Quebec messes with kids
After the sad fiasco of l’affaire Potter there’s a natural reluctance, a chill, to say anything remotely critical of Quebec. But journalistic duty calls. A new study of the effects of Quebec’s heavily subsidized daycare system — it costs $2.6 billion a year, a new Fraser Institute report tells us — bears an important lesson for Quebec and everywhere else. It’s not a new lesson. It’s probably the second most important lesson in economics, after “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” but it bears repeating. It is: “Things are complicated. You never know what unintended consequences you’ll produce once you start tinkering.”
The study is by Steve Lehrer of Queen’s University and Michael Kottelenberg of Huron University College in London, Ontario. It’s published by the prestigious National Bureau of Economic Research in Boston and it’s called “Does Quebec’s subsidized child care policy give boys and girls an equal start?” The answer? No.
It’s not that there are any significant differences in average outcomes between boys and girls in various measures of ability and well-being as a result of $5-a-day (now $7.50 a day) daycare. There aren’t, the authors concluded, after some sophisticated econometrics. But the distribution of some outcomes does change in statistically significant ways, with boys spreading themselves out more along the spectrum in their experience of hyperactivity, inattention and physical aggression. That’s not good, because extreme values on these three scales are reasonable predictors of problems later in life.
How parents parent also seems to change as a result of cheap daycare, though not for the good, a consequence I doubt policy-makers anticipated when they were introducing the policy.
Lehrer and Kottelenberg’s study is based on detailed, oneto-two-hour, face-to-face interviews StatCan does every two years with tens of thousands of parents, so the data are pretty rich. And they’re linked with kids’ scores on tests of motor skills, social development, vocabulary, hyperactivity, attention, separation anxiety and so on.
What are the apparent effects of Quebec’s daycare policy?