Tuesday, January 5, 2010

In-home infant visits help girls but not boys avoid jail

A long-term study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and reported in Science Daily examined 19-year-olds whose mothers had been in the Nurse-Family Partnership program in Elmira, NY. Some were in the control (no extra help) group, and others got in-home visits during pregnancy or during pregnancy and infancy. The latter group had about 1/3 as many arrests at age 19 and 1/5 as many convictions as the controls, but only for girls. Boys showed no difference between intervention and controls. The girl difference stayed when they controlled for income.

They did a cost benefit analysis and found that $7000 in program costs returned $9000 in benefits for low-risk girls and $41,000 for high-risk girls (i.e., those with low-income, unmarried mothers) .

Now why would it be that sending someone to help a new mom helps girls avoid jail but not boys? Maybe boys are just worse than girls and become whatever they are regardless of what you try to do. I hope not. Maybe the home nurses paid more attention to girls than boys. I doubt it. Maybe, because girls mature faster, earlier intervention helps girls more. Jeez, I can't even come up with a plausible conjecture.

I'd like to know if the Perry Preschool or Chicago Banks projects or anyone has looked at different long-term effects of child care on boys compared to girls.

God, I love Google. It turns out Perry Preschool did have bigger effects on girls than boys. "Going to preschool nearly doubled a girl's chances of getting a high school degree, but had no effect on boys. ... The preschool had a big effect on whether girls repeated grades or dropped out of school, but it had almost no effect on boys in these areas." Some areas showed effects for boys but always much less than for girls.

If girls benefit more by enrichment than boys, then something in our ordinary way of raising kids is stunting girls' mental development but not boys'.

This has implications for universal preschool or state preschool. If State Preschool (okay, CSPP) helps girls but not boys, it would be more cost-efficient to limit it to girls. Fat chance getting that through the legislature.


  1. Two thoughts:
    1. Your Perry research/mulling conclusion is delicious. And I don't think there's any doubt that we stunt girls' mental development -- I have the advantage of being in the WWII generation raised by women with no men in the house/town ... we had an immensely competitive and long-term successful girl/woman cohort .. even two years behind us, it was already sliding back.
    2. I'm slightly concerned about the sample coming from Elmira, New York. There is a visible, influential prison there, and living in the shadow of an ancient correctional facility full of truly bad guys (no one wants to go to Elmira) has to have an effect on little boys.

  2. I'd worry more about the Elmira sample if it didn't mesh so well with Perry Preschool. I have a tendency to have a cause of the moment, but this gender difference seems to me to be a big deal.

  3. I've seen one thing clearly over the years, vis a vis boy/girl preschool:
    The curriculum in most preschools not only favors what small girls excel in (thus, making them love school at once) like small motor movements ... but most important, the very nature of the environment emphasizes tasks that girls get rewarded for (like serving juice). Boys enjoy it equally, but our society does not reward them for doing it (keep your seat, Dad). So, anti-Montessori's work-of-the-child, the boys are offered no "valuable work" at preschool (from which they can reap public affirmation).