Peter Savelyev, Vanderbilt University – Lifelong Benefits of Preschool

Peter SavelyevPreschool isn’t just finger-painting and nap-time!

Peter Savelyev, an assistant professor of economics at Vanderbilt University, is touting the long-term benefits of early learning.

Dr. Peter Savelyev is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He earned his PhD from the University of Chicago where his dissertation was titled Essays on Health and Human Development. His research primarily focuses on the economics of human development, the relationship between economics and psychology and health economics.

Peter Savelyev – Lifelong Benefits of Preschool


In a paper written with my co-authors from the University of Chicago, James Heckman and Rodrigo Pinto, we make the case that high-quality preschool is an effective way to reduce social problems associated with poverty because it teaches children essential character skills.

We re-analyzed data from the HighScope Perry Preschool experiment, which is a randomized early childhood intervention conducted in Ypsilanti, Michigan, during the mid-1960’s with a sample of disadvantaged children. Children received education at ages 3 and 4 and were followed till age 40. Results of this influential experiment are extraordinary. For instance, the program reduced crime by one third for males and by one half for females. The aim of our paper was to understand the mechanisms behind these well-known strong effects.

While the Perry Project had only a temporary effect on IQ—it faded soon after the children completed the program—we found that the preschool had durable effects on the children’s character skills. Girls experienced an improvement in academic motivation. Both boys and girls exhibited a significant reduction in externalizing, or anti-social behaviors. The change in externalizing behaviors explains up to 70 percent of the benefits in categories such as crime, employment and health outcomes.

We conclude that the importance and malleability of children’s character skills deserves greater emphasis in public policies designed to promote productive skills and alleviate poverty.

  1. John McCall