Intergenerational Persistence of Treatment Effects

The 15 million children in the United States who live in families below the poverty line are at risk for serious health problems ranging from chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes to mental health problems such as depression and substance use disorders. Many childhood interventions target low-income and high-risk children, with evidence that some early interventions improve adult health and wellbeing. However, little is known about whether, and how, the benefits of childhood interventions get transmitted across generations. This study asks whether children who benefit from early interventions grow up to become better parents and, subsequently, have children who experience fewer health problems, educational challenges, and emotional problems. We bring together two longstanding, ongoing, prospective intervention studies (Great Smoky Mountains Study and Fast Track Prevention Randomized Controlled Trial) that follow panels of children into adulthood. Published findings show that each intervention has positive impact on a child’s adjustment, but it is not known whether this impact transfers to the next generation. Our findings will inform prevention science by testing whether, for whom, and how, the effects of human capital interventions are transmitted across generations. Our findings speak directly to the costs and benefits of contemporary public policy as both interventions reflect features of policies and programs that currently serve millions of high-risk children and families in the United States.