When the long term data tell you hope is lost, wait for the long long run data

Everyone thought the Perry preschool program was a loss, until they saw the long run data on the children as adults.

Now one of the other great American social experiments is showing a surprising turnaround:

The Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment offered randomly selected families living in high-poverty housing projects housing vouchers to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods.

We present new evidence on the impacts of MTO on children’s long-term outcomes using administrative data from tax returns. We find that moving to a lower-poverty neighborhood significantly improves college attendance rates and earnings for children who were young (below age 13) when their families moved. These children also live in better neighborhoods themselves as adults and are less likely to become single parents.

The treatment effects are substantial: children whose families take up an experimental voucher to move to a lower-poverty area when they are less than 13 years old have an annual income that is $3,477 (31%) higher on average relative to a mean of $11,270 in the control group in their mid-twenties. In contrast, the same moves have, if anything, negative long-term impacts on children who are more than 13 years old when their families move, perhaps because of disruption effects.

The gains from moving fall with the age when children move, consistent with recent evidence that the duration of exposure to a better environment during childhood is a key determinant of an individual’s long-term outcomes. The findings imply that offering families with young children living in high-poverty housing projects vouchers to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods may reduce the intergenerational persistence of poverty and ultimately generate positive returns for taxpayers.

Continue to file under “migration is still the most effective development intervention known to humankind”.

7 thoughts on “When the long term data tell you hope is lost, wait for the long long run data

  1. I have some trouble with this idea that “migration is still the most effective development intervention known to humankind”.

    On one hand because while this intervention might have positive impact on the families moving, what is the effect, if any, on the neighborhood left behind?

    It also seems to be a very partial solution, unless the plan is to abandon all poor neighborhoods in the world. People migrating out of an area often has negative outcomes. Globally, the places that “push” the most people away are not benefiting from this, bar from remittances perhaps.

    Also, would be nice to see what a cash transfer might have achieved in comparison.