How the childcare you choose for your kids can determine their salary 30 years later.

For anyone who’s ever doubted that childcare can be good for kids, here’s a study that might convince you.

The research was carried out on a group of low-income families from North Carolina. Back in the 1970s, some of the mothers were given access to free, full-time, high-quality childcare for their kids. Other kids in the study either stayed home or went to part-time or cheaper childcare.

When the kids turned 30, those boys who’d gone to the high-quality childcare were earning, on average, $US19,800 ($AU26,500) a year more than the other boys in the study.

The girls who’d gone to the high-quality childcare were earning $US2500 ($AU3340) more than the other girls. They had, on average, an extra two years of education.

The boys were getting more than just financial benefits from the high-quality childcare. By the time they reached their mid-thirties, they were 33 per cent less likely to be drug users and also less likely to have been arrested. As well, they had lower blood pressure.

“They’re engaged more in the workforce, they’re now active participants of society, they’re more educated, they have higher skills,” study leader James Heckman from the University of Chicago told The New York Times.

“So what we’ve done is promoted mobility across generations.”

The high-quality childcare wasn’t cheap, costing around $US18,000 ($AU24,100) a year. But the study found that every dollar spent on it returned more than seven dollars in benefits. In Australia, there aren’t the same long-term studies to draw on. But research does back up the American findings.

benefits of expensive childcare
The study showed girls who’d gone to the high-quality childcare were earning $US2500 more than the other girls. (Image: iStock)

“If it’s high-quality childcare and the kid comes from a disadvantaged background, then they do benefit,” Anne Hollonds, psychologist and director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, tells Mamamia. However, Hollonds stresses that the quality has to be high. “It can’t be just any old childcare.”

So how can parents know if they’re choosing high-quality childcare for their child? Hollonds says there’s a national set of standards that all childcare and preschool providers have to meet. But there’s more to it than that.

“You want to feel that the providers of these services are engaging with you as a parent and they’re really wanting to understand your child as a unique individual,” she explains.


Hollonds says it’s also important to have the right teacher/children ratio. As well, parents should look for places that don’t have a high turnover of staff.

“If there are a lot of changes of staffing, that means that, particularly if you have a very young child, they’re going to have to get used to new adults frequently and that’s not a good thing. That can be quite upsetting.”

Listen: Monique Bowley and Bec Judd talk all things childcare, maternal instincts, and gender reveal parties on Hello Bump (post continues after audio).

She suggests parents should talk to other parents in their local area before deciding where to send their child.

“You really have to do that kind of asking around.”

But what’s even more important than high-quality childcare is a child’s home environment. Hollonds says some experts believe the home environment is twice as important as the quality of the childcare. That doesn’t mean parents need to use flashcards or educational apps. It just means they need to talk, play, sing and read with their children from a very young age.

“From the moment they’re born, kids are learning, and their brains are developing really, really fast,” she says.

“Every single engagement they have with you helps their brain development.”

What do you make of this study? Is it worth investing in high quality childcare?