Early childhood hardship experiences have lasting effects on children’s development. Previous studies have highlighted the relationships between poverty, housing and neighborhood characteristics and children’s kindergarten readiness. However, they tend to isolate unique effects of those characteristics that might be inherently interrelated. This is one of the first studies that explores the interrelations and patterns among multiple aspects of poverty, housing experiences, and neighborhood contexts and identifies distinct classes of early childhood hardships. Recognizing the cumulative effects, our study aims to characterize longitudinal profiles of early childhood hardships and examine whether these profiles are associated with children’s kindergarten readiness.
This study used a unique integrated data system that links individual-level administrative records and provides monthly address histories for all children entering public kindergarten in Cleveland, Ohio, between 2007 and 2010 (N=13,758). We used a three-step approach to examine our research question. First, a longitudinal latent class analysis was conducted on five binary measures of early hardships (household poverty, poor housing conditions, residential mobility, housing market distress events, and neighborhood concentrated disadvantage) from child birth to age 5 to identify underlying hardship patterns. Second, we used multinomial logistic regression models to examine whether the identified class memberships are predicted by baseline child and maternal characteristics. Finally, we conducted multiple regression analyses to examine the relationships between early hardship classes and children’s kindergarten readiness.
Based on the model fit statistics, including the Akaike’s Information Criteria (AIC) and Bayesian Information Criteria (BIC), longitudinal latent class analysis delineated five profiles of early childhood hardships: (1) little hardship (low risk for all domains; 7.8%), (2) high neighborhood disadvantage (11.8%), (3) high poverty and residential mobility (16.5%), (4) high poverty and neighborhood disadvantage (28.8%), and (5) high hardship (high risk for all domains; 35.1%). Multinomial logistic regression analysis found that children’s race/ethnicity, whether English is their first language, mothers’ education level, and teen motherhood significantly predicted children’s class memberships. Furthermore, multiple regression models showed that early childhood hardship classes were significantly associated with kindergarten readiness scores, adjusting for a wide range of child and family characteristics. Compared to class 5 (reference group), class 1 had 3.1 point, class 2 had 2.1 point, and class 3 had 0.9 point higher scores on Kindergarten Readiness Assessment in Literacy (KRA-L; range 0-29). These was no significant difference between Class 4 and 5 in KRA-L scores.
Conclusions and Implications
This study has identified underlying subgroups of children from low-income urban area with differing profiles of hardships across early childhood, which were predicted by child and maternal characteristics. In addition, early hardship classes were significantly associated with children’s kindergarten readiness, adjusting for baseline covariates. Our results highlight the heterogeneity of hardships in early childhood and suggest that housing interventions need to recognize the synergistic nature of low-income children’s poverty, housing, and neighborhood contexts to promote positive child development.