Academic journal article Social Work Research

The Bidirectional Effects of Early Poverty on Children's Reading and Home Environment Scores: Associations and Ethnic Differences

Academic journal article Social Work Research

The Bidirectional Effects of Early Poverty on Children's Reading and Home Environment Scores: Associations and Ethnic Differences

Article excerpt

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, the author reports secondary analyses that examine the bidirectional effects of the duration of early poverty on children's reading and home environment scores. The author focuses on three specific questions: (1) Does the duration of early childhood poverty affect children's reading scores from ages 5 and 6 to ages 11 and 12 after controlling for individual, family, and contextual characteristics? (2) Does the duration of early poverty affect the trajectories for reading and home environment scores from ages 5 and 6 to ages 11 and 12? (3) Are there any differences associated with ethnicity in the trajectories for reading and home scores, and do these differences depend on the duration of early poverty? Findings suggest that a longer duration of early poverty had significant adverse effects on children and these adverse effects became more pronounced as children grew. Early poverty also negatively affected home scores at ages 5 and 6, which, in turn, affected reading scores at ages 5 and 6 and continuously did so as the children grew older. However, these associations between home and reading scores were different across ethnicities with regard to the duration of poverty.

KEY WORDS: developmental trajectories; early poverty; ethnic differences; home environments; reading skills

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Poverty has been regarded as one of the most profound conditions adversely affecting child well-being (Hauser, Brown, & Prosser, 1997; Kamerman & Kahn, 1993). In 2006, approximately 12.3% of the U.S. population, or 36 million people, lived in poverty. In particular, poverty rates for children under the age of 6 (20.7%) are significantly higher than the rates for any other age group (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007). The negative effects of poverty on children's outcomes have been widely reported (Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 1997). In addition, studies suggest the quality of parenting is an important mechanism through which poverty affects children's development (Mayer, 1997; Waldfogel, 2006). Furthermore, significant ethnic differences have been reported for child outcomes and parenting skills (Bradley, Corwyn, Burchinal, McAdoo, & Garcia Coll, 2001; Bradley, Corwyn, McAdoo, & Garcia Coll, 2001; Brooks-Gunn, Klebanov, Smith, Duncan, & Lee, 2003; Magnuson & Waldfogel, 2005). Despite numerous studies on poverty, the effects of the duration of early poverty on the concurrent trajectories of parenting skills and children's reading scores have not been examined. This study is designed to address three questions: whether duration of early childhood poverty affects children's reading development even after controlling for individual, family, and contextual characteristics; whether it has effects on the parallel trajectories for reading and home environment scores; and whether ethnic differences exist in the association between parenting and reading skills with respect to duration of early poverty.

The poverty rate among families with children differs across ethnicities and family structures (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007). In 2006, the poverty rate among young, white children was lower (17.5%) than poverty rates for black (39.4%) and Hispanic (29.9%) children. In contrast, the percentage of white children who live in affluent families, above 600% of the poverty threshold, was significantly higher (13.5%) than that of black (5.3%) and Hispanic (4.2%) children. The poverty rate for female-headed households with children, no husband present (26.5%), was significantly higher than that for two-parent families (5.3%). More black families with children lived in poverty (38.2%) than white families with children (24.1%). Twelve million children live in poverty, and disparities in the distribution of household income exist among ethnic subgroups of the population (U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, 2004).

Poverty receives extensive attention in research for its negative consequences on child outcomes. …

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