Estimating the costs of bad outcomes for at-risk youth and the benefits of early childhood interventions to reduce them

Mark A. Cohen, Alex R. Piquero, Wesley G. Jennings

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37 Citations (Scopus)


Although it appears that there is growing interest in early childhood intervention as an effort to reduce crime, resources continue to be funneled toward punishment and incarceration. Considering this and acknowledging earlier cost-based empirical research, the question still remains as to the cost incurred by a lifetime of involvement in crime and experiencing a host of adverse noncrime outcomes. This study provides a review of the literature in search of well-designed early childhood interventions that address a series of socials ills, such as crime and delinquency, educational attainment, drug and alcohol abuse, smoking, child abuse and neglect, poor health outcomes, and teen pregnancy. Furthermore, building on the earlier framework and basic methodology developed by Cohen and recently updated by Cohen and Piquero, this study offers calculations of the present value of lifetime costs imposed on society for each of these various social ills-discounted to the date of birth to put them on comparable terms. The largest cost is imposed by the career criminal (US$2.1-US$3.7 million). Next, the present value costs associated with both drug abuse and alcohol dependence/abuse are roughly the same-about US$700,000 each-whereas child abuse and neglect costs an estimated US$250,000 to US$285,000. Health-related outcomes range from a low US$10,300 for the estimated present value cost of low birth weight to US$127,000, US$144,000, US$187,000, and US$260,000 for coronary heart disease, asthma, diabetes, and smoking, respectively. Finally, the present value cost of teen pregnancy is estimated to range from US$120,000 to US$140,000. Thus, properly designed programs and policies that focus on early childhood intervention have the potential to produce significant social benefits. Study limitations and suggestions for future research are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-434
Number of pages44
JournalCriminal Justice Policy Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • costs and benefits
  • early childhood interventions
  • home visitation programs
  • parent training
  • willingness-to-pay

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