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. 

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Developmental Impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic Greatest Among Low-Income and Minority Youth
By Camelia E. Hostinar, UC Davis, and Gabriel Velez, Marquette University

Economic recession, societal disruption, and nearly seven million lost lives: the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a global public health crisis with significant consequences for the social, physical, and psychological development of young people.

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Early Interventions May Boost Academic Skills Among Disadvantaged Children
By Daniel Ewon Choe and Santiago Barreda, UC Davis; Chardée A. Galán, Penn State; Frances Gardner, U. of Oxford; Melvin N. Wilson, U. of Virginia; Thomas J. Dishion, Arizona State; and Daniel S. Shaw, U. of Pittsburgh

In a recent study, we examined academic skills among children from low-income families. Specifically, we tested whether these skills were predicted by various factors including neighborhood cohesion, positive mother–child engagement, child self-regulation in early childhood, and the Family Check-Up (FCU) intervention. We found that higher positive mother–child engagement and child self-regulation predicted higher academic skills at school entry.


Educational Inequities Related to Race and Socioeconomic Status Deepened by the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Kevin A. Gee, Vigdis Asmundson and Tseng Vang, University of California, Davis

The COVID-19 pandemic caused reverberations throughout the educational system that disproportionately impacted students of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. We examined the latest research documenting the disparate educational impacts of the pandemic across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic status groups—impacts that deepened existing educational inequities in the U.S. Underlying these disparities were numerous systemic barriers, including disproportionate access to in-person learning and technology alongside the intensification of racial discrimination.


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.”