Journal Article

Shifting parental beliefs about child development to foster parental investments and improve school readiness outcomes

Nature Communications | October 01, 2021
John A. List, Julie Pernaudet & Dana L. Suskind


Socioeconomic gaps in child development open up early, with associated disparities in parental investments in children. Understanding the drivers of these disparities is key to designing effective policies. We first show that parental beliefs about the impact of early parental investments differ across socioeconomic status (SES), with parents of higher SES being more likely to believe that parental investments impact child development. We then use two randomized controlled trials to explore the mutability of such beliefs and their link to parental investments and child development, our three primary outcomes. In the first trial (NCT02812017 on, parents in the treatment group were asked to watch a short educational video during four well-child visits with their pediatrician while in the second trial (NCT03076268), parents in the treatment group received twelve home visits with feedback based on their daily interactions with their child. In both cases, we find that parental beliefs about child development are malleable. The first program changes parental beliefs but fails to lastingly increase parental investments and child outcomes. By contrast, in the more intensive program, all pre-specified endpoints are improved: the augmented beliefs are associated with enriched parent-child interactions and higher vocabulary, math, and social-emotional skills for the children.