Poverty, Inequality, and Children's Early Cognitive Skills 公开

Freeman, Kendralin (2010)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/9s161689n?locale=zh
Published

Abstract

Many consider the United States to be a land of opportunity in which anyone who tries
hard enough will achieve economic success. A good education is often seen as the key to
achieving this success. Yet, all children do not share the same economic and educational
starting lines. In 2008, nearly 20% of children in the United States reside in families
living with incomes below the poverty line. At the same time, poor children enter the
education system less prepared than their better off counterparts. This project investigates
one explanation of unequal "starting lines" by analyzing the impact of poverty on early
childhood cognitive skills. Research suggests that childhood poverty impacts cognitive
skills through a variety of mechanisms (e.g., health status, family processes,
neighborhood impacts). I use path-analytic structural equation modeling to test many of
these mechanisms simultaneously in order to assess their relative impact on the cognitive
skill growth of children in very early childhood. I also investigate how this aggregate
pattern differs within and between racial/ethnic groups. To accomplish these analyses, I
use the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) which is a
nationally representative data set of children born in 2001 that assesses child
development over the first five years of life. Results from this study suggest that income
poverty is an incomplete way to conceptualize, theorize, and measure poverty. Cognitive
skill growth varies according to the level of poverty experienced and the aspect of
poverty captured by the measure. Additionally, social systems surrounding children are
critical in mediating the relationship between poverty and cognitive skills, particularly
parental mental and physical health as well as infant health problems. Finally, social
systems operate differently within racial groups, at least in the creation of a skill gap
between poor and non-poor children. By addressing the link between poverty and
cognitive skill growth, this project informs policy initiatives that move toward eradicating
the gap between the poor and non-poor such that all children enter formal education at
the same cognitive starting line.


Table of Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS


CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION 1


CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW 7
CONCEPTUALIZING POVERTY 7
Conceptualizing Poverty Traditionally 7
Critiquing Traditional Conceptualizations of Poverty 9
Alternative Conceptualizations of Poverty 11
THE IMPACT OF POVERTY ON COGNITIVE SKILLS 17
Microsystem 18
Mesosystem 19
Exosystem 22
THE RACIALIZED IMPACT OF POVERTY ON CHILDHOOD OUTCOMES 25
Levels of Poverty by Race 25
Variation in Mechanisms by Race 26
RESEARCH QUESTIONS 29

CHAPTER TWO: TABLES AND FIGURES 33
Figure 2-1. Ecological Systems Framework 33
Figure 2-2. Conceptual Model Predicting Skill Growth 33
Figure 2-3. Young Children in Poor Family by Race 2008 34
CHAPTER THREE: DATA AND METHODOLOGY 35
DATA 35
Sample 36
Missing Data 37
KEY VARIABLES 38
Cognitive Skill Growth 38
Poverty 39
Parenting Practices 42
Infant Health Problems 42
Parental Health Problems 43
Parental Job Conditions 43
Race 44
Controls 44
ANALYTIC STRATEGY 45
Measuring Poverty 45
Process of Poverty 46
CHAPTER THREE: TABLES AND FIGURES 50
Figure 3-1. Example Items from the BSID-II 50
Figure 3-2. Measurement Model 50
Figure 3-3. Structural Model 51
Table 3-1. Descriptive Characteristics of Variables in Chapters Four Through Six 52


CHAPTER FOUR: CONCEPTUALIZING POVERTY 60
DEFINING POVERTY (A REMINDER) 61
WHO IS POOR? 62
Size of Groups 63
Demographics of Poverty 65
HOW DO COGNITIVE SKILLS VARY ACROSS POVERTY GROUPS? 68
HOW POWERFUL IS POVERTY IN EXPLAINING COGNITIVE SKILL GAPS? 73
THEORETICAL IMPLICATIONS 76
CHAPTER FOUR: TABLES AND FIGURES 78
Table 4.1. Sample Breakdown of Poverty Conceptualization. 78
Table 4.2. Demographic Statistics. 79
Table 4.3. Proportion of Race Groups Experiencing Poverty 80
Figure 4.1 Cognitive Skills Time 1 81
Table 4.4 Cognitive Skills and Poverty 82
Figure 4.2. Cognitive Skills Time 2 83
Figure 4.3. Gains from 9 to 24 Months 84
Table 4.5. Regression Coefficient and Poverty Conceptualizations (Multiple Indicators) 85


CHAPTER FIVE: CREATION OF THE SKILL GAP IN THE MICRO-, MESO-,
AND EXOSYSTEMS OF VERY YOUNG CHILDREN 86
METHODOLOGICAL CAVEATS 87
MEASUREMENT MODEL 88
Material Hardship 88
Positive Parenting Practices 89
Infant Health Problems 90
Parental Health Problems 90
Job Benefits 91
UNMEDIATED EFFECT OF POVERTY ON COGNITIVE SKILL GROWTH 91
MEDIATED EFFECT OF POVERTY ON COGNITIVE SKILL GROWTH 95
Direct Effects of Poverty on Mediating Mechanisms 96
Direct Effects of Mediating Mechanisms on Cognitive Skills 97
Significance of Mediated Pathways on Cognitive Skill Gains 98
EXTENT OF MEDIATION AT THE MICROLEVEL AND MESOLEVEL 100
DISCUSSION 101
CHAPTER FIVE: TABLES AND FIGURES 105
Figure 5-1. Measurement Model 105
Figure 5-2. Unmediated Effect of Degree of Income Poverty on Cognitive Skills at 24 Months
(Standardized Coefficients) 106
Figure 5-3. Effect of Degree of Income Poverty and Material Hardship on Cognitive Skills at 24 Months
(Standardized Coefficients) 107
Figure 5-4. Mediated Effects of Income Poverty and Material Hardship on Cognitive Skills at 24 Months
(Standardized Coefficients) 108
Figure 5-5. Significant Mediated Pathways from Income Poverty and Material Hardship to Cognitive
Skill Growth at 24 Months (Standardized Coefficients) 109
Table 5-1. Measurement Model 110
Table 5-2. Unmediated Effects of Poverty on Cognitive Skill Growth 111
Table 5-3. Comparison of Model Fit for Mediated Poverty Models 112
Table 5-4. Mediated Effects of Poverty on Cognitive Skills at 24 Months 113
Table 5-5. Significance of Mediated Pathways in the Final Model Predicting Cognitive Skill Gains 114
Table 5-6. Strength of the Mediated Pathways in the Final Model Predicting Cognitive Skill Gains 114


CHAPTER SIX: THE IMPLICATIONS OF POVERTY FOR EARLY
COGNITIVE SKILL GROWTH ACROSS RACIAL/ETHNIC GROUPS 115
THE RACIAL GAP IN COGNITIVE SKILL GAINS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD 117
POVERTY STATUS BY RACE 118
COGNITIVE SKILL GAINS BY RACE AND POVERTY 119
Degree of Income Poverty 119
Degree of Material Hardship 121
MEDIATING MECHANISMS BETWEEN POVERTY AND COGNITIVE SKILLS BY RACE 123
Direct Effects of Poverty 124
Indirect Effects of Poverty Through Material Hardship 124
Indirect Effects of Poverty Through Mediating Mechanisms 125
Mediating Mechanisms and Cognitive Skill Growth 127
The Puzzle of American Indian/Native Alaskan Children 128
DISCUSSION 129
CHAPTER SIX: TABLES AND FIGURES 133
Figure 6-1. Cognitive Skill Gains from 9-24 Months by Racial/Ethnic Group 133
Table 6-1. Degree of Income Poverty by Racial/Ethnic Group 134
Table 6-2. Gains from 9-24 Months by Racial/Ethnic Group and Degree of Income Poverty 135
Table 6-3. Gains from 9-24 Months by Racial/Ethnic Group of Degree of Material Hardship 135
Figure 6-2. Cognitive Skill Gains by Race and Degree of Income Poverty 136
Figure 6-3. Cognitive Skill Gains by Race and Degree of Material Hardship 136
Figure 6-3. Mediating Mechanisms - White Children 137
Figure 6-4. Mediating Mechanisms - Black Children 137
Figure 6-5. Mediating Mechanisms - Hispanic Children 138
Figure 6-6. Mediating Mechanisms - Native American / Alaskan Native Children 138
Table 6-4. Direct Effects of Poverty on Cognitive Skill Growth - White Children 139
Table 6-5. Direct Effects of Poverty on Cognitive Skill Growth - Black Children 139
Table 6-6. Direct Effects of Poverty on Cognitive Skill Growth - Hispanic Children 140
Table 6-7. Direct Effects of Poverty on Cognitive Skill Growth - American Indian/Native Alaskan
Children 140


CHAPTER SEVEN: DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS 141
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS 142
Poverty is More than a Lack of Income 142
Context Matters When Predicting Skill Growth 143
IMPLICATIONS FOR CLOSING THE POVERTY ACHIEVEMENT GAP 146
The Importance of Non-School Context 146
Potential Difference-Making Policy Changes 147
LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS 150
CONCLUSION 152


BIBLIOGRAPHY 153

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