Foster, E. M., & Marcus Jenkins, J. V. (2017). Does Participation in Music and Performing Arts Influence Child Development? American Educational Research Journal, 54(3), 399-443.


This article reconsiders the association between childhood arts participation and cognitive and developmental outcomes. Using data from a large, nationally representative sample with extensive covariates, it employs propensity score weighting to adjust comparisons of children who do and do not participate in arts education (music and performing arts lessons) to address potential confounding from selection into arts education. The article examines a broad range of outcomes in adolescence and early adulthood, for example GPA, self-esteem and college attendance. Results show that selection into arts education is at least as strong as any direct effect on outcomes, providing no support for the causal associations between arts participation and cognitive outcomes. It finds that arts education increases arts engagement during young adulthood.

Key Findings:

  • Neither lessons in musical arts nor lessons in performance arts influence future child development outcomes in any statistically significant way.
  • Children who participate in music lessons in mid-childhood are more likely to participate in arts in young adulthood.
  • Children who participate in music lessons in mid-childhood are more likely to graduate high school, but the effect is not statistically significant.
  • Children who participate in performing arts lessons in mid-childhood are more likely to participate in arts in young adulthood and more frequently.
  • All the children in the sample group who participated in performing arts lessons in mid-childhood graduated high school, but when researchers examined this descriptively, the weighted percentage of these children finishing high school was 10 percent higher.
  • There are no significant differences in late-childhood schooling and behavioral outcomes between children who do not have a musical instrument in their home, children who do have an instrument in their home that they do not use and children who have an instrument in their home that they use at least once a year.

Significance of the Findings:

The findings of this study are significant as the researchers took potential confounding factors into consideration and in doing so, provided evidence that the effects of arts education are related to the confounding factors rather than the education itself. Researchers conclude that their findings need not weaken public support for music education, but rather suggest other paths of directed support than linking it to the benefits outside of the arts, including test scores.


This study uses the Main Family Interview, the Child Development Supplement and the Transition Into Adulthood components of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) — a nationally representative household panel survey of 18,000 individuals from 5,000 families in the United States. Researchers used data from 2,907 children with data from all points in time. Using data from the same sample at different points in time, the researchers used statistical models to understand the relationship between participation in music and performing arts and child development. To address potential confounders, researchers selected and removed several child- and family-level covariates that may affect the measured outcomes. The measured outcomes include: child achievement on reading and math, short-term memory function, behavior problems and positive aspects of the children’s lives, participation in arts activities and high school completion.

Limitations of the Research:

The PSID data used in this study explores whether a student has or has not had exposure to arts education, but does not indicate to what extent — leaving a wide range of possible experiences. Therefore, this study does not differentiate the outcomes of students with varying levels of arts education exposure. Because the research was based on the PSID data, it is limited in the outcomes it can measure. For example, arts education might have an impact on social/emotional or non-cognitive benefits not measured in the PSID study.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Potential questions include:

  • Are there benefits of arts education on oral language development for students with limited English proficiency?
  • Are there benefits of arts education on a student’s entrepreneurial and innovative abilities?
  • Are there community-level social benefits to supporting arts education and if so, what are they?