Panel: Socioeconomic Inequality and Children's Development
(Poverty and Income Policy)

Saturday, November 9, 2019: 3:15 PM-4:45 PM
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Ballroom F (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizer:  Anika Schenck-Fontaine, Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories
Panel Chair:  Liana Fox, U.S. Census Bureau
Discussants:  Anna Gassman-Pines, Duke University and Pamela Joshi, Brandeis University

Decades of research show that children born into lower SES families enter school with worse cognitive and behavioral skills than their more advantaged peers. This session presents research from psychology, social work, and public policy on how this socioeconomic inequality in children’s development emerges and the factors that contribute to or exacerbate this inequality.

Using National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY) data, the first paper documents the emergence and development of socioeconomic differences in children’s reading and math skills, finding that reading and math skills develop at a slower rate for low-SES children than for high-SES children, leading them to fall further behind over time. The other papers in the session each explore three possible factors that contribute to these inequalities in children’s development. The second paper uses NLSY data to show that the effect of infants’ difficult temperament on behavior problems is stronger for low-SES children, possibly because of higher rates of spanking among low-SES parents, which may further exacerbate their risk for poor developmental outcomes. Using Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study data, the third paper finds that mothers’ precarious work schedules and volatile work hours, which are increasing among economically disadvantaged groups, negatively affect children’s expressive language abilities and behavior problems. The fourth paper uses Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) data to show that job quality varies widely among mothers of infants in the U.S., with more socioeconomically disadvantaged mothers being more likely to work in low quality jobs. Although results show few associations between mothers’ job quality and children’s school readiness outcomes, there is evidence that these associations are moderated by family income. 

These studies show that socioeconomic inequality, which affects children’s developmental outcomes, as well as the developmental process itself, is exacerbated by contextual stressors, including harsh parenting, precarious work schedules, and job quality. Together, these papers highlight the need for a varied and multi-pronged policy approach to address inequalities in child development and that this approach needs to target early childhood as well as the school years.

Unequal Trajectories: Inequalities in the Development of Children’s Cognitive Abilities
Anika Schenck-Fontaine, Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories

Early Maternal Employment and Children’s School Readiness: Differences By Job Quality?
Alejandra Ros Pilarz and Ying-Chun Lin, University of Wisconsin, Madison

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