The Economic Costs of Early Vulnerability in Canada

Paul Kershaw, Bill Warburton, Lynell Anderson, Clyde Hertzman, Lori Irwin, Barry Forer


Objective: The study estimates the economic costs of early vulnerability in the light of population-level data showing that between 25% and 30% of Canadian children do not arrive at kindergarten meeting all of the developmental benchmarks they need to thrive both now and into the future.

Methods: The study examines Early Development Instrument (EDI) data across Canada as of 2008/09, and across time within British Columbia since 2001. We then link the BC EDI data with school achievement results on standardized tests in grades four and seven, along with graduation records and criminal justice information.

Results: The result is a synthetic cohort with which we can simulate the impact on economic growth of reducing early vulnerability in BC from its current rate of 29% to 10%, a threshold above which child vulnerability is biologically unnecessary.

Discussion: Nearly three times what it should be, a rate of early vulnerability that approaches 30% signals that the country now tolerates an unnecessary brain drain that will dramatically deplete our future stock of human capital. Economic analyses reveal that this depletion will cause Canada to forgo 20% in GDP (gross domestic product) growth over the next 60 years. The economic value of this loss is equivalent to investing $2.2 trillion to $3.4 trillion today at a rate of 3.5% interest, even after paying for the social investment required to reduce vulnerability.

Key words: Child development; population health; public policy


child development; population health; public policy