Abstract: Latent Classes and Longitudinal Patterns of Material Hardship As Predictors of Child Wellbeing (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Latent Classes and Longitudinal Patterns of Material Hardship As Predictors of Child Wellbeing

Thursday, January 12, 2023
South Mountain, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Margaret Thomas, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Jihyun Oh, MSW, PhD student, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Material hardship has emerged as a direct measure of deprivation in the United States and an important complement to income poverty, providing different evidence about the ways in which deprivation may affect wellbeing. This study addressed gaps in our very limited knowledge about the consequences of material hardship exposure for children’s wellbeing.

Methods: Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study, we examined five material hardship types (food, housing, medical, utility, and bill-paying) experienced at five timepoints over 15 years. Prior related work employing latent class analysis and latent transition analysis identified three cross-sectional classes of material hardship characterizing families’ experiences at each point in time, and six longitudinal patterns of material hardship experience, characterized by trajectories and relative severity of material hardship over time (Thomas, 2022). In this study, we used these measures and conducted a series of multivariate regression analyses examining material hardship as a predictor of child health status and internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Specifically, we employed linear regression and child fixed effects models to examine the association between cross-sectional classes of material hardship and child health status, internalizing behavior, and externalizing behavior. We assessed the association between longitudinal patterns of material hardship and child wellbeing outcomes using linear regression methods.

Results: Results from the linear regression models suggest both moderate and severe classes of material hardship had consistent, detrimental effects on child health status (effect size 3%-7% decrease) and internalizing and externalizing behavior outcomes compared to the effects of limited material hardship (effect sizes .10-.25 of a standard deviation (SD)). However, employing child fixed effects models attenuates differences between moderate and limited latent classes of material hardship while the significance of severe versus limited material hardship classes remains robust in the fixed effects models (5% decrease in health status, .10-.20 SD increase in behavior outcomes). Results of the linear regression models examining the relationship between longitudinal material hardship patterns and child wellbeing indicate that, compared to consistently limited material hardship, all five more intense material hardship patterns had a statistically significant, detrimental impact on both internalizing and externalizing behaviors (increases of .10-.45 SD). In contrast, only the two most severe material hardship patterns had significant and negative associations with child health status (8-9% decreases), and these associations did not hold with the inclusion of family public assistance participation, while all associations with child behavior outcomes were robust to that addition.

Conclusions: Results of this study expand our understanding of deprivation, considering need in all of its realistic complexity, as a multifaceted, time-varying experience. The study’s empirical contributions improve our understanding of economic wellbeing, extending the burgeoning material hardship literature base to include evidence on longitudinal experiences of hardship and identifying the deleterious effects of material hardship on child wellbeing. These findings serve to inform policy and practice approaches to effectively respond to, mitigate, and prevent the harmful consequences of material hardship for children and families.