"Harnessing a Behavioral Economic Framework for Supporting Providers in Improving Early Childhood Care"
High-quality early care and education is increasingly viewed as a path toward narrowing socioeconomic gaps in children’s school readiness and development. Features of early childhood education environments such as pedagogical practices and provider-child interactions most strongly predict children’s outcomes. We describe how the interdisciplinary framework of behavioral economics – blending insights from economics and psychology – can support efforts to improve the quality of these predictive features. The behavioral economic framework recognizes that early childhood providers face multiple demands on their time and attention that influence their day-to-day interactions with children beyond the pedagogical and related practices available to them and that they strive to deliver. Using data from a nationally representative sample of early care and education center-based providers in the United States, we describe characteristics of the early education workforce serving low- and higher-income communities that intersect with three pertinent behavioral economic insights related to limited bandwidth, identity, and social influences. We then describe how insights and tools from behavioral economics can be integrated to positively support the early childhood workforce and enhance the impact of existing pedagogical practices and economic and professional support.