Early Childhood

Which Countries Spend the Most on Early-Childhood Education?

By Christina A. Samuels — June 21, 2017 2 min read
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Norway and Sweden spent nearly 2 percent of their gross domestic product on early-childhood programs and education in 2013, while the United States spent 0.4 percent—well below the 0.8 average of all of the countries included in an analysis released Wednesday from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The United States’s spending as a percentage of GDP is not included in the graphic taken from the report and embedded below, but the graphic shows the rank of several additional countries.

The spending figures are part of two documents released from OECD, which is also the entity that oversees the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA.

Starting Strong 2017 presents an overview of the early-childhood systems in 30 counties, along with trend data and recent reforms. Starting Strong V: Transitions from Early Childhood Education and Care to Primary Education focuses on how children can move to primary education in a way that maintains the positive impacts of early learning.

Early-childhood education and care has experienced a surge of attention in the countries that the OECD examined. But the organization cautioned that differences in spending across countries is linked closely to the size of a country’s population of young people, how many years children generally are served in early-childhood programs, salaries of teachers, and child-staff ratios.

The OECD report notes that in the United Kingdom, for example, children typically leave pre-primary education at age 4, so the country doesn’t spent as much on that phase of a child’s education as other countries where primary education starts later. For example, in Poland and Sweden, children start primary education at age 7.

Among the other findings in the reports:

  • Despite needing a bachelor’s degree in most countries, early-childhood teachers earn less than their teacher peers with a similar educational background.

  • More than 70 percent of the mothers in Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Switzerland work, and those countries also have the highest percentages of children enrolled in formal child care.

  • On average, 15-year-olds who had access to early-childhood education for at least two years outperformed children who did not on the PISA.

  • Helping children learn at home and having more contact between teaching staff and parents is strongly associated with children’s later academic success and socio-emotional development.

[CORRECTION: The original version of this post provided an incorrect figure for the United States’s spending on early care and education as a percentage of GDP. The correct figure is 0.4 percent.]

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.