Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology


Behavioral Science



First Advisor

Kathleen Gorman


Attending high-quality early education or care (ECE) is positively associated with short-term academic outcomes for children (Yoshikawa et al., 2013) as well as longer-term social and behavioral (Heckman, Moon, Pinto, Savelyev & Yavitz, 2010). Despite the demonstrated benefits of early care and education (ECE) for children with immigrant parents (Puma et al., 2010), participation rates are lower among children of immigrants than children with native-born or citizen parents among three- to five-year-olds (Hernandez, Denton, & McCartney, 2007). There are many barriers to accessing ECE programs for immigrants, which may be exacerbated for undocumented immigrants. Specific immigration policies may either restrict or facilitate access to ECE (Hanson, Adams, & Koball, 2016; Greenberg, Adams & Michie, 2016). One such state-level immigrant policy that may be associated with increased ECE participation is access to a driver’s license (DL) for undocumented immigrants (Hacker, Chu, Lueng, Marra, Pirie, Brahimi & Marlin, 2011; Hanson, Adams & Koball, 2016).

The present study examined the association between state-level, legal opportunities to access DLs for undocumented immigrants and rates of participation in ECE among their three- to five-year-old children using a cross-sectional, quasi-experimental design. The three states examined in this study were used were: (1) New Mexico, which implemented a DL policy in 2003, (2) Utah, which implemented a DL policy in 2005, and (3) California, which passed a DL policy in 2004, but never enacted the policy. Panel data from the 1996, 2001, 2004 and 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) administrations were accessed to determine legal immigration status of household members and participation in ECE. The sample was comprised of 4,709 households with undocumented members that included children between three- and five-years-old. Synthetic control models were used to compare ECE participation rates in states that had enacted DL policies to ECE participation rates estimated for synthetic controls.

Results indicated that access to a DL for undocumented immigrants was associated with small but consistent differences in ECE participation, where participation rates were higher among children of undocumented immigrants in states with DL access than in control states in the post-policy period by three to five percentage points. Although future research is needed to further explore this association and to examine access to DLs at the household level, results provide preliminary evidence that driver’s licenses facilitate participation in ECE, and this may be regardless of the stringency of the policy. Results have implications for assessing DL policies as a way to integrate undocumented immigrants and their households into society and improve later outcomes for their children.

Available for download on Monday, April 20, 2020