Baby’s First Years, launched in 2017, is a multi-site randomized controlled trial supported by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) within the National Institutes of Health, along with other public and private funders. This study seeks to fill important gaps in scientific knowledge about the role of economic resources in children’s early development by evaluating whether unconditional cash payments have a causal effect on the cognitive, socio-emotional, and brain development of infants and toddlers in low-income U.S. families. Specifically, 1,000 mothers of infants with incomes below the federal poverty line have been recruited into the study and are receiving monthly cash payments by debit card for the first 40 months of the child's life. Parents in the experimental group are receiving $333 per month ($4,000 per year), whereas parents in the control group are receiving a nominal monthly payment of $20. Mothers were recruited in New York City, greater New Orleans, the Twin Cities, and the Omaha metropolitan area.
In order to understand the impacts of the added income on children's cognitive and behavioral development, an interdisciplinary study team will assess treatment/control group differences at age 3 (and, for a subset of measures, age 2) on measures of cognitive, language, memory, self-regulation, and socio-emotional development. Because brain circuitry may be sensitive to the effects of early experience even before early behavioral differences can be detected, the study team will also assess treatment/control group differences in measures of brain activity. To understand how family economic behavior, parenting, and parent stress and well-being change in response to income enhancement, the study team will assess treatment/control differences in family expenditures, food insecurity, housing, and neighborhood quality; family routines and time use; parent stress, mental health, and cognition; parenting practices; and child care arrangements at child age 2 and, for a subset of these measures, child age 1.
Since May 2019, OPRE has contributed funds to the NICHD grant to enable a qualitative examination of how the cash income affects families' lives. Because the meaning mothers attach to the income is important to how they will use it and the impacts it will have on families, the study team will conduct four waves of qualitative interviews with a subset of mothers in the Twin Cities and greater New Orleans over the course of the study to ask about their views and experiences of the transfer. Together, these analyses will provide the first definitive understanding of the extent to which income plays a causal role in determining early child cognitive, socio-emotional, and brain development among low-income families.
Point(s) of contact: Marie Lawrence, Megan Reid, and Erin Cannon.
Baseline data from the main study are archived at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research under the title Baby's First Years (BFY), New York City, New Orleans, Omaha, and Twin Cities, 2018-2019 (ICPSR 37871) Visit disclaimer page .