Poster Paper: Income and Early Achievement Across the Urban to Rural Continuum

Saturday, November 10, 2012 : 12:00 PM
Liberty A & B (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Portia Miller1, Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal1 and Claude Setodji2, (1)University of Pittsburgh, (2)RAND Corporation

Recent decades have seen the spatial relocation of low-income Americans away from urban centers, which have traditionally been viewed as home to America’s poor populations, to suburban and rural communities.  Child poverty rates in rural areas mirror those in urban cities.  And while suburban child poverty rates remain lower, over the last two decades suburban poverty has risen at rates greater than those of central cities and rural areas.  Currently suburbs are home to the greatest share of poor people in the U.S.  Given the spatial dispersion of America’s poor children, it is increasingly important to consider the influence of income on child development across urbanicities, especially in the domain of academic development, since academic success is the strongest predictor of future educational attainment and adult economic and psychological wellbeing.  Notably, there is a lack of research examining differences in the the association between income and academic achievement across urbanicities.  Variation in the availability of developmentally salient services and experiences across the urban-rural continuum may exacerbate or attenuate income’s role in the academic development.  This study examines whether the relationship between income and achievement differs across urbanicities.              

Data for this study are drawn from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) – a nationally representative study following approximately 10,700 children from birth through kindergarten entry.  Importantly, the ECLS-B data contain sizable subsamples of low-income children and children spanning the urban-rural continuum.  It also provides detailed information about children and their families, including measures of academic skills at kindergarten entry.  Using zip code-level data, children were classified as residing in large urban cities, small urban areas, suburbs and rural areas.  Non-parametric equations were estimated using General Additive Modeling (GAM) to examine the non-linear relationship between income and children’s kindergarten academic skills for each urbanicity.  After determining the appropriate functional form across large cities, small urban areas, suburbs and rural areas, spline regressions were estimated on the full sample to test whether estimates of income’s association with achievement differed across the urbanicity groups.

Results show differences in the functional form of the associations between income and early academic achievement with non-linear associations in urban and suburban areas, and a linear relationship in rural areas.  In settings where income’s relationship to achievement was non-linear, there were differences in the threshold at which the relationship began to dissipate ($32,500 for large urban cities and $65,000 for small urban and suburban areas).  The magnitude of the association between income and early math and reading skills also differed across the urban to rural continuum, such that income increases for low-income families were related to the greatest improvements in early academic skills in large urban areas.  Specifically, links between income and academic skills were three times greater in large urban settings than in rural settings.  By expanding our understanding of income’s impacts on early academic skills across the urban-rural continuum, this study provides information relevant to assessments of the effectiveness of programs and policies aimed at enhancing school readiness among disadvantaged children.