A research team consisting of economists, developmental psychologists, and a neuroscientist is developing an experiment to examine the effects of a basic income on the neural development of young children.

A new study of the effects of basic income on young children is being developed by a group of five researchers: Greg Duncan (economist at the University of California, Irvine), Kimberly Noble (neuroscientist at Teachers College, Columbia University), Katherine Magnuson (developmental psychologist at University of Wisconsin, Madison), Hirokazu Yoshikawa (developmental psychologist at New York University), and Lisa Gennetian (economist at New York University).

In a blog post about the proposed study, Duncan writes that “despite hundreds of studies of early childhood preschool and parenting programs, we know surprisingly little about the extent to which income itself is an active ingredient in children’s development very early in life.”

In the proposed experiment, 1000 low-income mothers of newborn children would be randomly assigned to one of two groups: an experimental group in which each mother is given a $333 monthly cash payment for the first 40 months of her child’s life, or a control group in which each mother is given only $20 per month. The mothers and children would be selected from several ethnically diverse communities in different regions of the US, including New York City, St. Paul, Omaha, and New Orleans.

When they reach three years of age, the children would be tested for cognitive and behavioral development, specifically “self-regulation, cognitive, language and memory development, as well as direct measures of brain activity.” Thus, Duncan states, “This study will thus provide the first definitive understanding of the extent to which a basic income plays a causal role in shaping the early socio-emotional, cognitive and brain development of children in low-income families.”

Additionally, the researchers plan to collect information on parental stress, family expenditures, parenting practices, and child care arrangements at several points during the experiment.

The researchers have already completed a pilot study to test the feasibility of their procedures for selecting participants, transferring money to them, and gathering data. In the pilot, which was launched in June 2014 at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, 30 low-income mothers were randomly assigned to either (a) an experimental group receiving $100 per month or (b) a control group receiving $20 per month. The pilot project was carried out for 12 months, after which the mothers completed an interview about their parenting practices and household expenditures.

“While the results should be viewed with caution because of the small sample size,” Duncan says, “we found some evidence that the higher monthly income reduced household chaos and increased mother-child learning activities and child care expenditures.”

The researchers are currently raising funds to launch the full experiment, which they aim to do later in 2017.


Read More:

Greg Duncan, “When a Basic Income Matters Most”, Medium: Economic Security Project, December 19, 2016.

Reviewed by Dawn Howard

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