Abstract: The Effects of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program on Children's Cognitive and Socio-Emotional Development (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

The Effects of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program on Children's Cognitive and Socio-Emotional Development

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Independence BR C, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Hong Stephanie, AM, graduate student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Purpose. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides nutritional and economic benefits to millions of low-income families with young children. As children are the largest group of SNAP recipients, it is important to evaluate SNAP’s effectiveness in improving child well-being. Yet there is to date few studies on the effect of participating in SNAP on children’s development. The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between SNAP participation and children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development among low-income families, and if this relationship is mediated by children’s nutritional intake. Drawing on previous research on the links between SNAP participation, children’s nutritional intake, and children’s development (Devaney, & Moffitt, 1991; Go´mez-Pinilla, 2008; Lee, & Mackey-Bilaver, 2007; Rose, Habicht, & Devaney, 1998; Strambi et al., 2006), I hypothesize that children who participate in SNAP will perform better in their development than those who do not participate in SNAP. I also hypothesize that the relationship between SNAP and child development is mediated by nutritional intake.

Methods. I use wave 3 and kindergarten-entry wave (created from wave 4 and wave 5) from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Birth Cohort (ECLS-B). The sample includes preschool to kindergarten-entry aged children from families whose average gross yearly income falls below 130 % of the federal poverty threshold in both waves. The dependent variables include: early reading skills; early math skills; and approaches to learning skills. I employ both OLS cross-sectional models and child fixed-effects models (the study’s primary empirical strategy) to assess the relationships between these outcomes and SNAP participation status and whether they are mediated by nutritional intake, controlling for various characteristics of household, household head, and child.

Results. Descriptive results show that children who participated in SNAP showed lower scores on early reading, math, and approaches to learning skills in both waves. This implies the importance of considering possible confounding variables to account for a selection bias problem. While the OLS cross-sectional models found mixed results, the child fixed-effects models, which do a better job of addressing endogeneity concerns, had much more consistent results with the study’s hypotheses. Although no significant results were found on early reading scores, participating in SNAP was significantly related to higher math scores by 0.21 standard deviation and was significantly, but marginally, related to higher approaches to learning skills by 0.15 standard deviation. Results also showed that SNAP participation was significantly related to better nutritional intake; however, there was not evidence of mediation.

Conclusion and Implications. Findings suggest that participating in SNAP program is associated with an improvement in preschool to kindergarten-entry aged children’s development, specifically in mathematics and approaches to learning domains. The author will discuss the policy implications of these results, such as the potential effect of SNAP on children’s academic achievement as we know from prior studies that early math and approaches to learning skills have a strong predictive power of academic achievement.