Children & Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty


Children & the Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

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.


Research on Children & the Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

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.

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Marital Conflict Predicts Mother-to-Infant Adrenocortical Transmission
Leah Hibel (Affiliate in Human Ecology)

Do mothers’ biological responses to stress transfer to her child? This is a question addressed in a recently published study by Leah Hibel of UC Davis and Evelyn Mercado of UCLA. Though prior reports have shown that mothers help their children regulate distress through calming and soothing, there are few studies that examine the ways in which a mother facing stress might transmit stress to her child. This study shows that mothers transmit stress to their infants and that mothers’ emotions appear to play a role in this transmission. 


Children and the Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty: Research Frontiers and Policy Implications
By Marianne Page, Katherine Conger, Amanda Guyer, Paul Hastings and Ross Thompson

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. 


Policy Briefs on Children & the Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

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. 

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Pandemic-Related Stress Among Latina Mothers Linked to Greater Child Externalizing Behaviors
By Chase J. Boyer, Elisa Ugarte, Andrea C. Buhler-Wassmann and Leah C. Hibel, University of California, Davis

Systemic oppression renders the Latinx community particularly vulnerable to the economic and health risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, with psychological consequences for parents and their children. In a recent study, we sought to understand how financial cutbacks and fears of contracting COVID-19 contributed to children’s externalizing behaviors due to increases in maternal stress among low-income Latina mothers. Data were collected from mothers approximately once a month across the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mothers Experience Greater Food Insecurity When Children Age Out of WIC
By Marianne Bitler, UC Davis; Janet Currie, Princeton University; Hilary W. Hoynes, UC Berkeley; Krista J. Ruffini, Georgetown University; Lisa Schulkind, University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Barton Willage, University of Colorado Denver

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has been shown to improve birth outcomes. When they reach the age of five, however, children become ineligible to receive it. In a recent study, we examined, for both adults and children, the nutritional and laboratory outcomes of this age-related loss of eligibility. We found little impact on children who aged out of the program, but adult women experienced reduced caloric intake and increased food insecurity.

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Household Food Insecurity Associated with Decline in Attentional Focus of Young Children with Disabilities
By Kevin A. Gee, University of California, Davis

The potential ramifications of food insecurity for the development of children with disabilities are often overlooked in broader policy discussions, despite the fact that such ramifications are likely more significant for these children. In a recent study, I investigated how food insecurity relates to the behavioral outcomes of young school-aged children with disabilities across the first two years of their elementary education. Overall, I found that household food insecurity was related to a significant decline in children’s attentional focus.


Podcasts on Children & The Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

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.

Reducing Inequality through Education
Michal Kurlaender in conversation with David Figlio

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. 

Information Access and Student Achievement
Cassandra M.D. Hart in conversation with Peter Bergman

In this podcast, Peter Bergman and Cassandra M.D. Hart  discuss how access to timely, actionable information about how students are performing in school can help parents keep their kids on track. 

Poverty Measurement
Kathleen Short in Conversation with Center Director Ann Stevens

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.”