Childhood economic disadvantage is associated with lower cognitive and social-emotional skills, reduced educational attainment, and lower earnings in adulthood. Despite these robust correlations, it is unclear whether family income is the cause of differences observed between children growing up in poverty and their more fortunate peers or whether these differences are merely due to the many other aspects of family life that co-occur with poverty. Baby’s First Years is the first randomized controlled trial in the United States designed to identify the causal impact of poverty reduction on children’s early development. A total of 1000 low-income mothers of newborns were enrolled in the study and began receiving a monthly unconditional cash gift for the first several years of their children’s lives. Mothers were randomly assigned to receive either a large monthly cash gift or a nominal monthly cash gift. All monthly gifts are administered via debit card and can be freely spent with no restrictions. Baby’s First Years aims to answer whether poverty reduction in early childhood (1) improves children’s developmental outcomes and promotes healthier brain functioning, and (2) improves family functioning and better enables parents to support child development. Here we present the rationale and design of the study as well as potential implications for science and policy.

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