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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Among Disadvantaged Children, Education is Largely Unaffected by Divorce
By Jennie E. Brand, University of California, Los Angeles; Ravaris Moore, Loyola Marymount University; Xi Song, University of Pennsylvania; Yu Xie, Princeton University

Parental divorce is generally associated with unfavorable outcomes for children, particularly with regard to education. But not every divorce is equally harmful for the children it affects. Why is this? In a recent study, we found that parental divorce does lower educational attainment, but only for children whose parents are statistically unlikely to separate. For these children, divorce is an unexpected shock to an otherwise privileged childhood.

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Nutrition-Program Revisions Associated with Improved Maternal and Infant Health
By Rita Hamad, Daniel F. Collin, and Laura L. Jelliffe-Pawlowski (UC San Francisco), and Rebecca J. Baer (UC San Diego)

Mother baby poverty nutrition health welfare WIC

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) serves more than one-quarter of pregnant and postpartum women in the United States. In October 2009, the WIC food package underwent revisions to improve nutritional content. In a recent quasi-experimental study of more than two million California infants, we investigated the extent to which those revisions—which increased access to whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat milk—resulted in improvements in maternal and infant health.

Post Sign up for e-news Camelia Hostinar

Resilience Factors Improve Health Prospects for Disadvantaged Children
By Camelia Hostinar, UC Davis, and Gregory E. Miller, Northwestern University

Resilience poverty children USA

Economic hardship during childhood contributes to worse mental and physical health across the lifespan. Over the past decade, researchers have begun to highlight the behavioral and biological pathways that underlie these disparities, and to identify protective factors—supportive relationships, for example—that mitigate against their occurrence. In this brief, we summarize some of this recent research and the new challenges it presents. We also make suggestions to inform both policy and practice for youth experiencing economic hardship.


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.”