As the year ends – a year filled with difficult stories of abuse in preschools and parent’s protests – and as a new year begins, the Taub Center is publishing a new study with the support of the Bernard van Leer Foundation on the influence of environmental factors on early childhood development and children’s future scholastic achievements.
The incidence of poverty in Israel and especially child poverty, which stands at almost 30%, is nearly the highest among the OECD countries (with the exception of Turkey). The Taub Center study examines the impact of family income during early childhood on future academic achievements for children in Israel, and, for the first time, distinguishes between infants and toddlers – birth to age 2 – and preschoolers – ages 3-5 – in order to identify differences in impact between the two groups.
The findings show that poverty experienced until age 2 has a substantial influence on learning over the child’s lifetime – on their grades in the Meitzav exams in 5th grade, as well as on their later academic achievements. When poverty is experienced from ages 3-5, similar effects were not found, something that supports the importance of investment in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.
Economic inequality in Israel is among the highest in the OECD countries, and especially high among children – almost 30% of Israel’s children lived in poverty in 2017. More than half of all poor families are families with children. Israel also ranks among the lowest in student academic achievements among the OECD countries, with high levels of inequality in those achievements among Israeli students.
It is important to note that the first years of life are critical in terms of brain development: until age 3, the brain reaches 85% of its ultimate size, and until age 5, 95% of its ultimate size. In this period, all the developmental processes are at their peaks: cognitive, linguistic, emotional, social, perceptual, and more. For this reason, there are those who claim that the first 1,000 days of life – from conception until age 2 – are the most critical in terms of development, a period where exposure to a supportive, rich, and stimulating environment is essential for optimal development.
A new Taub Center study conducted by Dana Vaknin, Prof. Yossi Shavit, and Dr. Isaac Sasson looks at the influence of early childhood poverty on later academic achievements and for the first time separates early childhood into two groups: from birth to 2-years-old, and from ages 3 to 5.
The study looks at Jewish children in the 1990 to 1995 cohort (data for Arab Israeli students are very limited and so were not examined) at several points in time from birth to age 5, and again in 5th grade when they take the Meitzav exams which test proficiency in mathematics, Hebrew, English (as a second language), and literacy in science and technology. In addition, data on disposable family income per capita at two points in time (in early childhood and at age 10) were considered.
Inclusion in the lowest income quintile was defined as living in poverty; inclusion in the highest quintile was defined as living in wealth. Finally, other explanatory variables included the parents’ level of education, the child’s gender, and the number of siblings during early childhood and during their teens. The analysis was carried out for each of the two age groups to look for differences between them.
For children from birth until age 2, inclusion in the lowest family income quintile has a dramatic influence on exam scores in later life
Taub Center researchers found that there is a strong positive relationship between parents’ level of education and achievements – that is, as parents’ level of education rises so do their children’s scholastic achievements. Likewise, there was a negative influence of number of siblings during early childhood – as the number of siblings rises, scholastic achievements drop.
The most significant finding from the study is that poverty during the first two years of a child’s life has an especially strong and negative influence on later achievements, while poverty that is experienced by the child at ages 3-5 does not have the same impact.
These findings were borne out over all the scholastic tests of the 5th grade Meitzav exams: math, Hebrew, English, and science. These findings show the tremendous importance of a child’s environment during the first two years of life.
It is important to note that per capita disposable family income is not necessarily stable for families with young children. This is due to the substantial changes in earning power of parents during this period in their lives, due to, among other things, changes in seniority, education, and workplace.
In addition, changes in the average number of children per family as well as government child allowances also play a part. A look at the distribution of families by family income quintiles shows that of the households with adults ages 25 to 27 in the lowest income quintile, only 30% of them remain in the lowest quintile by ages 30 to 32 while the majority have moved up: 19% moved to the second quintile, 13% to the 3rd, 10% to the 4th, and 8% have moved to the highest household income quintile.
The data testify to the mobility among parents of young children in disposable income, and explain how the impact of poverty at very young ages does not necessarily continue until children reach ages 3 to 5.
Early childhood poverty reduces the chances of attaining a bagrut certificate
The Taub Center researchers looked at the continued effects of early childhood poverty beyond the Meitzav exams, for example, on the likelihood of receiving a bagrut certificate. Controlling for previous achievements, it was found that poverty experienced during the first two years of life lowers the chances of receiving a bagrut certificate, and that there are significant differences between poverty experienced in the two age groups (birth to 2-years-old, and ages 3 to 5).
On the basis of findings from this Taub Center study, it is possible to suggest that poverty experienced from birth to two years might create a kind of “scar” that remains over time and accompanies the child through adulthood.
“We found substantial differences between the early childhood stages in everything relating to the influence of poverty on future academic achievements,” explain the researchers, and they add: “From the study, it is clear that early childhood is not a single period with homogeneous characteristics, and that special attention should be paid to the first 1,000 days of life, which have an impact on future child development.
In Israel, where about 2.5 million children are under the age of 18, and, of them, 40% are under age 6, and where the rates of childhood poverty are particularly high, it is important to understand the impact of the timing and duration of poverty on child development. This possibly explains some of the disparities in academic achievement between socioeconomic levels, which are also particularly wide in Israel.”
“The findings of this study have implications for policy in Israel; it is important to take steps that address the negative phenomena that can stem from poverty and harm children in their first thousand days,” says the President of the Taub Center, Prof. Avi Weiss. The researchers suggest the possibility of shifting a portion of child allowances towards early childhood, and in this way, offering assistance to young parents.
It is possible that allocating the child allowance differently than how it is allocated today (a universal and equal allowance) could be especially helpful to those families most in need.
Likewise, in view of the high employment rates among mothers with children up to age 3 and the large number of their young children enrolled in early education frameworks, only 20% of which are under government regulation, it is especially important to increase the number of quality, educational frameworks for very young children, especially up to age two.
The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel is an independent, non-partisan socioeconomic research institute. The Center provides decision makers and the public with research and findings on some of the most critical issues facing Israel in the areas of education, health, welfare, labor markets and economic policy in order to impact the decision-making process in Israel and to advance the well-being of all Israelis.
For details, or to arrange an interview, please contact Anat Sella-Koren, Director of Marketing, Communications and Government Relations at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel: 050-690-9749; 02 567 1818 ext. 110.