Abstract: Cumulative Effects of Poverty on Children's Social-Emotional Outcomes (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

697P Cumulative Effects of Poverty on Children's Social-Emotional Outcomes

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kyunghee Lee, PhD, Associate Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Liangliang Zhang, PhD, Post Doctoral Fellow, University of Texas at Austin
Mayfield Jessica, BSW student, Michigan State University
 PURPOSE:  The average US poverty rate is 12.3%, which differs depending on race and age (under age 5, 22.5%; aged 5-17, 19.0%, and aged 18-20, 20.0%). School age students reporting depressive symptoms was 31% in 2017 (male 21% vs female 41%) with increased from 2015 (30%, male 20% vs female 40%). Recent study found that relative poverty has less significant adverse impact on children’s academic outcomes than absolute poverty. As an expansion of the previous study, the current study further examined this association for children’s socio-emotional outcomes: (1) Does the inverse association between cumulative poverty and socio-emotional outcomes increase/decrease as children become older? (2) Does this association differ depending on measurement of poverty: absolute vs relative? 

METHODS: The present study used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY 79). Absolute poverty was defined using poverty thresholds (threshold hold for a family size 4 in 2017 = $25,090). Relative poverty was defined based on half of Median household income (=$29,520).  Data on children’s social-emotional outcomes were collected based on children’s Behavioral Problem Index (BPI). All were measured repeatedly when they were 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12 years old (time). After data alignment according to child’s age and stepwise regression variable selection process, following variables were included in the Generalized linear Mixed Model (BPI Scores= intercept +child race + number of children + mothers education + mothers cognitive test scores + home parenting + child birth group + time*absolute poverty/relative poverty + random effect +random errors. Random effect =intercept + child birth group (child ID structure); Random errors = time(cid) (AR1 structure)


1.Relative poverty had a stronger effects for children’s social-emotional developments than absolute poverty; the gap between relatively poor and non-poor became bigger when they were older. In contrast, absolute poverty portrayed the opposite story; the gap reduced/maintained.

2.“birthgroup” - Children’s social-emotional problem scores are higher if they are born in an earlier periods (born in 80’s than born in 90’s).

3.”Estimates of Covariance Parameters” shows that compared with times 1 and 2, scores at times 3 and 4 have larger variances. It illustrates that with the development of children’s personality, individual differences in social-emotional development are bigger. The positive AR1 rho suggests that high scores at an earlier age is associated with higher scores when they are older.

  1. Compared to more than 5 children in a family, 1 to 4 children in a family had more social-emotional problems.
  2. Other variables such as higher maternal education, AFQT scores, and HOME parenting scores reduced children’s BPI scores. White children had higher BPI scores than Black and Hispanic children.

CONCLUSIONS/IMPLICATIONS:  We have to re-consider the definition of “poverty” to determine its impacts on children’s developmental outcomes. The poverty guidelines should consider current changes of household income (median income) and consider children’s age (more allocation for older children). Birth cohort difference suggests for the concepts of chronological differences in defining/identifying social-emotional problems.  Most importantly, different impacts of poverty between academic outcomes and social-emotional outcomes need to receive more attention.