The environment of poverty: multiple stressor exposure, psychophysiological stress, and socioemotional adjustment

Child Dev. 2002 Jul-Aug;73(4):1238-48. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00469.


The one in five children growing up in poverty in America have elevated risk for socioemotional difficulties. One contributing factor to their elevated risk may be exposure to multiple physical and psychosocial stressors. This study demonstrated that 8- to 10-year-old, low-income, rural children (N = 287) confront a wider array of multiple physical (substandard housing, noise, crowding) and psychosocial (family turmoil, early childhood separation, community violence) stressors than do their middle-income counterparts. Prior research on self-reported distress among inner-city minority children is replicated and extended among low-income, rural White children with evidence of higher levels of self- and parent-reported psychological distress, greater difficulties in self-regulatory behavior (delayed gratification), and elevated psychophysiological stress (resting blood pressure, overnight neuroendocrine hormones). Preliminary mediational analyses with cross-sectional data suggest that cumulative stressor exposure may partially account for the well-documented, elevated risk of socioemotional difficulties accompanying poverty.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms / physiopathology
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Child
  • Epinephrine / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Internal-External Control
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Norepinephrine / blood
  • Personality Assessment
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Psychosocial Deprivation*
  • Risk Factors
  • Rural Population*
  • Social Adjustment
  • Social Environment*
  • Socialization


  • Hydrocortisone
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine