Abecedarian Project

Updated: Nov 20, 2017
Evidence Rating:
Suggestive Tier


  • Program:

    High-quality child care/preschool for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • Evaluation Methods:

    A single randomized controlled trial (RCT) with a sample of approximately120 families with infants.

  • Key Findings:

    Large effects on educational attainment, employment, and other important life outcomes, sustained well into adulthood.

  • Other:

    This was a relatively small study conducted in the early 1970s, and included two substantive departures from random assignment – factors that reduce confidence in the findings. Replication of these findings in a second trial would be desirable to confirm the initial results and establish that they generalize to present-day settings.

The Abecedarian Project, initiated in 1972 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, provided educational childcare and high-quality preschool from age 0-5 to children from very disadvantaged backgrounds. The childcare and preschool were provided on a full-day, year-round basis; had a low teacher-child ratio (ranging from 1:3 for infants to 1:6 for 5-year-olds); and used a systematic curriculum of educational games emphasizing language development and cognitive skills. The average annual cost of the intervention was approximately $19,000 per child (in 2017 dollars).
Click here for Abecedarian Project’s website.

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Garcia, Jorge L., Heckman, James J., Leaf, Duncan E., and Prados, Maria J. The Life-Cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2016. http://www.nber.org/papers/w22993.pdf

Campbell, Frances A., Elizabeth P. Pungello, Margaret Burchinal, Kirsten Kainz, Yi Pan, Barbara H. Wasik, Oscar A. Barbarin, Joseph J. Sparling, and Craig T. Ramey. Adult Outcomes as a Function of an Early Childhood Educational Program: An Abecedarian Project Follow-Up. Developmental Psychology, 2012, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 1033-1043.

Campbell, Frances A., Craig T. Ramey, Elizabeth Pungello, Joseph Sparling, and Shari Miller-Johnson. Early Childhood Education: Young Adult Outcomes From the Abecedarian Project, Applied Developmental Science, 2002, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 42-57.

Masse, Leonard N. and W. Steven Barnett, A Benefit-Cost Analysis of the Abecedarian Early Childhood Intervention, New Brunswick, N.J.: National Institute for Early Education Research, 2002. http://nieer.org/resources/research/AbecedarianStudy.pdf.

Campbell, Frances A., Elizabeth Pungello, Shari Miller-Johnson, Margaret Burchinal, and Craig T. Ramey. The Development of Cognitive and Academic Abilities: Growth Curves From an Early Childhood Educational Experiment, Developmental Psychology, 2001, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 231-242.

Campbell, Frances A. and Craig T. Ramey. Effects of early intervention on intellectual and academic achievement: A follow-up study of children from low-income families. Child Development, 1994, vol. 65, pp. 684-698.