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.

Post Leah Hibel

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. 

Safety-Net Programs Underused by Eligible Hispanic Families
By Marianne Bitler, UC Davis, and Lisa A. Gennetian, Christina Gibson-Davis, and Marcos A. Rangel, Duke University

Historically, Hispanic families have used means-tested assistance less than high-poverty peers, with anti-immigrant politics and policies potentially acting as a barrier. In a recent study, we documented the participation of Hispanic children in three anti-poverty programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). We compared across age and parental citizenship, and also explored the correlation of participation with state immigrant-based restrictions.

Poverty Associated with Stress Among California Adolescents of Mexican Origin
By Lisa E. Johnson, UC Davis; Luis A. Parra, Washington University in Saint Louis; Elisa Ugarte, UC Davis; David G. Weissman, Harvard University; Sasha G. Han, St. Bonaventure University; and Richard W. Robins, Amanda E. Guyer, Paul D. Hastings, UC Davis

Poverty is a chronic stressor, associated with disruptions in adolescent development. To illuminate those disruptions, we examined associations of chronic poverty and income changes experienced from pre- to mid-adolescence with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis stress responses in late adolescence.

DACA Associated with Improved Birth Outcomes Among Mexican-Immigrant Mothers
By Erin R. Hamilton, Paola D. Langer, and Caitlin Patler, University of California, Davis

The 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program granted work authorization and protection from deportation to more than 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who arrived to the United States as minors. In a recent study, we investigated the association between this expansion of legal rights and birth outcomes among 72,613 singleton births to high school-educated Mexican-immigrant women in the United States from June 2010 to May 2014 using birth records data from the National Center for Health Statistics.


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.”