Economic inequality is one of the defining challenges of our time: leading to millions of premature deaths, the polarization of political ideologies and unequal pay for women, indigenous people and racialized individuals. Before a baby is born, her/his chance of being on the wrong side of inequality, and the poverty it entails, is already increased.
To help understand the issue, 27 leading economists from the Institute of Research for Public Policy and the Canadian Labour Market and Skills Researcher Network, examined Canada's strategies for addressing economic inequality from the 1980’s to 2016. Similar to other studies around the world, they found that one of the most successful solutions for reducing economic inequality was early childhood education. Yet this is out of reach for 175 million children globally, nearly half of the worlds pre-primary school-aged children.
In the short-term, access to early childhood education helps reduce the gender wage and gender career level gap by providing mothers the opportunity to reenter the workforce. In the long-term, access leads to reduced economic inequality and prepares the next generation to tackle future challenges by increasing their chances of success at higher education levels.
Access increases success in future education attainment levels for children from low-socio-economic demographics by developing their noncognitive skills. By improving skills such as attention and social behaviours, children are more likely to graduate from secondary school, attend University and less likely to commit a crime.
A comprehensive study by the American Educational Research Association, discovered that access alone led to an 8.1% decrease in special education placements, an 8.3% decrease in grade retention and an 11.4% increase in secondary school graduation rates. This translates into an increase in lifetime earnings of approximately US $689,000 and a decrease in the average cost to the national economy of US $262,000 per individual.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of both social and financial benefits to society, early childhood education remains inaccessible around the world, including within our own G7 states. If the G7 states are serious about combating long-term economic inequality, they must shift the conversation from reactive symptom relief to long-term prevention, ensuring that access to early childhood education is a human right for all, not a privilege for the few.
Mélanie Rodriguez, Canadian Head Delegate to the Y7