College of Liberal Arts

Early Earners

By Michelle Bryant,
Published: April 30, 2012

“Redshirting” is a popular term among parents of the pre-K set, and it has a lot of parents asking a familiar question: Is my child ready to start kindergarten, or would she or he benefit from delaying this debut into the world of no naps, homework, grades and real scissors?

A term borrowed from the sporting world — “redshirting” — describes how some parents opt to hold their child’s kindergarten start date back a year to allow more time for maturation and preparation for the increased pressures of kindergarten. However, research and media offer mixed reviews as parents struggle to make the decision that is best for their child.

Sandra Black

Sandra Black, professor of economics and Population Research Center affiliate, focuses her research on the role of early childhood experiences and parental characteristics on the long-run success of children. She has published numerous articles on the long-run labor market effects of family background and educational experiences.Photo: Matthew Mahon.

“If this is going to be his job for the next 13-plus years, I want him to have the best start he can have,” says Courtney Knutson Graham, a McKinney mother of two, about her youngest son Oliver, age 4. “There is a lot of pressure on kids these days in school and it starts early.”

Sandra E. Black, a professor in the Department of Economics, looks at how family background and early childhood experiences such as birth order, family size and birth weight affect long-term outcomes and if there is a role to equalize the playing field. She also studies education policy, including the effect of school starting age.

Her findings show little evidence that starting younger has an effect on ultimate educational attainment as some of the previous literature suggests. For men, starting a year later reduces education by one year for about one in 20 men, and the results are similar for women.

She also finds that younger children in families are likely to be less educated and earn less than their older siblings.

Black earned her doctorate at Harvard in 1997 and was a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. She was a professor at UCLA from 2001 before joining the Department of Economics at The University of Texas at Austin in 2010. She’s able to unmask the casual effects of social issues typically explored in the realm of sociology and psychology, defying people’s notion of an economist honing in on the effects of family background and education.

“We find little to no effect of parents’ education, family size and peer differences on the long-run outcomes of children,” says Black, a research affiliate with the Population Research Center and Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. “However, we do find an effect of birth order and family income and, to some extent, school starting age.”

School Start

Graham was able to gauge how her oldest son, Parker, age 6, performed in kindergarten. Having an October birthday, he missed the September 1 cut-off for kindergarten at his school, and as a result is one of the older students in his class.

“I feel like this was the perfect age developmentally for him to start,” Graham says. “I see the homework that Parker has to do on a daily basis and I asked myself, ‘Is Oliver ready for this?’ With Parker we have two guided reading books every night, a writing assignment and a math problem.”

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