The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

The Effects of Persistent Poverty On Children's Physical, Socio-Emotional, and Learning Outcomes

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 1:30 PM
Seabreeze 1 and 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Jung-sook Lee, PhD, Lecturer, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Purpose: This study investigated the effects of persistent poverty on children’s physical, socio-emotional, and learning development using the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. The characteristics of poor families and the effects of poverty on children are well documented in the literature; however, there are few recent studies in Australia on this topic partly owing to the controversies over the poverty line. Thus, the current study attempted to bring our attention to child poverty in Australia again by providing recent empirical evidence. Given the controversies over the poverty line, the current study compared results using two different thresholds (i.e., proxies of 50% and 60% of median income).

Methods: This study used the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) . LSAC is the first comprehensive longitudinal study of Australian children using a nationally representative sample. LSAC employed a dual cohort cross-sequential design with two cohorts: the B-cohort was 0-1 years whereas the K-cohort was 4-5 years at Wave 1. The sample of the current study comprised 4,606 children in the B-cohort and 4,464 children in the K-cohort. According to the statistics provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 50% of median income was comparable to 10th percentile income whereas 60% of median income was roughly similar to 20th percentile income. Given the difference on income measures, 10th and 20th percentile income were used as proxies of 50% and 60% of median income. Because of the complex survey design used, the current study utilized statistical procedures specially developed for survey data: proc surveymeans, proc surveyfreq, and proc surveyreg of SAS 9.2. The multiple imputation procedure was also used to make a valid statistical inference.

Results: The results showed that families in the persistently poor group were more likely to come from socially disadvantaged background that included young and unmarried mothers, less educated parents, Indigenous children, and children who speak other languages at home. Although the effects differed by cohort and the threshold used to define poverty, the results showed that persistent poverty generally had significantly negative effects on children’s socio-emotional and learning outcomes. Children in the persistently poor group showed significantly lower levels of socio-emotional and learning outcomes than children in the never poor group. In identifying the effects of persistent poverty on children’s outcomes, poverty status using the bottom 20% of the income ladder as a threshold (60% of median income) had a stronger predictive power than poverty status using the bottom 10% of income (50% of median income).

Implications: The findings suggest that persistently poor families may need support to break the cycle of disadvantage. Given the negative effects of persistent poverty on children, actions to relieve poverty and to reduce the effect of poverty are required to ensure adequate development of children in poverty. Furthermore, the findings suggest that, in developing policies against poverty, it may be more desirable to use 60% of median income as a threshold if we aim to reduce the negative effects of poverty on children and to prevent intergenerational transmission of poverty.