Using Behavioral Economics to Support Positive Early Language and Literacy Habits Among Low Income Mothers of Infants

Several innovative, low-cost interventions that draw on behavioral economics are showing promise in improving program impacts in areas as diverse as nutrition, energy conservation, exercise, and personal savings. beELL-NYC is one of the first to apply behavioral economics to a variety of public health initiatives that support children’s early development. One of those initiatives is the Talk to Your Baby program, an early language and literacy intervention that uses text messages to support positive parenting and prompt parents to read, sing, and talk to their babies. Talk to Your Baby is a joint program of the New York City Children’s Cabinet, a coalition of 20 city agencies; and comparable to several city-wide early literacy campaigns.

Early language development is a foundation for later school success. Language-rich, warm, and nurturing interactions between babies and their caregivers are where children develop the vocabulary and grammar that are the foundations of early literacy. Many interventions assume that parents understand the value of the intervention, and that they have the psychological and financial resources to follow through on program recommendations. Behavioral economics challenges these assumptions. As any parent knows, parenting an infant is challenging. Poverty and instability add to this difficulty, draining parents’ attention and limiting interactions with their infant.