University of Wisconsin–Madison
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Focus & Focus+ 33(2), Spring/Summer 2017

Introduction to the Issue

This issue includes a summary of work that was presented at the Institute for Research on Poverty’s “Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty: Research on the Early Years of Life” conference held at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in April of 2016. IRP faculty affiliates Jason Fletcher, Katherine Magnuson, and Barbara Wolfe co-organized the event, and attendees included researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. Presenters represented a variety of disciplines, including sociology, economics, psychology, education, public health, and social work. Funding for the conference was provided by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

The conference focused on how family poverty during the first years of life shapes children’s life chances, with attention to both mechanisms of transmission as well as the programs and policies that may be effective in reducing the effects of poverty on early development. The speakers in the conference also touched on the consequences of exposure to many of the disadvantages low-income children face, including child maltreatment, homes with lower levels of cognitive stimulation, violent neighborhoods, and toxins and pollutants.

The topic was timely; research has shown that economic resources and parental investments are increasing for economically advantaged children and youth, while their disadvantaged counterparts experience comparatively fewer investments. Segregation and separation across multiple institutions limit opportunity for the disadvantaged and create further opportunity for the advantaged, thus generating further inequality. The divergence of opportunity for low-income and more affluent groups is both the result of growing income inequality and a likely cause of future inequality. It may also profoundly affect the life chances of low-income children.

Public policies invest considerable resources in poor families and children with the goal of compensating for early disadvantages. The debate about the costs and benefits of these programs should consider the extent to which they protect vulnerable children from potential harmful developmental effects of poverty, as the long-term consequences are likely important for future inequality and productivity. The work presented in this issue provides information important to this discussion.

Intergenerational transmission of income inequality: What do we know? by Gary Solon

Poverty and parenting young children

Poverty and K–12 schooling

Poverty, neighborhood, and school setting

Poverty and childhood health

Poverty and early care and education

Links to additional readings and videos related to the articles in the issue. This resource may be particularly useful in the classroom.