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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development 10 Family Resources The previous chapter illustrated the many ways in which young children 's relationships with their care-givers at home influence the course of their development. A central message was that parenting and its consequences always occur in a context larger than the family unit. In this chapter and the next two, we examine these contexts, looking first at the socioeconomic resources available in children's families and then at the child care and community settings in which children grow up. Questions about the developmental consequences of parental education, family income, parental work and occupational status, and family structure—the indicators of family socioeconomic resources —have long occupied the attention of scientists. They have also been an enduring focal point of policy making on behalf of children and families, starting with the War on Poverty in the 1960s and leading up to present-day welfare reforms. Today, this work is undergoing a transition from asking whether family resources affect child development to asking why research shows so consistently that they do. This shift in emphasis is described in this chapter, starting with the evidence linking family resources to developmental outcomes and then summarizing what has been learned about the mechanisms that account for the links. New in this research is an emphasis on the dynamic nature of resources —including changes in family income and employment and movements in and out of poverty—as well as the differential impact of poverty depending on the child's age. Questions are now being asked, as well, about how much improvement in income or parental educa-
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development tion is needed in order to produce measurable improvements in children 's developmental outcomes. Finally, with welfare reform has come a growing interest in the families of the working poor. This vast natural experiment has also created new opportunities to learn about how various approaches to increasing work and income among families living in poverty affect both child and adult outcomes of paramount interest to the nation. Increasingly, research addressing questions about how resources change over time and their impact on children's development is relying on longitudinal data and experimental designs. DO RESOURCES MATTER FOR CHILDREN'S DEVELOPMENT? Understanding how different family resources affect young children 's lives necessitates distinguishing among them; connecting them to such resources as money, time, and access to the learning opportunities that they represent; and identifying the different pathways through which these resources might influence young children's development. Taking poverty as an example, it is important to know how it manifests itself in young children's lives, how it affects the extent to which their basic needs are met, and through what processes it promotes or undermines their capacity to accomplish the basic developmental tasks outlined in the previous chapters of this report. It would be surprising if the odds of healthy, adaptive development did not differ for children growing up in families with ample, compared with impoverished, resources. Families who occupy different socioeconomic niches because of parental education, income, and occupation have strikingly different capacities to purchase safe housing, nutritious meals, high-quality child care, and other opportunities that can foster health, learning, and adaptation (Becker, 1981; Brooks-Gunn et al., 1995). A two-parent family with one highly paid wage earner who makes it possible for the other parent to stay at home with the children is in an entirely different situation from a single parent with a poverty-level wage, for example (Becker and Lewis, 1973; Mason and Kuhlthau, 1992; Timmer et al., 1985). How the trade-offs that families make among employment, cash income, and child care time affect young children is a controversial and poorly understood question. The psychological well-being of mothers and associated patterns of parenting are also much more likely to suffer in families with limited resources (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, 1997). Research has focused increasingly on connections among family resources, psychological aspects of family functioning, and child well-being (McLoyd, 1998). Finally, there is growing interest in how families' access to different social resources, such
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development as relatives, supportive friends and neighbors, and community organizations (churches, family resource centers, safe recreational settings), affects parenting and child development (Coleman, 1985; Edin and Lein, 1997; Jarrett and Burton, 1999; Jencks and Mayer, 1990; Sampson, 1992; Yoshikawa, 1999). We reserve discussion of resources outside the family for Chapter 12. In this section, we describe what is known about the extent to which parental employment, income and poverty, parental schooling, and family structure affect the developing child. We couch the discussion in the context of trends that have altered, in many instances dramatically, the socioeconomic landscape of young children in the United States. We close our discussion of connections between socioeconomic resources and child development by addressing the challenges raised by behavioral geneticists (e.g., Rowe and Rodgers, 1997), who argue that genetic factors are at the heart of associations between family resources and child outcomes. In the final section, we review evidence on the various ways in which socioeconomic resources affect young children 's development. Work and Children's Development Maternal and paternal employment play a powerful role in determining the time and money that families devote to their children. Long-standing concerns about the developmental impacts of fathers' unemployment and mothers' employment have now been supplemented by research focusing on the developmental consequences of how parents configure their work, the circumstances of parental work, and the increasing decoupling of work and economic security, illustrated by the growth in working-poor families. Increases in paid maternal employment over the past quarter-century are one of the most dramatic—and best-known—social trends. Between 1975 and 1999, the proportion of children under 6 years of age with mothers in the labor force increased from 38.8 percent to 61.1 percent—a 36 percent increase (Figure 10-1).1 The proportion of young children with mothers working full-time and year-round nearly tripled, from 11 to 30 percent. The increase in maternal employment (including both full- and part-time workers) over this 24 year period was most rapid for infants, rising from 24 to 54 percent, compared with older children. The proportion of young children with a mother working part time changed relatively little (ranging between 36 and 40 percent) over that period. A much larger share of young Hispanic (48 percent) than white (29 percent) or black (26 percent) children lived with mothers who did not work for pay in 1997. 1 These data are based on all young children who are living with their mothers.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development FIGURE 10-1 Trends in the proportion of mothers in the labor force, by age of child, 1975-1999. NOTES: Since 1975 data for mothers with children under 1 year of age are not available, the data for this column are from the June 1977 Current Population Survey. CPS was redesigned in 1994, so data in this table for 1999 are not strictly comparable with the data shown for 1975 and 1977. SOURCES: Data from 1999 Current Population Survey (annual averages), available online at www.bls.gov/news.release/famee.t05.htm and www.bls.gov/news. release/famee.t06.htm; Hayghe (1997); U.S. Bureau of the Census (1982). Parental employment often, but not always, entails supplementing parental care with substantial amounts of care by others, and herein lies many of today's concerns about its effects on very young children, as we discuss in Chapter 11. While employment may increase the cash income of families, work-related expenses may increase as well, leaving them with a differing composition of time and money, but not necessarily greater resources overall.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development Employment, of course, can take many different forms. Some parents work full-time, full-year in low-wage jobs that fail to lift their families out of poverty. In other cases, work is intermittent, or multiple low-wage jobs are held by multiple family members, including older children, who all contribute to family income. As we discuss in the chapter on child care, it is not unusual for parents to organize their work hours so that they can keep child care within the family, particularly during infancy. Even among mothers who have received public assistance, a recent analysis found that over a 24-month period, 43 percent either combined work and welfare receipt or cycled between the two, and another 23 percent were not employed but spent substantial time looking for work (Spalter-Roth et al., 1995). What do employment trends mean for young children? Research on maternal employment has been based primarily on middle-income families (Gottfried and Gottfried, 1988; Hoffman, 1989) and has been inconclusive. Most of the evidence indicates that children are either positively affected or unaffected by growing up in a family with an employed mother. Evidence is accumulating,2 however, that suggests that maternal employment in the child's first year, especially if mothers work long hours, can indeed be a negative factor for infant development (Baydar and Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Belsky and Eggebeen, 1991; Ruhm, 2000; Desai et al., 1989; Vandell and Corasaniti, 1988; Han et al., 2000; Waldfogel et al., 2000). Efforts to determine which infants are most affected have been inconclusive, but the negative findings emerge more often for those in two-parent and middleincome families than for those with fewer family resources. Interestingly, one report (Ruhm, 2000) hinted at similar effects of paternal and maternal employment, suggesting the importance of time investments by fathers as well as by mothers. How strong these negative effects are can, of course, be affected by the quality of the alternative care that the child experiences in the mother's absence (see next chapter) Research on the children of working-poor parents is just beginning to emerge, despite the fact that this is one of the fastest growing groups of children in the United States. In 1996, about 5 million children lived in a working-poor family, defined as a family with an income below the poverty line and two parents who work the equivalent of a full-time job or a single 2 Much of the evidence is based on analyses of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) The NLSY is a national sample of 12,686 youth who were 14 to 22 years of age when first interviewed in 1979. Beginning in 1986 and every 2 years since, developmental measures were administered to children of civilian mothers in the NLSY (4,971 children of 2,922 mothers in 1986). See Chase-Lansdale et al. (1991) for a fuller description. The survey does not include measures of child care quality.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development parent who works at least 20 hours per week (Wertheimer, 1999). Over half of children in poor, married-couple families and 30 percent of poor children in single-mother families have parents who work these substantial hours. Both Hispanic and black families are more likely than white families to be poor, despite the presence of working adults. The few studies that have focused on maternal employment among low-income children suggest that they are not hurt by and may benefit from maternal employment, particularly with regard to cognitive outcomes (Alessandri, 1992; Hoffman et al., 1999; Moore and Driscoll, 1997; Vandell and Ramanan, 1992). In fact, there appears to be a more consistent advantage of maternal employment for children in working class than in middle class families (Desai et al., 1989; Gold and Andres, 1978; Hoffman, 1979; Zaslow, 1987), perhaps as a result of its positive effects on the mother's sense of well-being, the father's involvement in child-care activities, and the quality of parenting (Hoffman et al., 1999). The limited evidence that is available suggests that infants and toddlers fare better in working-poor families than in poor families in which the parents do not work or work minimally (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1999b). Yet those in working families that are not living in poverty do substantially better than either group of children living in poverty. The children 's better adjustment is seen on measures of cognitive, language, and social development. This pattern of child outcomes is, however, largely attributable to differences across these three groups of families in demographic characteristics (e.g., mothers' education, family size), mothers' depression and social support, and parenting quality and attitudes. New evidence from experimental studies of welfare reform (discussed below) are beginning to expand understanding of how parents' transition to work—often substantial hours of work—affects young children living in poverty. The corresponding literature on how fathers' loss of work and unemployment affect children has emphasized the influence of these circumstances on harmful family dynamics. Unemployment increases financial strain, which in turn may compromise parent-child relationships by creating tension and hostility as well as reducing warmth and supportiveness in the home. These adverse home environments have been found to have negative consequences for children's development in the short and long term (Conger and Elder Jr., 1994; McLoyd, 1989; Tomblin et al., 1997). Investigators have also explored to what extent the circumstances and features of work, such as the flexibility of one's work hours, the extent of control over the day-to-day nature of work and the absence of repetitious and boring tasks or the presence of challenging tasks, account for the effects of maternal employment on children (Alessandri, 1992; Greenberger and O'Neil, 1991; Howes et al., 1995a; Jencks et al., 1988; Menaghan and
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development Parcel, 1995; Parcel and Menaghan, 1994; Parke and Buriel, 1998). Research has linked these features of work to parental cognitive skills, such as intellectual flexibility, and other personal characteristics, such as self-direction (Kohn and Schooler, 1973), and more recently to children's cognitive achievement and social behavior (Parcel and Menaghan, 1994). In one longitudinal analysis, for example, single mothers' entry into low-complexity, low-wage jobs was associated with declines in the quality of the home environment (Menaghan and Parcel, 1995). This evidence is cause for concern when juxtaposed with projections that the second highest rate of job growth over the next decade will occur in the service economy. These jobs often entail very low wages, few benefits, little autonomy, and non-standard hours (e.g., shift work). They are also disproportionately filled by less-well-educated women who now constitute a sizeable group of mothers who are entering the labor force as a result of welfare reform. In 1994, close to half (41 percent) of children under age 5 whose mothers were employed had mothers whose principal job involved a “nonday” work shift (defined as the majority of work hours being outside the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. time period). Young children living in poverty are much more likely to have a mother who works a nonday shift (59 percent of children) compared with young children living above the poverty line (39 percent of children) (Presser and Cox, 1997). We know very little about the developmental implications of shift work. One recent study has reported an association between shift work and marital instability, with the odds of separation or divorce three to six times higher among mothers and fathers who are engaged in shift work, compared with otherwise similar parents not engaged in shift work (Presser, 2000). These findings did not appear to be attributable to spouses in more troubled marriages electing to move into shift work. This is, however, an isolated study that needs to be replicated, particularly in light of the fact that many parents are motivated to engage in shift work as a way of keeping child care within the family. In sum, the familiar trends in parental employment can bode well or ill for young children depending on features of the work, the income it generates, the nature and structure of the job, its timing and total hours—and, as we see in Chapter 11, on the environments and relationships that children experience when they are not in the care of their parents. Of concern is the fact that the growth in parental employment appears to be in precisely those circumstances that have been found to pose risks to early development. It is thus critically important to recognize that the characteristics and experiences of working families have changed substantially over the past 25 years. It is especially troubling that young children whose parents are making considerable work efforts are more likely today than in the recent past to be living in poverty.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development TABLE 10-1 Risk of Adverse Child Outcomes and Environmental Conditions Associated with Poverty Status Child Outcomes Risk for Poor Relative to Nonpoor Children Lead poisoning 3.5a Birth to unmarried teenager 3.1b Short-stay hospital episode 2.0c Grade repetition and high school dropout 2.0c Low birth weight 1.7d Mortality 1.7d Learning disability 1.4c Parent report of emotional or behavior problem that lasted 3 months or more 1.3e SES Mediators Child abuse and neglect 6.8f Depression 2.3g Experiencing violent crimes 2.2h Substance abuse 1.9i a Data from NHANES III, 1988-1991 (Brody et al., 1994). Poor children living in families with incomes less than 130 percent of the poverty threshold are classified as poor. All other children are classified as nonpoor. b Data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) Based on 1,705 children ages 0-6 in 1968; outcomes measured at ages 21 to 27 (Haveman and Wolfe, 1994, p. 108, Table 4.10c). c Data from the 1988 National Health Interview Survey Child Health Supplement (NHIS-CHS), a nationwide household survey. The household member who knew the most about the sample child's health, usually the child's mother, reported children's health status. Figures calculated from Coiro et al. (1994) and Dawson (1991). d Data from the National Maternal and Infant Health survey collected in 1989 and 1990, with 1988 as the reference period. Percentages were calculated from the number of deaths and number of low-birthweight births per 1,000 live births as reported in Federman et al. (1996, p. 10). e Data from the National Health Interview Survey Child Health Supplement (NHIS-CHS). The question was meant to identify children with common psychological disorders, such as attention deficit disorder or depression, as well as severe problems, such as autism. f Data from Children's Defense Fund (1994, p. 87, Tables 5-6). Poor families are those with annual incomes below $15,000. g Data from a New Haven Epidemiological Catchment Area in 1980 (Bruce et al., 1991). Poverty status was determined by comparing respondent 's 1980 income to the 1980 poverty threshold. Odds ratio of having depressive episode in six months after first interview. Depressive episode was diagnosed by the DIS. The odds ratio was corrected for age, sex, race, and previous history of depression. h Data from the National Crime Victimization Interview Survey. Results are for households or persons living in households. Data were collected between January 1992 and June 1993 with 1992 as the reference period. Percentages are calculated from the crimes per 1,000 people per year. Reported in Federman et al. (1996, p. 9). i Data from the National Comorbidity Survey 1990-1992 (Kessler et al., 1994). Parental sample was restricted to respondents between age 15 and 54. Substance abuse included both alcohol and drug abuse or dependence in the past 12 months, as diagnosed by the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Poor respondents were those with incomes of less than $20,000 compared with those with $70,000 or more.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development Poverty and Children's Development One of the most consistent associations in developmental science is between economic hardship and compromised child development. The influence of family income, and specifically of poverty, has been of special interest in light of the numerous policies that address poverty in the United States and the intractability of—indeed, the increase in—the child poverty rate.3 In 1997, some 5.2 million young children (22 percent of all young children) in the United States were poor, and 42 percent lived at or below 185 percent of the poverty line.4 The strength and consistency of associations between poverty and critical aspects of child development are striking (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, 1997) (Table 10-1). Developmental research on children in poverty has grown exponentially in recent years (see Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, 1997; Chase-Lansdale and Brooks-Gunn, 1995; Huston, 1991; Huston et al., 1994; McLoyd, 1998). This research has yielded suggestive evidence that increasing the incomes of low-income parents with young children will improve the odds of successful early development. What remains to be understood is the nature of the impact and optimal strategies for increasing the incomes of poor parents that best promote their children's development. Even though most children living in poverty grow up to be productive adults, some do not and, without intervention, individual differences among children at school entry that are linked to poverty often persist over time (Stipek, in press). When this evidence is combined with the basic facts about early 3 This “official” poverty count is based on a Census Bureau comparison of total family income with a poverty threshold that varies by family size. Expressed in 1997 dollars, the respective poverty thresholds for families with three and four persons were roughly $13,000 and $16,500. Young children living in families with total cash incomes below these thresholds were counted as poor. 4 Children in families with incomes between 100 and 185 percent of the federal poverty line are designated near poor because they are served by a number of government assistance programs that use 185 percent of the poverty line as the upper limit to determine eligibility.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development FIGURE 10-2 Poverty rates by age, 1975-1997. SOURCE: Bennett et al. (1999). Reprinted with permission. childhood poverty, there is considerable cause for concern: (1) young children are now the poorest age group in U.S. society (see Figure 10-2); (2) poverty is considerably more prevalent among children now than 25 years ago,5 despite an unprecedented period of macroeconomic prosperity and substantially higher rates of parental employment; (3) poverty has increased much more for minority than nonminority children; and (4) children living in poverty are falling farther behind their more affluent peers. The United States now has both more poor and more affluent children than it did 25 years ago, creating a widening disparity between the haves and have nots among young children. Our country also has more poor and more affluent children than most other Western countries (Table 10-2). Assessing the developmental consequences of poverty and of differing family incomes more generally is not as straightforward as one might think. Contrary to popular belief, and in contrast to most other measures of socioeconomic status, family income is often quite volatile across a family's life cycle and, in particular, a child's childhood (Duncan et al., 1998a). For example, only half of children and families who are poor in a given year are 5 As discouraging as these poverty figures are, they would have been worse had it not been for certain changes in government taxes and transfer programs. In 1997, taking into account the effects of all taxes, tax credits (including the earned income tax credit), means-tested income transfers, and non-means-tested income transfers reduces the poverty rate for families with young children by about 9 percentage points, to leave 14 percent living in poverty.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development TABLE 10-2 Poverty and Affluence Among Young (Under 6 Years of Age) Children in 16 Countries Nation Percent Poor Percent Affluent Year United States 26.0 6.0 1997 United Kingdom 24.2 6.6 1995 Italy 19.2 4.6 1995 Canada 17.4 2.8 1994 Germany 12.4 2.8 1994 Israel 11.7 6.2 1992 Spain 11.6 8.3 1990 Netherlands 8.6 1.3 1994 France 8.0 4.7 1994 Finland 7.7 1.7 1995 Belgium 6.4 1.7 1992 Austria 5.9 0.7 1987 Denmark 5.6 1.3 1992 Norway 5.3 1.3 1995 Sweden 3.7 1.0 1995 Luxembourg 3.0 3.6 1994 NOTE: “Poor” is defined as family-size-adjusted income less than 50 percent of country median income. “Affluent” is defined as family-size-adjusted income greater than 200 percent of country median income. Equivalence scale is the square root of family size. SOURCE: Calculations by Lee Rainwater based on data from the LuxembourgIncome Study. persistently poor (Duncan et al., 1994). On average, family incomes increase as children age, but average patterns conceal a great deal of year-to-year volatility, making it important to consider how economic resources at different points during the childhood years affect development. The malleability of young children's development and the overwhelming importance of the family (rather than school or peer) context suggest that economic conditions in early childhood may be far more important for shaping children's ability, behavior, and achievement than conditions later in childhood. Efforts to understand the developmental effects of poverty have relied on both experimental and nonexperimental studies. Experimental designs involving manipulation of family incomes are extremely rare. In four income maintenance experiments in the 1960s and 1970s, experimental treatment families received a guaranteed minimum income. Impacts on pre-school children, however, were not assessed. School performance and attendance were affected positively in some sites for school-age children, but not for high school adolescents. In two sites reporting high school completion and advanced education, these were higher for the experimental
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development family resource differences derive primarily from parents' genetic endowments (e.g., cognitive, mental health) as behavioral geneticists argue (see, for example, Rowe, 1994), then any putative effects of resources on children's development could in fact derive from genetic endowments rather than from any of the features of families that we have just discussed. This in turn would render policy efforts aimed at these features either moot or exceedingly difficult. There is little doubt that genetic influences need to be added to the long list of potentially important factors that deserve attention in studies that assess the effects of family resources on children 's development. The issue is how to ask the pertinent questions and how to explore them in research. Two kinds of evidence suggest that, even net of genetic endowments, family resources have important impacts on child development. These studies have used measures of family socioeconomic status (SES) (i.e., parental education and occupational status, income, family structure, and other measures of the family environment) to capture family resources. The first study compares the importance of socioeconomic factors on children's achievement before and after statistical adjustments for parental genetic endowments. Phillips et al. (1998) used data from a nationally representative sample of mothers (the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth) to do exactly this. Specifically, they adjusted for what they called the “mother's cognitive genotype index” using her score on the battery of Armed Forces Qualifying Tests (numerical operations, arithmetic and math knowledge, paragraph comprehension), her class rank in high school, and the interviewer's assessment of the mother's understanding of the interview when assessing the association between socioeconomic status and children 's achievement. They found that genetic factors accounted for only about one-quarter of the SES-achievement association. Although far from trivial, this finding suggests that maternal cognitive endowments do not account for most of the socioeconomic contributions to children 's achievement. The second approach compares the association of socioeconomic status to child outcomes between children raised by biological and adoptive parents. If this association is due primarily to genetic factors, then the correlation between child outcomes and the SES of adopted (and thus genetically unrelated) parents should be much lower than the correlation between child outcomes and the SES of their biological parents. Loehlin, Horn, and Willerman (1989) found that the correlation between SES and child IQ for their sample of adopted children was only 18 percent less than the correlation for biological children. Scarr and Weinberg (1976) found similar patterns in their sample of black adopted and biological children. The magnitude of these reductions are in line with those found in the direct approach of Phillips et al. (1998), and also suggests that SES impacts on childhood IQ cannot be attributed primarily to genetic factors.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development An even more dramatic illustration of the role of parent SES is provided by a recent study of children adopted between 4 and 6 years of age into families that varied widely in socioeconomic status (Duyme et al., 1999). This study directly addresses the question of the extent to which the environment, defined by the SES (father's occupation) of adoptive families, can alter the cognitive development of children who tested in the very low range (IQs between 60 and 86) prior to adoption. The results are compelling. All children, whether adopted by low-, middle-, or high-SES families, had higher IQs after adoption. But more to the point, the children adopted by higherSES families had significantly larger gains in IQ than did children adopted into lower-SES families (see Figure 10-4). Because the children and their adoptive parents are genetically unrelated, these SES effects carry no genetic influence. A very different line of reasoning leads many behavioral geneticists to doubt that family socioeconomic status matters for children's development. Key here are the striking similarities in the abilities and personalities of twins and other siblings reared apart from one another. Indeed, these similarities are almost as large as those found for siblings who grow up together and, in the language of the behavioral geneticists, share the same environment (see Chapter 2). By behavioral geneticists' accounting, children's “shared environments” account for very little (almost always less than 10 percent, usually less than 5 percent) of the variability of ability and personality found in the population (Bouchard et al., 1990). Some have concluded from this evidence that the developmental consequences of per- FIGURE 10-4 Mean differences in IQ by SES of adoptive family. SOURCE: Duyme et al. (1999).
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development sistent family environmental influences, such as socioeconomic status and parenting, are remarkably small. Scarr (1992), for example, argues that family environments in the “normal developmental range” have little or no effect on children 's development. Harris (1995, 1998) relies, in part, on this evidence to argue that “parents don't matter.” Problematic in this reasoning is that socioeconomic status is not a permanent family characteristic shared by siblings. There is abundant evidence that the nature and effects of family socioeconomic influences vary sufficiently across time and among children to suggest that they are more properly conceived as belonging to the “nonshared” than the “shared” environmental category. Specifically, longitudinal studies based on nationally representative data have shown that family income is quite volatile (Duncan, 1988) and that siblings several years apart in age often experience quite different childhood incomes (Duncan and Raudenbush, 1999). Few children who live in single-parent families do so for their entire childhood (Duncan and Rodgers, 1998). This leads to the possibility that the effects on child development of economic conditions and single-parent family structure, for example, may depend on the stage of childhood in which they are experienced. In fact, a study of the completed schooling of siblings in a national sample found that differences in family income specific to stages of childhood accounted for approximately 17 percent of the variation in differences in completed schooling (Teachman et al., under review). Thus, socioeconomic status contributes importantly to both the shared and non-shared environments of children, and one cannot use evidence on the unimportance of siblings' shared environments to argue that socioeconomic status does not matter for children's development. In sum, the review of current thinking about genetic influences presented in Chapter 2 reminds us of the importance of understanding the interplay between genetic and environmental influences over the course of development. This discussion of genetics and family resources counters more extreme portrayals of socioeconomic status as primarily reflecting genetic influences on development. At the same time, by revealing that environmental influences tell only part of the SES story, the evidence also reminds us that genetic influences warrant greater attention in studies that assess the effects of both shared and nonshared family resources on child development. INFLUENCES ON YOUNG CHILDREN'S DEVELOPMENT The processes by which family resources matter for children's well-being have been difficult to elucidate (Belsky et al., 1986; Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, 1997). In this section, we summarize evidence on three pathways by which they may affect children's development. The first focuses on the
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development parent's own mental health. The second involves parental beliefs about childrearing. The third focuses not on parents directly, but rather on the home environments they create for their children. Although we discuss these pathways separately, it is likely that they interact and accumulate within families in disparate ways. Moreover, the processes we describe presume that parents and parental environments affect children, but not vice versa. However, as we have discussed throughout this report, children actively shape both their personal relationships and their environments more broadly (Bell, 1968, 1974; Sameroff and Fiese, 1990). Thus, some of the apparent associations between parental factors and children's development undoubtedly reflect the pervasive and reciprocal ways in which children and parents affect each other. Parent Psychological Distress One way in which families' economic resources may shape children's lives is through their impact on parents' mental health. Low-income parents are at greater risk for depression and other forms of psychological distress, such as low self-worth and negative beliefs about control (see bottom panel of Table 10-1; Gazmararian et al., 1995; Pearlin and Schooler, 1978; Rosenberg and Pearlin, 1978). Over 40 percent of the poor women in two large samples participating in work and training programs, for example, scored at or above the cutoff for clinically significant depressive symptoms (Quint et al., 1997; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995). Nationally representative estimates of mental health problems indicate that approximately 10 percent of poor and less-educated people in the United States have current major depressive episodes —twice the rate of others who are more advantaged (Blazer et al., 1994). The psychological cost of economic hardship is compellingly portrayed by ethnographic work with poor families. Based on hundreds of interviews with low-income welfare recipients and working single mothers living in three cities, Edin and Lein (1997) describe their constant struggles to provide food, housing, and other necessities, as well as to keep their children out of danger. Despite ongoing hardship, most of the mothers in the study adapted to their situations. They budgeted carefully and spent considerable time and energy making money in alternative ways. Despite their efforts, however, arrangements for child care, housing, and medical care were often precarious. Any one of a number of events, such as a family or extended-family illness, could cause major disruptions to their employment and family lives. The chronic and pervasive stress that Edin and Lein document suggests important potential links among economic hardship, mental health, and parenting. Psychological distress is more prevalent among low-income popula-
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development tions because they experience more negative life events and have fewer resources with which to cope with adverse life experiences (Kessler and Cleary, 1980; McLeod and Kessler, 1990). In addition, Kessler (1982) demonstrated that low levels of education, income, and occupational status each make independent contributions to the variation seen in maternal psychological distress. While all socioeconomic dimensions may play a role, most developmental research has emphasized the effects of economic hardship on parents' mental health (McLoyd, 1997). The connection between economic hardship and mental health is important because, as discussed in Chapter 9, poor mental health is related to harsh, inconsistent, and detached parenting. Research in this field has emphasized the associations among economic decline, economic strain, parental psychological well-being, and children's outcomes (e.g., McLoyd, 1997). For example, in the case of depression, mothers' responses to the needs of their children tend to be less consistent and positive. Consequently, research on low-income families has explored whether depressive parenting patterns, or elements of these patterns, account for the relationship between economic hardship and children's maladjustment. These associations are often dependent on the age and gender of the children and, as with each aspect of socioeconomic status, they account for only part of the association between poverty and child well-being (McLeod and Shanahan, 1993; Watson et al., 1996). The work of Elder and colleagues (Elder, 1979; Elder et al., 1984, 1985) on children of the Great Depression found strong associations among economic hardship, parental psychological well-being, and children 's well-being in intact families. Fathers who experienced job loss and economic deprivation were more distressed psychologically and prone to explosive, rejecting, and punitive parenting. Preschool-age children in these families, especially boys, were more likely to exhibit problem behaviors, while adolescent girls were more likely to have lower feelings of self-adequacy and to be less goal-oriented. Adolescent boys fared better than either adolescent girls or younger children. Elder and colleagues (1985) speculated that the gender and age differences reflected different experiences in families during the deprived times. During this time of economic hardship, adolescent boys sought economic opportunities outside the home, which reduced the time they spent with their families, gave them a useful role to play, and may have reduced the amount of negative family interactions they experienced. Younger children and adolescent girls did not have the same access to buffers provided by extrafamilial activities. In more recent applications of Elder's framework, similar processes have been found to operate in Midwestern farm families experiencing economic decline (Conger et al., 1992, 1994) and single-parent black families that experience chronic economic strain (McLoyd et al., 1994). These
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development studies confirmed the cluster of economic insecurity and decline, poor parental mental health, punitive and less involved parenting, and poor adolescent outcomes. But there are important exceptions. Among the farm families and children, some became more involved in social institutions, such as schools and churches, and the adolescents ' resilience had much to do with their connections to these social influences (Elder Jr. and Conger, 2000). Two studies have focused on young children. In one, reduced financial resources among black, rural, single-parent families were associated with lower maternal self-esteem, and lower self-esteem was associated with deterioration in family routines and the quality of mother-child interactions (Brody and Flor, 1997). These family processes were related to 6- to 9-year-olds' self-regulation, which in turn was associated with both academic and behavioral problems. A second study (Harnish et al., 1995) of ethnically diverse low-income children entering first grade found that the quality of mother-child interaction partially accounted for the effects of socioeconomic status and maternal depressive symptomatology on children's externalizing behavior. Substance abuse constitutes another risk factor associated with decreased mental health and economic hardship among parents (Table 10-1). Research on children of substance-abusing parents has focused largely on drug exposure during pregnancy and children's subsequent developmental outcomes (Harden, 1998; Mayes, 1995; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999c). Since the effects of drugs vary dramatically by drug type, substance-abusing parents may display a variety of patterns of impaired parenting. For example, drugs such as alcohol or marijuana may depress parents' moods, possibly resulting in withdrawn behavior, whereas cocaine may increase activity and elevate moods, possibly resulting in unpredictable or impulsive behavior. Few empirical studies have evaluated parenting among substance-abusing parents. Most of the evidence comes from studies that have documented high occurrences of abuse and neglect among these parents; more harsh, negative, angry, threatening, and punitive interactions; and less responsiveness to their children (Bauman and Dougherty, 1983; Bernstein et al., 1986; Colten, 1980; Leif, 1985). However, because drug abuse often co-occurs with other psychiatric problems and disadvantaged circumstances, it is hard to know whether the parenting practices of substance-abusing parents are uniquely impaired by their drug habits (Mayes, 1995). Finally, both the reporting and incidence of child maltreatment are higher among low-income than high-income families (Table 10-1; Trickett et al., 1991; Waldfogel, 1998). Studies of the etiology of child maltreatment suggest that while child abuse and neglect capture different behaviors, children who are abused are also often neglected, and differences in
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development co-occurrence patterns may have both different causes and different effects (Aber, 1994; National Research Council, 1993). Some have speculated, for example, that persistent poverty is more closely related to neglect, while abuse is precipitated by sudden economic loss (Aber, 1994). Research suggests that economic hardship is only one of several risk factors that may contribute to child abuse and neglect. Others include parental beliefs about childrearing and unrealistic expectations of children's capabilities, social isolation, and psychopathology (Aber, 1994). Nevertheless, the contribution of economic hardship to child maltreatment suggests that some of the negative effects of poverty on children may result from higher rates of abuse and neglect (McLoyd, 1997). In sum, the toll that low socioeconomic status takes on parents' mental health appears to have important effects on child well-being. This implies a pressing need to integrate economic and mental health policy at numerous levels, ranging from federal decision making to the implementation and evaluation of both economic interventions, such as welfare reform, and early interventions for children and families in local communities. We also have much more to learn about connections among low socioeconomic status, parental mental health, parenting behaviors, and child well-being. Important questions concern the differential effects of economic hardship on parents of infants, toddlers, older children, and adolescents; the progression of effects on parents and children over time; and identification of factors that assist or undermine coping. In light of the more serious problems that are associated with cumulative risk (Sameroff et al., 1987; Seifer, 1995), we also need to understand how different types and manifestations of psychological distress—which often occur together and in conjunction with protective factors—combine to affect child development. Parental Beliefs Only modest differences have been found in the typical parenting practices and parent-child interactions of low-income and higher-income parents (Miller and Davis, 1997; Radziszewka et al., 1996). Higher-SES parents have been found to rely more than lower-SES parents on shame, guilt, and reasoning as disciplinary strategies and less on commands and imperatives (Kohn, 1969). These modest differences have been ascribed to parents' values or beliefs (Hoff-Ginsberg and Tardif, 1995; Kohn, 1959, 1963, 1969, 1976; Kohn and Schooler, 1973). One of the most often cited differences thought to affect parenting practices and childrearing is that lower-class parents value conformity, whereas higher social-class parents value self-direction (Gecas, 1979). In fact, mothers who value conformity have been found to voice more concern that being too responsive to a child's crying and fussing will spoil the child (Luster et al., 1989). These
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development mothers were also less likely to emphasize the importance of reading and more likely to endorse controlling their child's activities, with discipline if necessary. Mothers who valued self-direction, in contrast, were more likely to emphasize reading and exploration and were less concerned about disciplining children or spoiling them by responding to their crying. Unfortunately, much of this work has stopped short of relating parenting values to children's developmental outcomes (e.g., Harwood, 1992; Holden, 1995; Sigel et al., 1992). Consequently, it is unclear how much social class differences in values, beliefs, and parenting practices account for the differential development of children. Further complicating this research are the facts that important parental values (e.g., about academic achievement) do not differ by social class (Warren et al., 1993) and that social class is only one of many potential influences on parent's belief systems (Sigel et al., 1992). Finally, class differences in values have declined over time, suggesting that values may be a less important source of differences in parenting practices than they once were (e.g., Alwin, 1984; Hoff-Ginsberg and Tardif, 1995; Wright and Wright, 1976). In sum, although researchers have consistently found a modest relationship between socioeconomic status and some parental beliefs, research has failed to establish that these differences in values explain differences in parenting, or are consequential for young children. All told, class-related differences in parental values are unlikely to explain more than a small portion of variation in the development of children. The Home Learning Environment Family socioeconomic resources are closely associated with the home learning environments of poor children. Seminal work by Bradley and Caldwell (1980) identified important aspects of the home environment that are related to children's well-being (see Chapter 9). Their widely used HOME (Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment; Bradley and Caldwell, 1984) scale assesses the type and frequency of interactions and learning experiences parents provide for their children, both inside and outside the home. Stimulation, emotional support, structure, and safety are associated with the well-being of both low-income and high-income children (Bradley et al., 1994). Although there is considerable overlap between the HOME scores of high- and low-income families, on average, high-income families received higher scores. This may be due in part to the fact that several of the HOME items depend on having more income (e.g., books in the home; Bradley et al., 1994). Poverty and persistent poverty are strongly associated with less optimal home environments (Garrett et al., 1994). Recent work has suggested that the home learning environment (as
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development distinct from other aspects of the home environment, such as warmth and safety) might be particularly important for understanding children 's cognitive development. Several studies have found that the more positive home learning environments of high-income versus low-income children account for as much as half of the gap in test scores of preschool children, and as much as one-third of the gap in the achievement scores of school-age children (Smith et al., 1997). Miller and Davis (1997) found stronger associations between a child's poverty history and the quality of the home learning environment than between poverty and parent-child interactions. While income is a strong correlate of the home learning environment, so too are education and occupation. Miller and Davis also found that, after controlling for history of poverty, maternal educational attainment was still significantly and positively associated with the cognitive stimulation provided to the child at home. For example, mothers' provision of verbal stimulation differs by education and occupation. As we discussed in more detail in Chapter 6, higher-SES mothers, compared with lower-SES mothers, “talk more, provide more object labels, sustain conversational topics longer, respond more contingently to their children's speech and elicit more talk from their children” (Hoff-Ginsberg and Tardif, 1995:177; see also Hart and Risley, 1995; Hoff-Ginsberg, 1991). Efforts to understand why maternal education might be a particularly important aspect of socioeconomic status in determining mothers' verbal interactions with their children have pointed to the fact that a mother's educational attainment, but not her occupational status, correlates with her teaching style (Laosa, 1983). Specifically, mothers with higher levels of education use more verbal reinforcement, inquiry, modeling strategies, and reading with their preschool children. What remains to be understood is whether these findings are attributable to mothers' relative schooling per se, or to genetic differences or other characteristics that distinguish mothers who acquire different levels of schooling and might affect such relevant aspects of parenting as the use of complex verbal strategies with their children (see Borduin and Henggeler, 1981). As described earlier, Parcel and Menaghan (1994) argue that jobs that are routinized, have low autonomy, and provide little opportunity for substantively complex work erode parents' cognitive skills and, in turn, decrease the likelihood that they will provide a cognitively stimulating environment for their children. In a longitudinal study, Parcel and Menaghan (1994) show that the complexity of mothers' and fathers' occupations has a positive association with the home learning environment that is independent of parental education, wage rate, and hours of work. However, they also found that the positive effects of job complexity on the home environment depend on family and work demands and stresses, such as the birth of an additional child and the spouse's work conditions.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development In sum, the support for learning that characterizes young children 's home environments is strongly associated with both their cognitive development and their family's socioeconomic niche. As with maternal mental health, therefore, improving the literacy and learning environment of the home offers a potentially promising focus for efforts to promote early learning in poor families. The challenge, as illustrated by our review of parenting interventions (see Chapter 9 and Chapter 13), is finding effective approaches to accomplishing this goal. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS The past quarter-century has produced many changes—some favorable, many not—in families' time, money, education, and other socioeconomic resources. Income inequality has increased, producing both more poverty and more affluence among families with young children. The average parental schooling level has increased. More young children are growing up in single-parent homes, and many more mothers with young children now hold full-time jobs than before. Finally, more children are growing up in poverty today than was the case 25 years ago. These trends hold both the promise of improved child well-being and the risk of increased problems. Their effect on an individual child will depend on the mix of positive and negative influences affecting his or her own family. Their effect on this generation of young children will depend on the broader landscape of how many children are affected by which influences, and what steps society takes in response to them. On balance, however, the evidence suggests that while improved maternal education may have modestly positive effects on early development, the effects of shifting family structures and, to an even greater extent, of maternal employment will depend on a number of accompanying conditions. However, the persistent economic hardship that affects so many children is likely to be highly detrimental, especially during the earliest years of life. If confirmed in future research, this evidence that poverty during the early childhood years is especially harmful suggests that tax and transfer policies affecting family economic status should pay much more attention to improving families' incomes while children are young. The emerging evidence from welfare reform experiments suggests, however, that the success of such efforts (when the criteria for success emphasize the well-being of young children) may hinge on simultaneously linking families and children to early intervention and mental health services. Nevertheless, because many children growing up in poverty become productive adults, it is most accurate to portray low socioeconomic status as reducing the chances of success rather than leading inevitably to diminished attainments. We found suggestive associations, but little strong evidence, that an
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development intervention aimed at generating modest increases in parental education would produce measurable benefits for children's development. Associations found between parental occupation and children's development suggest that characteristics of employment may have a modest impact on children 's development The literature on single-parent family structure shows that children living in single-parent families are at greater risk for poor developmental outcomes compared with children reared in two-parent families, although we have a limited understanding of the processes involved. The research on maternal employment and children's development is generally reassuring to working parents. Nevertheless, we have learned that maternal employment is too complex a phenomenon for simple comparisons between young children with and without working mothers to reveal consistent differences. Rather, it is the circumstances of work, such as the income it generates, the proportion of the day the infant is spending in the presence of a security-giving, trusted caregiver, and related effects on family functioning that lie at the heart of how maternal employment affects young children. In particular, there is now evidence that nonstandard working hours—which now make up a major share of jobs for poor working women—pose risks for children; and that going to work for long hours during the child's first year poses a risk to child development perhaps especially when trade-offs are involved from time in sensitive and stable parental care at home to time in poorer quality alternative care, as they often are. Some of the most promising efforts to understand how a family's resources affect young children have focused on the mental health of parents, associated effects on their parenting, and the quality of the home environment, notably the support it provides for learning. Punitive parenting, reduced monitoring, parental psychological distress, and substance abuse, as well as less parental support for children 's early learning, are all more prevalent in low-income families. While these factors have often been studied in isolation, they are likely to occur in clusters which, in turn, place children at higher risk of poor outcomes.
Representative terms from entire chapter: