Public Investments, Private Investments and Class Gaps in Child Development

This project will comprehensively examine the effects of public investments on inequality in family behavior and children's academic learning. Recent research identifies significant class gaps in “parental investments,” defined by expenditures and time with children, as well as in children’s academic achievement. Public investments in children and families, though increasingly under threat, have the potential to reduce class gaps in child investments both by providing a “floor” of investment and potentially freeing low-income parents to reallocate expenditures and time use from basic necessities and basic care to development investment. The combination of public investment and equalization in private investment then has the potential to reduce class inequality in child achievement.

The purpose of this project is to examine how state-level public investments in children and families affect class gaps in private investments and child achievement. The research has the following aims: (1) Collect and refine state-by-state data on local, state and federal spending on major programs affecting children and families (in education, income support, health and other spending) between 1985-2015, in order to describe state by state trends in children’s public goods. (2) Examine whether state-level public spending on children and families reduces class inequality in child achievement, and the role of private investment as a mediator of any such reduction.