Promising Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

IRP launched a major research initiative in late 2013 designed to enhance understanding of programs and policies that seem most effective at reducing the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage. It is one of three such integrated research projects that extend over three-year periods with a range of activities that are focused on topics related to the three themes identified by IRP as key trends in poverty and policy: Economic Self-Sufficiency, Family Change and Poverty, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty.

Taking the lead on the Promising Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty research project are Katherine Magnuson, IRP Associate Director of Research and Training and Associate Professor of Social Work; Barbara Wolfe, Richard A. Easterlin Professor of Economics, Population Health, and Public Affairs; and Jason Fletcher, Associate Professor, La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Why Study Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty?

Poverty is a common experience for children in the United States, with child poverty rates following poverty rate trends in the general population. Although about one in five children is poor in any given year, roughly one in three will spend at least one year of their childhood living in a poor household. Young children, children of single mothers, children of immigrants, and children of color are disproportionately likely to experience poverty, which often has lasting effects.

Poverty scholars have long referred to the lasting effects of child poverty as the intergenerational transmission of economic disadvantage or the “cycle of poverty,” whereby poverty appears to be passed across generations. Children’s life chances, and perhaps those of their future children, are constrained by their parents’ economic fortunes. Given the fact that most low-skill and low-wage workers are also parents, the diminished labor market opportunities they experience creates economic hardship not only for individual workers, but also for their children.

Poverty and economic inequality is transmitted across generations by social institutions: families, schools, communities, and labor markets. The urge to intervene, and break the cycle of poverty, is strong, as the payoff for successfully improving the life chances of the disadvantaged is potentially quite large, for individuals, families, and society. Yet to date only a handful of policies and programs have been proven to improve the long-term well-being of low-income children, motivating many researchers and policymakers to seek more innovative and effective approaches.

IRP’s Promising Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty research initiative, outlined below, is designed to advance research informing our understanding of the intergenerational transmission of poverty, focusing on the extent to which poverty and inequality affect the life changes of children and youth, the social and biological processes that explain the intergenerational transmission of poverty, and the policies and programs that are successful in reducing it.

Research Agenda: Promising Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

Each set of activities in IRP’s Promising Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty research agenda is designed to be multidisciplinary, to foster interaction and collaboration among affiliates and other established and emerging scholars at the UW–Madison and across the nation, and to enhance productive interchange among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. The three-year agenda comprises the activities described below.

Emerging Scholars Extramural Small Grants Program

The first activity in our Promising Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty agenda is an extramural small grants program intended to seed new research in this area while targeting emerging social science scholars. Meet the Emerging Scholars.

A January 2014 request for proposals invited extramural research proposals from recent Ph.D. recipients (within the past eight years) that are responsive to the following areas of interest:

  • To what extent do poverty and inequality affect the life chances of children and youth?
  • What economic, social, and biological processes explain the transmission of poverty across generations?
  • What interventions, policies, and programs are successful at reducing the intergenerational transmission of poverty from parents to children, thereby increasing the odds that poor children will have long-run economic success?

Mentoring Meeting and Workshop

The next activity in the agenda comes while the emerging scholar grantees are conducting their research, when they will be invited to attend a half-day workshop to present their work and receive feedback from the Promising Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty program directors, Professors Katherine Magnuson, Barbara Wolfe, and Jason Fletcher.

National Research and Policy Conference

IRP will hold a major multidisciplinary research conference focused on the "Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty: Research on the Early Years of Life" in the spring of 2016. The conference will focus on programs to reduce the intergenerational transmission of poverty and will bring together scholars and policymakers. The scholars will represent a variety of disciplines, including sociology, economics, psychology, education, public health, and social work, who study how programs and policies affect child and family well-being as well as the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

One set of discussions will examine the effects of parental income, employment, and conditional cash-transfer programs for family and child well-being. A second set of discussions will consider the effects of public-health-related interventions such as publicly funded health insurance, prenatal programs, and home visiting programs. A third set of discussions will consider early education programs and include new approaches to early care and education-quality-improvement initiatives.

The second part of the conference will comprise a set of panels that are more directly policy-relevant, with sessions on topics such as home visiting, early education, and prenatal care. IRP faculty affiliates Katherine Magnuson, Jason Fletcher, and Barbara Wolfe are co-organizing the meeting.


IRP is hosting a small workshop in spring 2016 that to focus on "Poverty, Developmental Neuroscience, and Public Policy." The workshop's primary focus is to unite current leading researchers from several fields to discuss topics on the relationship between human neurobiology, poverty, and public policy. IRP affiliates Barbara Wolfe and Seth Pollak organized the event in order to understand the current status of research into the effects of poverty on child development at the crossroads of neuroscience and economics, with a special focus on how such research can be appropriately and effectively used to inform public policy.

Conference Summary

The conference presentations will be summarized in IRP's Focus newsletter and Fast Focus research brief.

Policy and Practice Briefs

In addition to creating a compilation of conference papers in a journal, IRP will produce policy and practice briefs on the intergenerational transmission of poverty and promising programs and policies to address it.

Seminar Series

Another activity in IRP’s intergenerational transmission of poverty program will be a seminar series on the theme of “Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty and Opportunity” in the 2014 to 2015 academic year. In developing the series, IRP will draw on its experience with several recent, related talks by on-campus affiliates. For example, as part of the 2010 to 2011 IRP seminar, Affiliate Elliot Freedman spoke about his collaborative work with Affiliate Pamela Herd on the topic of “The Biology of Poverty: Links between Socioeconomic Status and Inflammation.” In the prior year (2009 to 2010), Affiliate Jane Waldfogel, Columbia University, spoke about “Social Policy and Child Well-Being: A Comparative Perspective.”

The intergenerational seminar series will continue to draw on IRP affiliates as well as other invited visitors to build a strong schedule of speakers to address important topics, including associations between childhood poverty and adult outcomes; the role of poverty and social environment in affecting birth outcomes; understanding how poverty affects biological processes; the effectiveness of early childhood programs such as compensatory preschool and home visiting; and the effects of welfare programs such as TANF and SNAP on children’s outcomes. The speakers in the series will consider basic research, both qualitative and quantitative, as well as policy responses to the cycle of poverty; they will also be invited to discuss their work as part of IRP’s Graduate Research Fellows Program.

Related IRP Publications: Promising Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

What follows below are links to select recent IRP publications on topics related to promising programs to reduce the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Search the IRP Publications Database or see IRP’s Publications Search Instructions and Tips to learn how to conduct a search of all IRP publications by keyword, topic, date, author, et cetera.

Focus Articles | Fast Focus Research Briefs | Discussion Papers | Videos of Seminars/Webinars | Additional Resources

Focus Articles

Focus 29(1), Spring-Summer 2012: A Biology of Misfortune
W. Thomas Boyce

Focus 28(1), Spring-Summer 2011: From Income to Consumption: Understanding the Transmission of Inequality
Richard Blundell

Focus 27(2), Winter 2010: Revisiting an Old Question: How Much Does Parental Income Affect Child Outcomes?
Susan E. Mayer

Focus 26(2), Fall 2009: Enduring Influences of Childhood Poverty
Katherine Magnuson and Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal

Focus 26(2), Fall 2009: Mobility in the United States in Comparative Perspective
Markus Jäntti

Focus 26(1), Summer-Fall 2008: A Longitudinal Perspective on Income Inequality in the United States and Europe
Markus Gangl

Focus 25(2), Fall-Winter 2007–8: Effects of Welfare and Antipoverty Programs on Participants’ Children
Greg J. Duncan, Lisa Gennetian, and Pamela Morris

Focus 25(2), Fall-Winter 2007–8: Improving Educational Outcomes for Disadvantaged Children
David N. Figlio

Focus 25(1), Spring-Summer, 2007: Parenting Practices, Teenage Lifestyles, and Academic Achievement among African American Children
Ronald Ferguson

Focus 24(3), Fall-Winter 2006: Race and Poverty: Divergent Fortunes of America’s Children?
Daniel T. Lichter, Zhenchao Qian, and Martha L. Crowley

Focus 24(1): Fall 2005: Racial Stigma and Its Consequences
Glenn C. Loury

Focus 24(1): Fall 2005: Inequality in Children’s School Readiness and Public Funding
Katherine Magnuson, Marcia K. Meyers, Christopher J. Ruhm, and Jane Waldfogel

Fast Focus Research Briefs

Fast Focus No. 12-2011, October 2011: American Poverty and Inequality: Key Trends and Future Research Directions
Timothy M. Smeeding and Colleagues

In this brief, IRP researchers assess poverty and inequality in the United States. They examine key trends over the decades since the War on Poverty was launched in the 1960s, review past research, and look ahead to how poverty may continue to change and require new approaches to mitigate its effects on individuals and families. They evaluate the policies and programs devised to improve opportunities for the disadvantaged and to help them on the path to self-sufficiency. Finally, they look ahead to project what researchers, policymakers, and practitioners will need to know to improve the life chances of all Americans and what research evidence is needed to inform and improve antipoverty efforts.

Fast Focus No. 8-2010, December 2010: Fighting Child Poverty in the United States and United Kingdom: An Update
Timothy M. Smeeding and Jane Waldfogel

This brief is designed to update the authors’ findings in the context of the ongoing recession as well as the change in government in the United Kingdom and subsequent ongoing changes in public policy toward poor children. Ten years into the U.K. initiative to halve child poverty in 10 years, if poverty is measured in absolute terms as we do in the U.S., they have more than achieved their interim goal, because of both fiscal effort and persistence, as Jane Waldfogel documents in her book Britain’s War on Poverty (published by Russell Sage Foundation in 2010). The authors assert that a more concerted national effort will be needed if the United States is to achieve anything like the successes of the United Kingdom in reducing its high child poverty rates.

Fast Focus No. 5-2010, May 2010: Early Findings from New York City’s Conditional Cash Transfer Program
James A. Riccio

In 2007, New York City’s Center for Economic Opportunity launched Opportunity NYC: Family Rewards, an experimental, privately funded, conditional cash transfer (CCT) program to help families break the cycle of poverty. CCT programs offer cash assistance to reduce immediate hardship, but condition these transfers on families’ efforts to build up their “human capital,” often by developing the education and skills that may reduce their poverty over the longer term. Family Rewards is the first comprehensive CCT program in a developed country. This brief summarizes an MDRC report on initial findings of an evaluation of the program during its early operating period.

IRP Discussion Papers

Discussion Paper No. 1402-12, 2012: Nutrition and Cognitive Achievement: An Evaluation of the School Breakfast Program
David E. Frisvold

This paper investigates the impact of the School Breakfast Program (SBP) on cognitive achievement. The SBP is a federal entitlement program that offers breakfast to any student, including free breakfast for any low-income student, who attends a school that participates in the program. To increase the availability of the SBP, many states mandate that schools participate in the program if the percentage of free or reduced-price eligible students in a school exceeds a specific threshold. Using the details of these mandates as a source of identifying variation, I find that the availability of the program increases student achievement.

Discussion Paper No. 1394-11, 2011: Creating Effective Education and Workforce Policies for Metropolitan Labor Markets in the United States
Harry J. Holzer

How well do our education policies prepare America’s youth for the labor market? What challenges limit our success, and what opportunities do we have for improvements? Can public policy play a greater role in encouraging more success? In this chapter, I provide a summary of what we know on these issues, incorporating but also complementing many of the perspectives provided by the other [forthcoming volume] authors. In addition, I consider these questions as they apply to the unique characteristics of metropolitan areas in the United States.

Discussion Paper No. 1391-11, 2011: Unequal Pathways through American Universities
Fabian T. Pfeffer and Sara Goldrick-Rab

Student pathways through the American higher education system are complex and entail more than the choice between continuation and dropout. Detailed transcript data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS-88) and multinomial transition models provide evidence on the shape of social inequality in four-year college careers. We describe distinct trajectories through college and show that they strongly depend on students’ decisions at earlier stages of their college careers. Transitions through college are also found to be strongly related to students’ socioeconomic backgrounds. In addition, we show that the penalties incurred from unfavorable earlier choices are greater for disadvantaged students. By fully appreciating the cumulative nature of educational pathways through college, we provide an important new view on the complex routes to college completion and trace an important source of the socioeconomic gap in college completion. The relatively rigid structure of the U.S. four-year college system appears to produce strong path-dependent and status-dependent cumulative advantages for high-status students.

Discussion Paper No. 1380-10, 2010: The Benefits and Costs of the Section 8 Housing Subsidy Program: A Framework and First-Year Estimates
Deven Carlson, Robert Haveman, Thomas Kaplan, and Barbara Wolfe

The Section 8 housing voucher program serves nearly 2 million low-income families in the United States. The purpose of the program is to enable low-income families to improve the quality of their housing and to move to better neighborhoods. Voucher recipients seek housing in the private rental market, and use the voucher to subsidize their rent. In this paper, the authors provide estimates of the social benefits and costs of the Section 8 housing subsidy program. The authors find that the Section 8 program meets the efficiency standard of positive net benefits. For society as a whole, total benefits (measured in annual, per recipient units) range from about $7,700 to $9,600, while total costs are about $7,000; net benefits range from about $650 to $2,800 per recipient case per year. The social benefit-cost ratio ranges from 1.1 to 1.37. The bulk of the benefits are experienced by voucher recipients, while other members of society bear the bulk of the costs. The authors conclude that the program meets the efficiency standard of welfare economics.

Discussion Paper No. 1379-10, 2010: Explaining Racial/Ethnic Gaps in Spatial Mismatch: The Primacy of Racial Segregation
Michael A. Stoll and Kenya L. Covington

Despite declines in racial segregation across most U.S. metropolitan areas in recent years, racial and ethnic minorities still display uneven geographic access to jobs. In this article, the authors provide a detailed analysis of the factors driving racial and ethnic gaps in spatial mismatch conditions across U.S. metropolitan areas. Using data primarily from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. Censuses, and the 1994 and 1999 Economic Censuses, and the Zip Code Business Pattern files, we generate descriptive, multivariate, and decompositional evidence to address why blacks and to a lesser extent Latinos display greater degrees of spatial mismatch than whites. The results indicate that racial segregation in housing markets, among many other factors including job sprawl, is the most important factor. The authors’ models indicate that racial differences in spatial mismatch conditions, particularly between blacks and whites, should be eliminated in 45 to 50 years should racial segregation levels continue to decline in the future at similar rates observed over the 1990s.

Discussion Paper No. 1370-09, 2009: Intergenerational Relationships and Union Stability in Fragile Families
Robin S. Högnäs and Marcia J. Carlson

Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N=2,648), we examine the association between intergenerational family relationships and the union stability of married and unmarried parents over five years after a baby’s birth. Our results show that more amiable relationships between fathers and the baby’s maternal grandparents are associated with a greater likelihood of marriage, and the focal child’s spending more time with their paternal grandparents is linked with cohabitation. Children’s greater contact with maternal grandparents is associated with diminished union stability, although this result is not robust to methods that better address selection. Our findings underscore the importance of considering broader social contexts for understanding contemporary patterns of union formation and dissolution among parents with children.

Discussion Paper No. 1361-09, 2009: The Impact of Family Income on Child Achievement: Evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit
Gordon Dahl and Lance Lochner

Past estimates of the effect of family income on child development have often been plagued by endogeneity and measurement error. In this paper, we use two simulated instrumental variables strategies to estimate the causal effect of income on children’s math and reading achievement. Our identification derives from the large, non-linear changes in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) over the last two decades. The largest of these changes increased family income by as much as 20 percent, or approximately $2,100. Using a panel of almost 5,000 children matched to their mothers from National Longitudinal Survey of Youth datasets allows us to address problems associated with unobserved heterogeneity, endogenous transitory income shocks, and measurement error in income. Our baseline estimates imply that a $1,000 increase in income raises combined math and reading test scores by 6 percent of a standard deviation in the short run. The gains are larger for children from disadvantaged families and are robust to a variety of alternative specifications. We find little evidence of long-run income effects, with most of the effects disappearing after one year.

Discussion Paper No. 1358-08, 2008: Living Wage Laws: How Much Do (Can) They Matter?
Harry J. Holzer

In this paper I review what we have learned about living wage laws and their impacts on the wages, employment, and poverty rates of low-wage workers. I review the characteristics of these laws and where they have been implemented to date, and what economic theory tells us about their likely effects in more and less competitive labor markets. I then review two bodies of empirical evidence: (1) studies across cities or metropolitan areas that have and have not implemented these laws, using data from the Current Population Survey pooled over many years; and (2) studies within particular cities, based on comparisons of covered and uncovered workers before and after the laws are passed. I conclude that living wage laws have modestly raised wage levels of low-wage workers and have reduced their employment at covered firms, but that the magnitudes of both effects are likely quite small, given how few workers are usually covered by these ordinances.

Discussion Paper No. 1342-08, 2008: The Association between Children’s Earnings and Fathers’ Lifetime Earnings: Estimates Using Administrative Data
Molly Dahl and Thomas DeLeire

Knowledge of the degree of intergenerational mobility in an economy is essential for assessing the fairness of the earnings distribution. In this paper, we provide estimates of the degree of intergenerational mobility in the United States using administrative earnings data from the Social Security Administration's records. These data contain nearly career-long earnings histories for a large sample of U.S. fathers, and their children's earnings around an age that is likely to be a good proxy for lifetime earnings. We examine two different measures of mobility: (1) the association between fathers' and children's log earnings (the intergenerational elasticity or IGE) and (2) the association between fathers' and children's relative positions in their respective earnings distributions (or the intergenerational rank association or IRA). We show that estimates of the IGE are quite sensitive to choice of specification and sample and range from 0.26 to 0.63 for sons and from 0 to 0.27 for daughters. That is, a 10 percent increase in fathers' earnings is associated with a 3 percent to 6 percent increase in sons' earnings and a 0 percent to 3 percent increase in daughters' earnings. By contrast, our estimates of the IRA are robust to both specification and sample choices and show that a 10 percentile increase in a father's relative position is associated with roughly a 3 percentile increase in his son's and roughly a 1 percentile increase in his daughter's relative earnings positions. Nonparametric estimates of the IRA show relatively more immobility among the children of men below the 10th percentile and above the 80th percentile of lifetime earnings.

Discussion Paper No. 1341-08, 2008: Expanding New York State's Earned Income Tax Credit Program: The Effect on Work, Income, and Poverty
Maximilian D. Schmeiser

Given its favorable employment incentives and ability to target the working poor, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has become the primary antipoverty program at both the federal and state levels. However, when evaluating the effect of EITC programs on income and poverty, governments generally calculate the effect using simple accounting, where the value of the state or federal EITC benefit is added to a person's income. These calculations omit the behavioral incentives created by the existence of these programs, the corresponding effect on labor supply and hours worked, and therefore the actual effect on income and poverty. This paper simulates the full effect of an expansion of the New York State EITC benefit on employment, hours worked, income, poverty, and program expenditures. These results are then compared to those omitting labor supply effects. Relative to estimates excluding labor supply effects, the preferred behavioral results show that an expansion of the New York State EITC increases employment by an additional 14,244 persons, labor earnings by an additional $95.8 million, family income by an additional $84.5 million, decreases poverty by an additional 56,576 persons, and increases costs to the state by $29.7 million. These results emphasize the importance of modeling labor supply behavior when analyzing the impact of the EITC.

Discussion Paper No. 1338-08, 2008: Long-Term Effects of Public Low-Income Housing Vouchers on Work, Earnings, and Neighborhood Quality
Deven Carlson, Robert Haveman, Thomas Kaplan, and Barbara Wolfe

The federal Section 8 housing program provides eligible low-income families with an income-conditioned voucher that can be used to lease privately owned, affordable rental housing units. This paper extends prior research on the effectiveness of housing support programs in several ways. We use a quasi-experimental, propensity score matching research design, and examine the effect of housing voucher receipt on neighborhood quality, earnings, and work effort. Results are presented for a wide variety of demographic groups for up to five years following voucher receipt. The analysis employs a unique longitudinal dataset that was created by combining administrative records maintained by the State of Wisconsin with census block group data. The results of our propensity score matching procedure show voucher receipt to have no effect on neighborhood quality in the short-term, but positive long-term effects. Furthermore, the results indicate that on average voucher receipt causes lower earnings in the initial years following receipt, but that these negative earnings effects dissipate over time. Finally, we find that recipient responses to voucher receipt differ substantially across demographic subgroups.

Discussion Paper No. 1335-08, 2008: Temporary Help Service Firms' Use of Employer Tax Credits: Implications for Disadvantaged Workers' Labor Market Outcomes
Sarah Hamersma and Carolyn Heinrich

Temporary Help Services (THS) firms are increasing their hiring of disadvantaged individuals and claiming more subsidies for doing so. Do these subsidies—the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) and Welfare-to-Work Tax Credit (WtW)—create incentives that improve employment outcomes for THS workers? We examine the distinct effects of THS employment and WOTC/WtW subsidies using administrative and survey data. Results indicate that WOTC/WtW-certified THS workers have higher earnings than WOTC-eligible but uncertified THS workers. However, these workers have shorter job tenure and lower earnings than WOTC/WtW-certified workers in non-THS industries. Panel estimates suggest that these effects do not persist over time.

Discussion Paper No. 1332-07, 2007: Temporary Help Agencies and the Advancement Prospects of Low Earners
Fredrik Andersson, Harry J. Holzer, and Julia Lane

In this paper we use a very large matched database on firms and employees to analyze the use of temporary agencies by low earners, and to estimate the impact of temp employment on subsequent employment outcomes for these workers. Our results show that, while temp workers have lower earnings than others while working at these agencies, their subsequent earnings are often higher-but only if they manage to gain stable work with other employers. Furthermore, the positive effects seem mostly to occur because those working for temp agencies subsequently gain access to higher-wage firms than do comparable low earners who do not work for temps. The positive effects we find seem to persist for up to six years beyond the period during which the temp employment occurred.

Discussion Paper No. 1330-07, 2007: Testing New Ways to Increase the Economic Well-Being of Single-Parent Families: The Effects of Child Support Policies on Welfare Participants
Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, and Jennifer Roff

Single-parent families are economically vulnerable. Some child support policies have been aimed at improving the economic well-being of these families, while others have been focused on decreasing welfare costs. Since 1996, states have been free to decide how to treat child support when it is paid on behalf of a welfare participant. States decide both how much child support income to ignore in the calculation of benefits (the disregard) and whether to send a separate child support check to the participant (the pass-through). Disregard and pass-through policies have potential impacts on economic well-being and on governmental costs, but little research has focused on their effects. This paper uses variation in child support disregard and pass-through policy across states and years to estimate whether these policies are associated with paternity establishment, child support collections, and the average dollar amount of child support collected, as reflected in state-level administrative data. We find that the disregard is positively associated with paternity establishment in all models, and is positively associated with collections in two of the four models examined. The pass-through has insignificant, or negative, effects.

Discussion Paper No. 1327-07, 2007: The Economic Costs of Poverty in the United States: Subsequent Effects of Children Growing Up Poor
Harry J. Holzer, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Greg J. Duncan, and Jens Ludwig

In this paper, we review a range of rigorous research studies that estimate the average statistical relationships between children growing up in poverty and their earnings, propensity to commit crime, and quality of health later in life. We also review estimates of the costs that crime and poor health per person impose on the economy. Then we aggregate all of these average costs per poor child across the total number of children growing up in poverty in the U.S. to estimate the aggregate costs of child poverty to the U.S. economy. Our results suggest that the costs to the U.S. associated with childhood poverty total about $500 billion per year, or the equivalent of nearly 4 percent of GDP.

Discussion Paper No. 1322-07, 2007: Family Capital: How First-Generation Higher-Education Students Break the Intergenerational Cycle
Anat Gofen

The first children in a family to attain a higher education, referred to as "first-generation students," embody the realization of social mobility. Previous analysis has often portrayed them as succeeding despite their family background. This research suggests that although they face many material challenges, their families are often a key resource, rather than a constraint. This research attempts to reveal what enabled the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage to be broken. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were used to collect data from Israeli families in which intergenerational mobility took place (N = 50). Employing a grounded theory approach, the analysis reveals that breaking the intergenerational cycle mostly concerns family day-to-day life, and that it reflects three main components: time horizon, interpersonal relationships, and family values.

Discussion Paper No. 1314-06, 2006: Affirmative Action: What Do We Know?
Harry J. Holzer and David Neumark

In this paper we review the research evidence on the effects of affirmative action in employment, university admissions, and government procurement. We consider effects on both equity (or distribution) as well as efficiency. Overall, we find that affirmative action does redistribute jobs, university admissions, and government contracts away from white males toward minorities and females, though the overall magnitudes of these shifts are relatively modest. We also find that affirmative action shifts jobs and university admissions to minorities who have weaker credentials, but there is little solid evidence to date of weaker labor market performance among its beneficiaries. While those students admitted to universities under affirmative action have weaker grades and higher dropout rates than their white counterparts at selective schools, they seem to benefit overall in terms of higher graduation rates and later salaries. Affirmative action also generates positive externalities for minority and low-income communities (in terms of better medical services and labor market contacts), and perhaps for employers and universities as well. More research on a variety of these issues is also clearly needed.

Discussion Paper No. 1311-05, 2005: Does Head Start Improve Children's Life Chances? Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design
Jens Ludwig and Douglas L. Miller

This paper exploits a new source of variation in Head Start funding to identify the program's effects on health and schooling. In 1965 the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) provided technical assistance to the 300 poorest counties in the U.S. to develop Head Start funding proposals. The result was a large and lasting discontinuity in Head Start funding rates at the OEO cutoff for grant-writing assistance, but no discontinuity in other forms of federal social spending. We find evidence of a large negative discontinuity at the OEO cutoff in mortality rates for children ages 5-9 from causes that could be affected by Head Start, but not for other mortality causes or birth cohorts that should not be affected by the program. We also find suggestive evidence for a positive effect of Head Start on educational attainment in both the 1990 Census, concentrated among those cohorts born late enough to have been exposed to the program, and among respondents in the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988.

Discussion Paper No. 1307-05, 2005: Can We Improve Job Retention and Advancement among Low-Income Working Parents?
Harry J. Holzer and Karin Martinson

In this paper we review the evidence on four approaches to improving job retention and advancement among low-income working adults: (1) financial incentives and supports; (2) case management and service provision, often by labor market intermediaries; (3) skill development strategies; and (4) employer-focused efforts, such as sectoral strategies and career ladder development at private firms. Within each category, we find at least some evidence of positive effects on retention or advancement. Among the most promising approaches are the use of labor market intermediaries for job placements, the use of community colleges for training, and a variety of efforts that involve local employers. Mixed strategies that combine strong financial incentives and supports with labor market services and training also show promise.

Discussion Paper No. 1305-05, 2005: The Impact of Family Income on Child Achievement
Gordon Dahl and Lance Lochner

Understanding the consequences of growing up poor for a child's well-being is an important research question, but one that is difficult to answer due to the potential endogeneity of family income. Past estimates of the effect of family income on child development have often been plagued by omitted variable bias and measurement error. In this paper, we use a fixed effect instrumental variables strategy to estimate the causal effect of income on children's math and reading achievement. Our primary source of identification comes from the large, non-linear changes in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) over the last two decades. The largest of these changes increased family income by as much as 20 percent, or approximately $2,100. Using a panel of over 6,000 children matched to their mothers from National Longitudinal Survey of Youth datasets allows us to address problems associated with unobserved heterogeneity and endogenous transitory income shocks as well as measurement error in income. Our baseline estimates imply that a $1,000 increase in income raises math test scores by 2.1 percent and reading test scores by 3.6 percent of a standard deviation. The results are even stronger when looking at children from disadvantaged families who are affected most by the large changes in the EITC, and are robust to a variety of alternative specifications.

Discussion Paper No. 1304-05, 2005: Job Sprawl, Spatial Mismatch, and Black Employment Disadvantage
Michael A. Stoll

This paper examines the relationship between job sprawl and the spatial mismatch between blacks and jobs. Using data from a variety of sources including the U.S. Census and the ZIP Code Business Patterns of the U.S. Department of Commerce, I control extensively for metropolitan area characteristics and other factors. In addition, I use metropolitan area physical geography characteristics as instruments for job sprawl to address the problem of simultaneity bias. I find a significant and positive effect of job sprawl on mismatch conditions faced by blacks that remains evident across a variety of model specifications. This effect is particularly important in the Midwest and West, and in metropolitan areas where blacks' share of the population is not large and where blacks' population growth rate is relatively low. The results also indicate that the measure of mismatch used in this analysis is highly correlated across metropolitan areas, with blacks' employment outcomes in the expected direction.

Videos and Slide Presentations of Seminars/Webinars

IRP's 2011–2012 New Perspectives in Social Policy lecture: “A Biology of Misfortune: How Social Stratification, Sensitivity, and Stress Diminish Early Health and Development”

A February 8, 2012, lecture by W. Thomas Boyce, scholar and pediatrician at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, presents his research on how maladaptive consequences of social stratification in early childhood amplify the effects of inequalities in adult societies; the ways in which these effects operate through neurobiological pathways; and what scientists have learned from the extensive variation in stress responsivity.

Boyce is the Sunny Hill Health Center-British Columbia Leadership Chair in Child Development in the Human Early Learning Partnership and the Center for Community Child Health Research; Co-Director of Child and Family Research Institute’s (CFRI) Experience-Based Brain and Biological Development Program; and Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies and Pediatrics, University of British Columbia.

Watch a video recording of the lecture. View Dr. Boyce’s slide presentation.

Additional Resources

Article abstract of: Policies that Strengthen Fatherhood and Family Relationships: What Do We Know and What Do We Need to Know?
Virginia Knox, Philip A. Cowan, Carolyn Pape Cowan, and Elana Bildner

This article appears in Smeeding, Timothy, Irwin Garfinkel, and Ronald Mincy, eds. “Young Disadvantaged Men: Fathers, Families, Poverty, and Policy,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 635 (May 2011).

Children whose parents have higher income and education levels are more likely to grow up in stable two-parent households than their economically disadvantaged counterparts. These widening gaps in fathers’ involvement in parenting and in the quality and stability of parents’ relationships may reinforce disparities in outcomes for the next generation. This paper reviews evidence about the effectiveness of two strategies to strengthen fathers’ involvement and family relationships—fatherhood programs aimed at disadvantaged noncustodial fathers and relationship skills programs for parents who are together. Fatherhood programs have shown some efficacy at increasing child support payments, while relationship skills approaches have shown benefits for the couples’ relationship quality, coparenting skills, fathers’ engagement in parenting, and children’s well-being. The research evidence suggests that parents’ relationship with each other should be a fundamental consideration in future programs aimed at increasing low-income fathers’ involvement with their children.

Workforce Development as an Antipoverty Strategy: What Do We Know? What Should We Do?
Harry J. Holzer
(Conference paper and chapter in Changing Poverty, Changing Policies volume)

Over the past few decades, the gaps in earnings between more- and less-educated American workers have risen. The number of adult workers in low-wage jobs has risen—partly because of the growing supply of these workers, associated with welfare reform and immigration (among other forces), and partly because of growing demand for these workers in low-paying jobs. And, at least among less-educated and minority men, the numbers with criminal records and other characteristics that make them "hard to employ" has risen dramatically as well.

In this paper the author addresses the following questions: Why has support for workforce development policies fallen so far as an antipoverty strategy? What are the most recent developments in the field, and what is the state of knowledge about their success? Is a resurgence of interest in workforce development for the poor merited? And, for low-wage workers for whom workforce development is unlikely to be a successful option, what other policies might work? He concludes with some thoughts on what a workforce development agenda might include, and what is needed for such an agenda to succeed.

Improving Educational Outcomes for Poor Children
Brian A. Jacob and Jens Ludwig
(Conference paper and chapter in Changing Poverty, Changing Policies volume)

One of the best ways to avoid being poor as an adult is to obtain a good education. Individuals with higher academic achievement and more years of schooling earn more than those with lower levels of human capital. This is not surprising given that we believe that schooling makes people more productive, allowing them to command higher wages in the labor market.

This paper offers a message of tempered optimism in contrast to a sense of pessimism about the ability of schools to lift poor children's life chances. The past few decades have seen a dramatic improvement in the technology of education policy evaluation, which has enhanced our ability to uncover moderately-sized program impacts within the complex environment that determines schooling outcomes. The available evidence reveals a number of potentially promising ways to improve the learning outcomes of low-income children. This is not to say that everything works: many current and proposed education policies either enjoy no empirical support for their effectiveness, or in some cases have strong empirical evidence for their ineffectiveness. But a careful sifting of the empirical evidence identifies a selected set of interventions that seem to be promising.

The Role of Family Policies in Anti-Poverty Policy
Jane Waldfogel
(Conference paper and chapter in Changing Poverty, Changing Policies volume)

Families are changing. In 1975, two-thirds of American children had a stay-at-home parent. Today only about a quarter of children do (20 percent live with two parents, only one of whom works; while 6 percent live with a single parent or married parents who do not work; see Table 1). Fully half live with two parents who both work, while a quarter (24 percent) live with a single parent who works.

This paper considers the role various types of family policy might play in reducing poverty among families with children. The first section focuses on work-family policies that help parents address the conflict between the demands associated with working and those associated with caring for children. The second section discusses several types of income support policies, including universal child allowances that raise incomes for all families with children, and child-focused earnings supplements targeted to low-income families (such as the EITC). The third section considers policies that address the disproportionate risk of poverty facing single-parent families.

Mobility in the United States in Comparative Perspective
Markus Jäntti
(Conference paper and chapter in Changing Poverty, Changing Policies volume)

The United States has a much more unequal distribution of income than most developed nations. In fact, although it has one of the highest standards of living on average, as measured by its gross domestic product per capita, the more unequal income distribution translates into comparatively high rates of both relative poverty (50 percent of median disposable income) and absolute poverty (the official US poverty thresholds).

This paper examines the dynamics of poverty in the United States in light of evidence from other developed nations. The author begins by examining poverty mobility in the United States based on monthly incomes. The proportion of those who have below-poverty-level income in two or more months is much greater than poverty based on annual income, so the experience of poverty is in some sense much more common than annual figures suggest. Similar background factors—belonging to a racial minority or living in a female-headed household—are associated with higher short-term, annual, and long-term poverty.

Enduring Influences of Childhood Poverty
Katherine Magnuson and Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal
(Conference paper and chapter in Changing Poverty, Changing Policies volume)

Poverty is a common experience for children growing up in the United States. Although only about one in five children are in poverty each year, roughly one in three will spend at least one year living in a poor household. Child poverty is a significant concern to researchers and policymakers because early childhood poverty is linked to a multitude of worse outcomes, including reduced academic attainment, higher rates of non-marital child bearing, and a greater likelihood of health problems. Moreover, childhood poverty, especially when it is deep and persistent, increases the chances that an individual will be poor as an adult, thereby giving rise to the intergenerational transmission of economic disadvantage.

In this chapter the authors review research on the dynamics of child poverty and the influences of poverty on development during childhood and early adulthood in the United States. They begin by describing trends in child poverty. Next, they present three dominant frameworks for understanding the influences of poverty on families and discuss challenges faced by researchers interested in measuring causal effects. Then they review studies that estimate childhood poverty's influence on development in three domains: educational attainment and achievement, behavior, and physical health. They conclude by discussing policies that show promise in attenuating the links between childhood poverty and development across the life course.

Family Structure, Childbearing, and Parental Employment: Implications for the Level and Trend in Poverty
Maria Cancian and Deborah Reed
(Conference paper and chapter in Changing Poverty, Changing Policies volume)

The correlation between family structure and economic well-being is well established. Poverty rates vary dramatically by family structure; in 2006 about 8 percent of married couples with children, 40 percent of single mother families, and 14 percent of single father families were poor. Eligibility for income support programs, including cash welfare, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, are tied to family composition. Moreover, in recent years policymakers have sought not only to respond to family changes, but to try to influence the decisions people make about marriage, divorce, and childbearing. Poverty policies and family policies are increasingly tied.

This paper examines changes since 1970 in family structure and their implications for poverty and income support policy. The authors discuss changes in marriage and childbearing and their implications for the living situations of children, such as the increasing proportion of children living with a single mother. They also highlight differences in work and earnings by marital and parental status, such as the substantial increase in the employment rates of single mothers with young children.

Economic Change and the Structure of Opportunity for Less-Skilled Workers
Rebecca M. Blank
(Conference paper and chapter in Changing Poverty, Changing Policies volume)

The primary source of support for most non-elderly adults comes from their employment and earnings. Hence, understanding the availability of jobs and the wages paid to less-educated workers is key to understanding changes in the well-being of low-income populations. Expansions and contractions in the macroeconomy influence unemployment rates, wages, and overall economic growth, all of which are important determinants of the economic circumstances facing low-income families.

This chapter focuses on the trends in labor market and macroeconomic circumstances that particularly affect less-educated and low wage workers. The first section looks at changes in work behavior among individuals by skill level; the second, at unemployment and job availability. The third section investigates trends in earnings and discusses the reasons behind substantial earnings shifts among less-educated men and women since 1980. The fourth section looks at the most disadvantaged families and investigates the relationship between macroeconomic and labor market factors and poverty rates. The final section discusses policy implications.