Income and Child Development

Child Youth Serv Rev. 2009 Sep 1;31(9):978-989. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2009.04.013.


We examine how income is associated with the home environments and the cognitive and behavioral development of pre-school children, using data from a birth cohort study of children born at the end of the 20(th) century. Lower-income 3-year-old children are more likely than wealthier children to live in homes with inadequate physical environments and to have mothers who are more likely to be stressed, depressed, harsh and unresponsive. Additionally, low income children have lower PPVT scores, more mother-reported aggressive, withdrawn, and anxious behavior problems, and also more interviewer-reported problems with behavior, than more affluent children. A key policy question is whether increases in the incomes of poor families would result in improvements in children's outcomes, at least in part through improvements in the home environment. This question is difficult to answer using observational data. However, we argue that, even under the most generous interpretation of the associations we estimate, large income transfer programs would have relatively small effects on children's cognitive and behavioral outcomes.