Is Universal Early Childhood Education and Care an Equalizer? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Evidence

Rita Schmutz

Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, DOI: 10.1016/j.rssm.2023.100859

Studies have shown that early investments improve outcomes for disadvantaged children. Targeted early childhood interventions aimed at vulnerable children have lasting positive impacts throughout the participants' life course, consequently reducing inequalities. However, results from targeted programs cannot be generalized to universal Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). Universal ECEC, available to all children, may increase inequalities given stratification in access to nationwide programs. In order to analyze whether universal ECEC has the same equalizing effects as the targeted programs, this study uses a systematic review and meta-analysis of quasi-experimental evidence to examine the impact of universal ECEC on children's outcomes throughout their lives, focusing on how it affects children from different socioeconomic statuses (SES). The findings indicate that universal ECEC is an effective policy strategy for equalization, as it reduces inequalities by benefiting more children from disadvantaged families. Low SES children benefit more in the non-cognitive domain than high SES children. Starting ECEC before age three improves the chances of better outcomes for disadvantaged children. The results demonstrate significant variability across regions, with European programs standing out in delivering positive outcomes for children from vulnerable backgrounds. The study emphasizes the importance of equitable access to universal ECEC to reduce inequalities and foster long-lasting positive impacts on children's development and life chances.

Infrastructure-Driven Development: The Local Social Impact of a Large Hydropower Plant in the Amazon

Rita Schmutz

The Journal of Development Studies, 59:8, 1123-1143, DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2023.2197545  (Master thesis)

The Brazilian Amazon is marked by attempts at infrastructure-driven development. The construction of the Belo Monte dam, the third-largest in the world, brought chaotical and rapid urbanization to surrounding cities. This paper answered whether the Belo Monte dam impacted the level of violent crime in the region after Altamira was ranked as the most violent city in Brazil in 2015. Following a difference-in-difference approach, I explore the timing of the Belo Monte dam construction and the distance from the construction site to identify the causal effect of unplanned urbanization on homicide rate. In two exogenous shocks, the beginning (2011) and the end of the construction (2015), I estimated a significant rise in the homicide rate in closer cities. The results are driven by criminal activity, with drug trafficking being one of the channels behind the rising homicide rate during construction. The homicide victims are mainly the young male population causing a significant loss of human capital. The increasing homicide rate after the end of the construction indicates that the Belo Monte dam may have a long-term effect on the violence level in the region. Violence imposes high social costs and may jeopardize future growth in the Amazon. 

In progress

Inequality of Educational Opportunity in Switzerland: Exploring Regional Differences and Institutional Factors

Rita Schmutz

Under review - Working paper

By combining various factors related to social background, this study uses a more comprehensive concept to assess relative educational mobility. The inequality of educational opportunity (IEOp) approach estimates the share of inequality in educational performance that can only be attributed to students' characteristics beyond their control (circumstances). One-fifth of students' educational achievement in Switzerland can be attributed to circumstances. Canton level analysis reveals significant variations, with the German-speaking region exhibiting higher levels of unfair educational inequalities. The IEOp estimates are decomposed to identify the contributions of different circumstances and better understand the observed inequality. Socioeconomic status, parental education, and occupation emerge as the predominant factors in most cantons. The institutional structure of cantonal education systems, including the level of stratification in secondary schools and educational inputs in primary schools, is linked to the inequality of educational opportunity. A higher level of stratification in compulsory school leads to greater inequality of opportunity without improving efficiency. Increasing instructional time at primary school is related to higher student achievement, particularly for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The findings support the theory that early-age schooling has the potential to address inequalities, improve student achievement, and demonstrate that equity and efficiency are not exclusive dimensions.

Compensatory or Boosting Advantage? Analyzing Parental Influence in a Selective Education System

Rita Schmutz, Michael Grätz

Submitted - Working paper

We investigate the extent to which families can offset the adverse effect of a young school starting age (SSA) on children’s educational attainment and how this relates to institutional features of the education system. We hypothesize that parents’ ability to compensate for an early educational disadvantage of their offspring may be a function of the selectivity of an education system. To test this hypothesis, we study the causal link between SSA and the likelihood of students being placed in higher tracks in lower secondary and academic tracks in upper secondary education in Switzerland. We investigate the extent to which parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds can mitigate this early educational setback, considering resources such as parental education, occupation, and income. The findings indicate that a lower SSA reduces the chances of students entering advanced tracks, although this impact diminishes as they grow older. Concerning parental resources, highly educated parents compensate for a young SSA only during the first transition to lower secondary education, a point with relatively low educational selectivity. In contrast, during the second transition to upper secondary education, a point at which the education system exhibits higher selectivity, there is no compensation by parental education and, thus, rather support for a boosting advantage model of educational attainment. These findings demonstrate that parents’ ability to compensate for an early educational disadvantage varies with the selectivity of an education system.

Quality vs. Quantity: Assessing the Impact of ECEC Expansion in Brazil

Rita Schmutz, Dana C. McCoy

In progress

What’s Going on with Teleworking? A Scoping Review of its Effects on Well-being

Mattia Vacchiano, Guillaume Fernandez, Rita Schmutz