The Baby’s First Years Study: First Year Findings from the First Randomized Controlled Trial of Poverty Reduction in Early Childhood

Oct 29, 2021 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM

Virtual -

This free event is brought to you by VEST of UVA's School of Education & Human Development and open to the public.

Photo of speaker, Katherine Magnuson
Katherine Magnuson
University of Wisconsin-Madison


Katherine’s research focuses on the well-being and development of economically disadvantaged children and their families. She examines how disparities in socioeconomic status (SES) affect children’s development, and how these effects may be altered by policies and programs, especially early childhood education programs. She also investigates how maternal education impacts child development.

Specifically, Katherine blends two streams of research that are often considered separately: (1) research on the influence of parents’ employment, income, and education, as well as welfare policies, on children’s well-being, with a special emphasis on the extent to which differences in SES across racial and ethnic groups explain disparities in children’s school performance; and (2) research on direct child interventions, particularly early education, that may serve a compensatory role for disadvantaged children. The first body of literature illuminates the scope of possible benefits that may accrue to children from interventions that directly improve the well-being of their parents, while the second line of research provides insights regarding how directing services and resources to children, rather than to their parents, may buffer the harmful effects of being raised in a disadvantaged family.


Childhood economic disadvantage is associated with lower cognitive and social-emotional skills, reduced educational attainment, and lower earnings in adulthood. Despite these robust correlations, it is unclear whether family income is the cause of differences observed between children growing up in poverty and their more fortunate peers or whether these differences are merely due to the many other aspects of family life that co-occur with poverty. Baby’s First Years is the first randomized controlled trial in the United States designed to identify the causal impact of poverty reduction on children’s early development. A total of 1000 low-income mothers of newborns were enrolled in the study and began receiving a monthly unconditional cash gift for the first several years of their children’s lives. Mothers were randomly assigned to receive either a large monthly cash gift or a nominal monthly cash gift. All monthly gifts are administered via debit card and can be freely spent with no restrictions. Baby’s First Years aims to answer whether poverty reduction in early childhood (1) improves children’s developmental outcomes and promotes healthier brain functioning, and (2) improves family functioning and better enables parents to support child development. Preliminary findings from the first wave of data collection will be presented.