Kid Care Need Only Be Fun

Bryan Caplan gives a postcard summary of a 1997 review of kid care quality:

Within a broad range of safe environments, quality variations in child care have only small and temporary effects on most children’s development.  With a few exceptions that can be explained by correlations between family and child-care characteristics, studies both in the United States and elsewhere fail to find any long-term effects.

The review author, however, can’t seem to accept its obvious implication:

The results are not a license to ignore children’s interests in spending their days in emotionally supportive and intellectually stimulating programs.  Just as adults suffer in socially unsupportive, boring work environments, even though their family lives may be satisfying, children with devoted parents are probably less happy in poor preschool programs.  As a society, we can afford to provide interesting, good-quality care for all of our children.

Bryan retorts:

Adults accept “socially unsupportive, boring work environments” all the time.  Why?  Because there’s a trade-off between fun and money.  Why should parents ignore this trade-off when they choose their children’s day care? … Once we accept that the point of child care is entertainment, we can probably find much cheaper ways to supply it.

To me the amazing thing is how long it takes for this sort of info to get out.  Parents spend an awful lot on child care; why doesn’t the news media or Consumer Reports tell them not to waste money on more than fun care?  My guess is that parents would be embarassed to be seen reading such an article; they’d rather signal how much they care about kids by believing that kid care matters.

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