Childhood and Intergenerational Poverty: The Long-Term Consequences of Growing Up Poor

Wagmiller, Robert Lee; Adelman, Robert M.

Children growing up in low-income families face many challenges that children from more advantaged families do not. These children are more likely to experience multiple family transitions, move frequently, and change schools. The schools they attend are less well funded, and the neighborhoods they live in are more disadvantaged. The parents of these children have fewer resources to invest in them and, as a consequence, their homes have fewer cognitively-stimulating materials, and their parents invest less in their education. The stress of living in poverty and struggling to meet daily needs can also impair parenting. Social and economic deprivation during childhood and adolescence can have a lasting effect on individuals, making it difficult for children who grow up in low-income families to escape poverty when they become adults. Because the negative effects of deprivation on human development tend to cumulate, individuals with greater exposure to poverty during childhood are likely to have more difficulty escaping poverty as adults. In this research brief, we examine patterns of exposure to poverty during childhood and the association between these patterns and poverty in early and middle adulthood. Data for this study come from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), which collects information on the social and economic status of PSID families and their offspring every year. We find that individuals who grow up in poor families are much more likely to be poor in early adulthood. Moreover, the chances of being poor in early adulthood increase sharply as the time spent living in poverty during childhood increases. At all levels of poverty during childhood, African-Americans are more likely than whites to be poor in early and middle adulthood.


More About This Work

Academic Units
National Center for Children in Poverty
National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University
Published Here
June 7, 2010