Have you seen the cost of a college education today? Have you started to save for your kids’ post-secondary education? Does starting a savings account early in a child’s life have any affect on his or her social and emotional development?
Researchers in Oklahoma wondered that same thing, and they enlisted the Oklahoma state government to help study it. In 2008, the parents of 2,704 infants were recruited and randomized into two groups. The first group received $1,000, deposited into an Oklahoma 529 college-savings plan. They also received other financial incentives ($100 for parents to open a personal savings account for their child with additional matching funds from the state) and information. The second group of families received no money, financial incentives, or information.
Summarizing the findings of the study, which was published last month in JAMA Pediatrics, Andrew M. Seaman notes that the benefit from starting an early college savings account was equivalent to the benefit children get developmentally from the Head Start Program:
The researchers found that the difference in social and emotional development scores was even more pronounced among children from families in typically disadvantaged groups, including those with low education, low economic status and who receive welfare.
Also, the benefits were seen regardless of whether the mothers went on to open another savings account with the $100. Only about 15 percent did by the end of 2011.
The researchers write that the differences in the children who received savings accounts are likely due to changes in the attitude of parents.
For example, the savings accounts may encourage mothers to raise the expectations that they have for their children and increase the support that they provide to them. That additional positive attention and encouragement may have some influence on the child’s behavior and development, Huang’s team wrote in JAMA Pediatrics.
One mother told the researchers that she’s going to have to get her son through school so he can use the money and go to college.
In an editorial accompanying the new study, Fredrick Zimmerman, an economist at the University of California, Los Angeles, compared the accounts to a program in Finland that provides a box filled with basic baby supplies to new mothers.
“The arrival of a box filled with baby clothes carries a powerfully tangible sign that the baby is both real and a welcome member of society,” he wrote, adding that the savings program may work in a similar way.
As the lady in that commercial (from Gerber Life — it’s on like a thousand times a day) says: “It’s time to get started.”