Material Hardship and Child Socioemotional Behaviors: Differences by Types of Hardship, Timing, and Duration

Child Youth Serv Rev. 2012 Apr 1;34(4):814-825. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2012.01.008.


Child behavior problems are associated with long-term detrimental effects. A large body of literature looks at the association between income and child behavior but few studies examine this association with material hardship, an alternative economic indicator. We use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine the following questions: (a) Is material hardship associated with child socioemotional behavior and are there differences by developmental timing, (b) Are particular hardships (bills, utilities, food, housing, medical) more strongly associated with child behavior, and (c) Are there differences in the association between short-term and long-term material hardship and child behavior? We find that children in households experiencing material hardship score significantly higher on externalizing and internalizing behaviors. Additionally, we find that a mother's inability to pay bills, experience of utility interruption, and housing instability are adversely related to child behavior. We also find that the association between material hardship and child behaviors is stronger at age 5 and that chronic aggregate hardship has a stronger association with child behavior.