Facts and Impacts

Children that participate in Head Start programs receive innumerable benefits. These advantages appear immediately, last a lifetime, and even have an effect on other generations. The effects are particularly strong amongst certain subgroups of children, particularly Hispanic and African-American children, dual language learners, children who are homeless or in foster care, those who qualify for free lunch, and those whose mothers didn't graduate high school. When disadvantaged children receive high-quality birth-to-five education, such as Early Head Start plus Head Start, the return on investment can be as high as 13% annually. (Garcia, 2016)

By the End of their Time in the Head Start Program

  • Head Start children make progress in language, literacy, and math. Head Start children also score at the norm on letter-word knowledge by the end of the year. (Aikens et al., 2013Bloom and Weiland, 2015)
  • Early Head Start children show significantly better social-emotional, language, and cognitive development. Children who attend Early Head Start and transition to Head Start are more ready for kindergarten than children who do not attend Head Start.  (Love et al., 2002)
  • The Head Start Impact Study found Head Start children scored better than a control group of children in all measured domains of cognitive and social-emotional development. (HHS, 2010)
  • Head Start children in foster care or other non-parental care are more ready for school. (Lipscomb et al., 2013)
  • Head Start children have better social skills, impulse control, and approaches to learning. Head Start children also decrease their problem behaviors, such as aggression and hyperactivity. (Aikens et al., 2013)
  • Obese, overweight, or underweight children who participate in Head Start have a significantly healthier BMI by kindergarten. (Lumeng et al., 2015)
  • Children in Early Head Start are more likely to be immunized and have access to services for children with disabilities (Love et al., 2002).
  • Head Start children are more likely to receive dental checkups and have healthy eating patterns than non-participants. They have lower BMI scores and are less likely to be overweight compared to children in other non-parental care. (Lee et al., 2013)
  • When families participate in Head Start (as opposed to no early childhood education), children are 93% less likely to end up in foster care, a correlation not found by participating in any other types of early childhood education. (Klein et. al., 2017)
  • Children show additional gains in social-emotional development as a result of participating in Head Start at both 3 and 4 years old. (Aikens et al., 2013)

Throughout K-12

  • Compared with children in parental care, Head Start children performed considerably better on cognitive and social-emotional measures in kindergarten and had fewer attention problems and exhibited fewer negative behaviors. (Zhai et al., 2011)
  • Head Start graduates in the Baltimore City Schools enter kindergarten with higher attendance levels than their peers and maintain those levels through third grade. (Connolly and Olson, 2012)
  • Full-day Head Start children in the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) were more likely to meet reading benchmarks by the end of kindergarten, compared to students who had half-day preschool or no preschool. The students also required half as many special education services per week as their peers without the MCPS preschool experience. (Zhao and Modarresi, 2010)
  • Mortality rates for 5- to 9-year-old children who had attended Head Start are 33% to 50% lower than the rates for comparable children who were not enrolled in Head Start. (Ludwig and Miller, 2007)
  • Children who attend Early Head Start have significantly fewer child welfare encounters during their elementary years. (Green et al., 2014)
  • Head Start children in Harrisburg, PA, had higher mean scores in the fifth grade than a control group on all academic and executive functioning outcomes. (Greenberg and Domitrovich, 2011)
  • Early Head Start shows positive impacts on participants' social-emotional functioning that last through fifth grade. (Vogel et al., 2010)
  • Head Start children in Tulsa, OK, have higher math test scores in 8th grade, are less likely to be chronically absent, and less likely to be held back a year by 8th grade. (Phillips et al., 2016)

As Adults

  • Head Start children have a higher likelihood of graduating high school, attending college, and receiving a post-secondary degree, license, or certification. (Bauer and Schanzenbach, 2016)
  • Head Start students are more likely to graduate high school, more likely to go to at least one year of college, less likely to be out of school and unemployed, and less likely to be in poor health. (Deming, 2009)
  • Among children who attended Head Start in the 1960s-70s, white children were 28.3% more likely than their siblings to complete high school and 27.6% more likely to attend college. (Garces et al., 2002)
  • Head Start improves adult health status for graduates; they are 7% less likely to be in poor health as adults than their siblings who did not attend. (Johnson, 2010Deming, 2009)
  • As adults, Head Start graduates are 19% less likely to smoke than their siblings who did not attend. The savings from these reduced health costs are equal to 36%-141% of the program costs. (Anderson et al., 2010)
  • Among children who attended Head Start in the 1960s-70s, African American children who attended Head Start were 12% less likely to be arrested or charged with a crime compared to their siblings. (Garces et al., 2002)
  • Compared to siblings who did not attend, Head Start graduates demonstrated improved educational attainment, adult health status, and wages, and decreased grade repetition and incarceration rates for black males. (Johnson, 2011)
  • Exploring the evidence on lasting effects of Head Start for children and society both from and beyond the Head Start Impact Study shows the long-term effects and benefit-cost ratio of Head Start. (Karoly and Auger, 2016)

Next Generations

  • Early Head Start parents offer more stimulating home environments, read more with children, use less physical punishment, and have higher levels of self-sufficiency. (Love et al., 2002)
  • Head Start parents are more likely to increase their educational levels during their children's early years than other at-risk parents. (Sabol and Chase-Lansdale, 2014)
  • Head Start parents invest more time in learning activities with their children, and non-resident fathers spend more days per month with their children. (Gelber and Isen, 2011)
  • Head Start graduates report investing more in their own children; their children benefited from more positive parenting practices. Head Start graduates spent more teaching their own children numbers, letters, colors, and shapes, more time praising their children, showed their children more physical affection, spent more time doing the child's favorite activities, and reported spanking their children less. (Bauer and Schanzenbach, 2016)
  • The children of Head Start graduates are significantly more likely to finish high school and enroll in college and they are significantly less likely to become teen parents or to be involved in the criminal justice system. (Barr and Gibbs, 2017)


  • Aikens, N., Kopack Klein, A., Tarullo, L. & W est, J. (2013). Getting Ready for Kindergarten: Children's Progress During Head Start. FACES 2009 Report. OPRE Report 2013-21a. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (link)
  • Anderson, K.H., Foster, J.E., & Frisvold, D.E. (2010). Investing in Health: the Long-term Impact of Head Start on Smoking. Economic Inquiry, 48(3), 587-602. (link)
  • Barr, A. and C. R. Gibbs. (2017) Breaking the Cycle? Intergenerational Effects of an Anti-Poverty Program in Early Childhood. (link)
  • Bauer, L. and D. W. Schanzenbach. (2016) The Long-Term Impact of the Head Start Program. The Hamilton Project, the Brookings Institution. (link)
  • Bloom, H. S. and Weiland, C., Quantifying Variation in Head Start Effects on Young Children's Cognitive and Socio-Emotional Skills Using Data from the National Head Start Impact Study (March 31, 2015). (link)
  • Connolly, F., and Olson, L.S. (2012). Early elementary performance and attendance in Baltimore City Schools' pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. (link)
  • Deming, D. (2009). Early Childhood Intervention and Life-Cycle Skill Development: Evidence from Head Start. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 1:3, 111-134. (link)
  • Garces, E., D. Thomas, and J. Currie. (2002). Longer-Term Effects of Head Start. American Economic Review, 92(4): 999-1012. (link)
  • Garcia, J.L., J.J. Heckman, D.E. Leaf, and M.J. Prados (2016). The Life-cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program. Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group, University of Chicago.  Chicago, IL. (2016-035).  (link)
  • Gelber, A, and A. Isen. National Bureau of Economic Research. (2011, December). Children's Schooling and Parents' Behavior: Evidence from the Head Start Impact Study (Working Paper No. 17704). Cambridge, MA: (link)
  • Green, B.L., Ayoub, C., Bartlett, J.D., Von Ende, A., Furrer, C., Chazan-Cohen, R., Vallotton, C. & Klevens, J. (2014) The Effect of Early Head Start on Child Welfare System Involvement: A First Look at Longitudinal Child Maltreatment Outcomes, Children and Youth Services Review. (link)
  • Greenberg, M. & Domitrovich, C. (2011). The Harrisburg Preschool Program Evaluation: Final Report. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, Prevention Research Center. (link)
  • Johnson, R.C. (2010). The Health Returns of Education Policies from Preschool to High School and Beyond. American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings, 188-194. (link)
  • Johnson, R.C. (2011). School-quality and the long-run effects of Head Start; Unpublished paper. (link)
  • Karoly, L. A. and A. Auger. Informing Investments in Preschool Quality and Access in Cincinnati: Evidence of Impacts and Economic Returns from National, State, and Local Preschool Programs. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016. (link)
  • Klein, S., Fries, L., and Emmons M.M., Early care and education arrangements and young children's risk of foster placement: Findings from a National Child Welfare Sample, Children and Youth Services Review (2017) (link)
  • Lipscomb, S.T., Pratt, M.E., Schmitt, S.A., Pears, K.C., and Kim, H.K. (2013). School readiness is children living in non-parental care: Impacts of Head Start. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31 (1), 28-37. (link)
  • Lee, R., Zhai, F., Brooks-Gunn, J., Han, W.-J., & Waldfogel, J. (2013). Head Start and Children's Nutrition, Weight, and Health Care Receipt. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(4) (link)
  • Love, J. M., Kisker, E. E., Ross, C. M., Schochet, P. Z., Brooks-Gunn, J., Paulsell, D., Boller, K., Constantine, J., Vogel, C., Sidle Fuligni, A., Brady-Smith, C. (2002). Making a difference in the lives of infants and toddlers and their families: The impacts of early Head Start. Volumes I-III: Final technical report and appendixes and local contributions to understanding the programs and their impacts. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation. (link)
  • Ludwig, J. and Miller, D. (2007). Does Head Start improve children's life chances? Evidence from a regression discontinuity design. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122, 159-208. (link)
  • Lumeng, J., Kaciroti, N., Sutrza, J., Krusky, A.M., Miller, A. L., Peterson, K. E., Lipton, R., & Reischl, T.M. (2015). Changes in Body Mass Index Associated with Head Start Participation. Pediatrics, 135(2): 1-8. (link)
  • Phillips, D., W. Gormley, & S. Anderson. (2016). The Effects of Tulsa's CAP Head Start Program on Middle-School Academic Outcomes and Progress. Developmental Psychology, 52, 1247-1261. (link)
  • Sabol, T.J. and Chase-Lansdale, P.L. (2014). The Influence of Low-Income Children's Participation in Head Start on Their Parents' Education and Employment. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. doi: 10.1002/pam.21799 (link)
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. (2010). Head Start Impact Study: Final Report. Washington, DC. (link)
  • Vogel, C.A., Xue, Y., Moiduddin, E.M., Kisker, E.E., & Carlson, B.L. (2010). Early Head Start Children in Grade 5: Long-Term Follow-Up of the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Study Sample. OPRE Report # 2011-8, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (link)
  • Zhai, F., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Waldfogel, J. (2011). Head Start and urban children's school readiness: A birth cohort study in 18 cities. Developmental Psychology, 47, 134-152. (link)
  • Zhao, H. & Modarresi, S. (2010). Evaluating Lasting Effects of Full-day Prekindergarten Program on School Readiness, Academic Performance and Special Education Services. Office of Shared Accountability of Montgomery County Public Schools. (link)

Head Start Advantage: Child Welfare

Head Start Advantage: School Readiness

Head Start Advantage: Children’s Social-Emotional Development

Head Start Advantage: Early Head Start

Head Start Advantage: Parent Advancement