Allostasis and allostatic load in the context of poverty in early childhood

Dev Psychopathol. 2011 Aug;23(3):845-57. doi: 10.1017/S0954579411000344.


This paper examined the relation of early environmental adversity associated with poverty to child resting or basal level of cortisol in a prospective longitudinal sample of 1135 children seen at 7, 15, 24, 35, and 48 months of age. We found main effects for poor housing quality, African American ethnicity, and low positive caregiving behavior in which each was uniquely associated with an overall higher level of cortisol from age 7 to 48 months. We also found that two aspects of the early environment in the context of poverty, adult exits from the home and perceived economic insufficiency, were related to salivary cortisol in a time-dependent manner. The effect for the first of these, exits from the home, was consistent with the principle of allostatic load in which the effects of adversity on stress physiology accumulate over time. The effect for perceived economic insufficiency was one in which insufficiency was associated with higher levels of cortisol in infancy but with a typical but steeper decline in cortisol with age at subsequent time points.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Allostasis / physiology*
  • Caregivers
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Infant
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Parenting
  • Poverty*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Social Environment*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Temperament


  • Hydrocortisone