NEW YORK (Reuters Health)
— Creating government savings accounts for children's future
education when they're young may improve their development,
according to a new study.
Researchers found that young Oklahomans who had
$1,000 deposited for them in a special education savings account
scored better on measures of social and emotional behavior by age 4,
compared to those who didn't get an account.
"These findings are more pronounced among disadvantaged groups,"
Margaret Clancy said. "I think that's something we want to
Clancy is the study's senior author and policy director at the
Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis.
She told Reuters Health that one of her co-authors first wrote about
the possible benefits of saving accounts for kids in the 1990s.
"We wanted to test this concept in the best possible way — through
an experimental design," she said.
For the new study, the researchers recruited the parents of 2,704
infants who were born in Oklahoma during 2007.
At the start of the study, 1,358 of the children were assigned to
the savings group while the other 1,346 were assigned to a
comparison group that didn't get savings accounts.
Those in the savings group were provided with $1,000 in state funds
in an Oklahoma 529 College Saving Plan. The account's money can only
be used toward the child's post-high school education.
The mothers of kids in the savings account group were also
encouraged to create their own account for their children and were
provided with a $100 initial deposit. Depending on a family's
economic status, their additional deposits to the account were
When the children in both groups were 4 years old, their mothers
completed a questionnaire that scored the children's social and
emotional behavior on a scale from zero to 170. Lower scores
indicate better behavior.
Overall, the researchers found that children in the savings group
scored about 29 points on the social and emotional development
scale, compared to about 31 points among the kids in the comparison
That two-point difference in social and emotional development, the
researchers write in JAMA Pediatrics, is about the effect seen from
introducing the Head Start program, which is a U.S. program that
prepares young children for school.
"We have to think of this effect size in the context of general
child development," Jin Huang said. "We can see that $1,000 is not a
lot of money and we get a similar effect size from a large child
Huang is the study's lead author and a social policy researcher
at the College for Public Health and Social Justice at St. Louis
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
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