Sharon Wolf

Associate Professor | Education

Dr. Sharon Wolf is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education, Human Development, and Quantitative Methods division. She is trained as an applied developmental psychologist and studies how children’s family and educational environments shape their development, focusing on underserved populations in the United States and in low-income countries.

Dr. Wolf’s research tests the effectiveness of theoretically informed policy solutions designed to promote childhood development and learning through randomized field experiments, including cash transfers, teacher professional development, and parent engagement programs.

Selected Publications

Christopher WimerSharon Wolf

(2020). Family income and young children’s development. The Future of Children, 30(2), 191-211.

Is income during children’s earliest years a key determinant of long-term child and adult success in the long run? The research to date, Christopher Wimer and Sharon Wolf write, suggests that it is. Wimer and Wolf review substantial descriptive evidence that income can enhance child development and later adult outcomes, and that it does so most strongly during children’s earliest years.

Next, they wrestle with the question of whether this relationship is causal. After outlining the challenges in identifying such causal relationships, they describe a number of studies that purport to overcome these challenges through quasi- or natural experiments. Among other topics, the authors examine how family income affects the outcomes of young children compared to those of older children, and how its effects vary among poor, low-income, and higher-income families. They also look at the evidence around other dimensions of income, including nonlinear relationships between income and key outcomes, instability in income versus the absolute level of income, and various forms of income, and they review the evidence for impacts of in-kind or near-cash income supports.

Finally, Wimer and Wolf highlight some recently launched studies that will shed further light on the relationship between income and development in children’s earliest years, and they suggest how policy might better provide income support to low-income families and their children.

Morgan PeeleSharon Wolf

(2021). Depressive and anxiety symptoms in early-childhood education teachers: Relations to professional well-being and absenteeism. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 55;  275-283



This study investigated how early childhood education teachers’ (N = 444) depressive and anxiety symptoms predicted their professional well-being outcomes and absenteeism over the course of one school year in Ghana. Higher anxiety and depressive symptoms predicted lower job motivation and job satisfaction and higher levels of emotional exhaustion at the end of the school year. Increased depressive symptoms were further associated with more days absent over the course of the school year. Findings point to the importance of considering teachers’ mental health for early educational quality. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.

Luca Maria PesandoSharon WolfJere R. BehrmanEdward Tsinigo

 (February 2020). Are Private Kindergartens really Better? Examining Preschool Choices, Parental Resources, and Children’s School Readiness in Ghana. Comparative Education Review, 64(1), 107-136. 

Low-cost private schools are expanding across sub-Saharan Africa and are often perceived by parents to be of better quality than public schools. This article assesses the interplay between kindergarten (or preschool) choice, household resources, and children’s school readiness in Ghana. We examine how child, household, and school characteristics predict private versus public kindergarten attendance and whether household characteristics are associated with school readiness beyond preschool selection.

Using a geospatial-identification strategy to account for observed and unobserved determinants of preschool choice, we find that parental investments—including the number of books at home and caregiver help with homework—predict both private-preschool selection and start-of-year child outcomes beyond their influence on preschool choice. We take this evidence as suggesting that investments in children support learning beyond simply selecting the presumed best preschool type.

We also find independent associations between attending private preschool and one-year changes in early literacy scores. The findings contribute knowledge to the literature on the recent expansion of preschool education in sub-Saharan Africa and globally and shed new light on the role of private-preschool attendance in early academic skill development.