Baby's First Years: Design of a Randomized Controlled Trial of Poverty Reduction in the United States.


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. Here we present the rationale and design of the study as well as potential implications for science and policy.






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Publication Info

Noble, Kimberly G, Katherine Magnuson, Lisa A Gennetian, Greg J Duncan, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Nathan A Fox and Sarah Halpern-Meekin (2021). Baby's First Years: Design of a Randomized Controlled Trial of Poverty Reduction in the United States. Pediatrics. pp. e2020049702–e2020049702. 10.1542/peds.2020-049702 Retrieved from

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Lisa A. Gennetian

Pritzker Professor of Early Learning Policy Studies

Dr. Gennetian is an applied economist whose research straddles a variety of areas concerning child poverty from income security and stability to early care and education with a particular lens toward identifying causal mechanisms underlying how child poverty shapes children’s development. She is a co-PI on the first multi-site multi-year randomized control study of a monthly unconditional cash transfer to low income mothers of infants in the U.S. called Baby’s First Years. Her recent work bridges poverty scholarship with a behavioral economic framework.  “The Persistence of Poverty in the Context of Economic Instability: A Behavioral Perspective,” describes such a framework for poverty programs and policy, co-authored with Dr. Eldar Shafir and her co-authored publication “Behavioral Economics and Developmental Science,” further advances the application of behavioral economic insights to the arena of children’s development. Professor Gennetian has since launched the beELL initiative; applying insights from behavioral economics to design strategies to support parent and family engagement in, and enhance the impacts of, existing childhood interventions. Dr. Gennetian also has a body of research examining poverty among Hispanic children and families, serving as a PI on several grants and a co-PI directing work on poverty and economic self-sufficiency at the National Center for Research on Hispanic Families.

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