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Multidimensional Poverty and Children’s Socioemotional Trajectories

Fri, March 22, 9:45 to 11:00am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

The recent labor market has offered less security and fewer steady jobs, resulting in various levels of economic deprivation, transitions into and out of poverty, and extended periods of poverty exposure. These poverty patterns, based on depth, volatility, and duration, are likely to compromise children’s development in complex ways. Existing studies have established the impact of poverty on child well-being from a unidimensional approach. To capture a more complete picture of poverty experience, this study utilizes latent class analysis (LCA) to incorporate poverty dimensions simultaneously, and investigates how multidimensional poverty experiences may shape children’s socioemotional trajectories during early school years.
Using the ECLS-K1998, a longitudinal dataset following a nationally representative cohort of kindergarteners in the U.S. (N ≈ 20,090), we examined the relationship between multidimensional poverty and children’s socioemotional trajectories using data from Kindergarten, First-, Third-, and Fifth-grade. We used annual family income to define poverty corresponding to the federal poverty threshold with three dimensions: depth (not-poor, near-poor, poor, and extreme poor), volatility (direction of income change between waves), and duration (times of poverty exposure). LCA was conducted to identify groups of children with similar poverty experiences based on these three dimensions. We next used growth-curve analysis to examine the associations between latent poverty groups and children’s trajectories of externalizing and internalizing behaviors from kindergarten to fifth-grade. A rich set of sociodemographic characteristics was considered in the growth-curve analysis.
The LCA identifies a six-group solution: a never-poor group (48%) with family income consistently above 200% of the federal poverty line for all four waves, a group who was never-poor with volatile income fluctuated more than 33% (7%), a group (6%) who had been cycling between not-poor and near-poor (above 100% and below 200% of federal poverty line), a group (15%) that was always near-poor with stable income, an always poor group (14%) chronically below 100% but above 50% of the poverty line, and an always extreme-poor (below 50% federal poverty line) with volatile income (9%) at all waves.
The growth-curve results indicate significant between-group differences on socioemotional trajectories. Compared to children who did not experience any dimensions of poverty (reference group, children who were never-poor), children with other poverty experiences measured by depth, volatility, and duration had significantly worse externalizing and internalizing behaviors. These children also had either similar or significantly increasing rates of changes over time than the reference group; consequently, the socioemotional gaps remained the same or became larger by fifth-grade. Notably, children who were always extreme-poor with volatile income were reported to have significantly worse, if not the worst, externalizing and internalizing behaviors among all poverty groups.
This study highlights the complexities of poverty experience in shaping children’s socioemotional trajectories. To fully understand children’s daily experience, a more nuanced approach to measure poverty is necessary; our study is a step toward that direction. Results also suggest that a more holistic approach considering depth, volatility, and duration of poverty would perhaps be more effective than only focusing on one dimension of poverty in addressing children’s socioemotional development.