which children enter preschool. Section VI concludes and suggests further research. The Appendix provides a confirmatory robustness check.

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