Turns out Sesame Street‘s Big Bird, Elmo, Bert, Ernie, Count von Count, Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch are doing a lot more than just entertaining kids.
According to a January 2019 study published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, the beloved educational television series actually helps improve school performance for children exposed to it before age 7 — particularly if they’re male — and even has long-term positive outcomes for its viewers, in both the education system and the workforce.
Researchers Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine are behind the results, which they titled Early Childhood Education by Television: Lessons from Sesame Street. The duo farmed data from the U.S. census in 1980, 1990 and 2000, comparing the educational and employment outcomes of those who had access to viewing the series with those who did not.
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The large-scale examination found that “Sesame Street‘s introduction generated a positive impact on educational outcomes through the early school years.”
Specifically, those with higher exposure to the program were “14 percent more likely to be attending the grade that is appropriate for their age in middle and high school years.”
“Furthermore, the data indicate positive effects for both boys and girls, with larger point estimates for boys,” the study read. “The data also indicate positive effects for all three race/ethnic groups considered, with larger point estimates for blacks and Hispanics than for white non-Hispanics.”
Kearney and Levine’s data showed longer-term outcomes, too, suggesting that exposed cohorts of students “are more likely to be employed and have somewhat higher wages as adults. The magnitude of the estimated wage effects are consistent with forecasts based on the estimated improvements in test scores and grade-for-age status brought about by the show’s introduction.”
Sesame Street premiered in November 1969, with a goal to help reduce educational deficits of disadvantaged youth. It aired on public television’s PBS throughout its debut before moving to HBO in January 2016.
As of 2018, Sesame Street has won 189 Emmy Awards and 11 Grammy Awards — more than any other children’s television series.
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