Much of the variation in adult income in the United States has to do with the family background a child has while growing up. One-third to one-half of children who are poor for a substantial part of their childhood will be poor as adults. The growing income inequality in the U.S. has been accompanied by a widening gap in school achievement between children living in high- vs. low-income families. Welfare participation is also substantially correlated across generations.
See below for more information on research projects and other resources related to this topic.
Much of the variation in adult income in the United States is related to family background during childhood. One-third to one-half of children who are poor for a substantial part of their childhood will be poor as adults. Welfare participation is also substantially correlated across generations. Widening income inequality in the U.S. has been accompanied by a widening achievement gap between children living in high- vs. low-income families.
Across the social sciences, our Faculty Affiliates are engaging in projects aimed at better understanding and isolating the causal relationships between parents’ socioeconomic status and their children’s eventual ability to escape poverty. Research Affiliates are also investigating how the stressors that many poor children face affect their emotional development and behaviors.
The idea that individuals can escape poverty through hard work is a fundamental tenant of American society. Intergenerational mobility is lower in the United States than in any other developed country in the world. One in ten American children spends at least half of their childhood in poverty. Understanding the mechanisms that lie behind the intergenerational transmission of poverty is necessary in order to design effective policies to improve poor children’s life chances.
In the classroom at Kit Carson Middle School in Sacramento, Michal Kurlaender sits at one of four small desks pushed to face each other. The walls are papered in yellow, red and bright blue, and wavy corrugated borders frame a flutter of papers under the banner “AMAZING.”
Kurlaender is interviewing a teacher as part of her evaluation of the school’s teacher development program to improve students’ college readiness skills. The sudden, grating buzz of the class bell startles everyone. Kurlaender smiles. “It’s nicer when it’s the music instead,” she says.
In his lab by the freeway in Davis, Ross Thompson, a developmental psychologist, pulls a plush monkey puppet onto each hand and stands behind a cardboard “stage.” A red curtain hangs across a cutout in the front.
“We would normally have animated voices and all the rest,” he says. “If you do this in a way that is within the child’s capabilities, you will find that they have a much richer sense of themselves psychologically than we give them credit for.”
These briefs are short and informative analyses of our research relating to poverty policies. Policy Briefs deliver our cutting-edge research directly to policy makers, researchers, and stakeholders in an accessible format.
Poor children in the United States are less healthy than other children, which may be a central factor in why poverty persists across generations. Research approaches that use variation in public programs let researchers disentangle the effects of a program itself from other factors. These approaches confirm the broad benefits of safety net programs that target children’s health and nutrition. They also suggest that access to these programs in early life improves children’s economic well-being as adults, which likely transmits to the next generation.
California’s Continuum of Care Reform Act (CCR) shifts foster care in the state toward placing children with families and more support for foster parents. We conducted a survey-based study to learn about who is most likely to be willing to serve as a resource family, the level of knowledge about foster care and potential motivations for fostering. We found that the strongest motivations among potential parents are to support foster youth and their biological parents rather than any emotional or financial benefits for themselves. Strong deterrents were financial strain and worries about being able to adequately care for them.
In the U.S., low-income immigrants are disproportionately excluded from social services. Even those who have gained formal access must often overcome informal institutional barriers. In a new study, I interviewed low-income Mexican immigrant mothers with limited English skills to understand these informal barriers in education and healthcare settings as they advocated on behalf of their children. The study suggests that mothers are most effective in a less bureaucratized setting and when staff recognize how deeply they care for and understand their children.
Center podcasts are a great way to keep up with today’s poverty research and public policy. We record most of our conference presentations and talks by our seminar speakers. We also produce exclusive content, such as our Poverty in Focus series, as well as expert discussions on research.
In this podcast, David Figlio and Michal Kurlaender discuss how inequality before a child is even born can compound across a lifetime, and the difference high-quality schools can make for low-income children.
In this podcast, Kathleen Short and Center Director Ann Stevens discuss the Supplemental Poverty Measure and other attempts to measure poverty throughout the nation. In November, 2014, Short visited the center to present the seminar “The Supplemental Poverty Measure for 2013: Latest Estimates and Research.”