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Reducing the effects of poverty through early childhood interventions

Katherine Magnuson brings together what studies suggest about how poverty and inequality in childhood—especially when experienced at a very young age—affect children and their life chances. After a review of the latest official poverty statistics and changes in inequality of family income over the last 30 years, she looks at length of time spent in poverty and how much duration varies by race and mother’s education. Turning to why poverty and inequality in childhood matter, Magnuson shares her recent findings with colleagues that show clear differences by parent income in standardized test scores and less pronounced differences in problematic behavior, as reported by teachers. She also looks at emerging research in neuroscience and developmental psychology, which suggests that early childhood poverty may be especially damaging, and why, therefore, interventions that focus on young children make good sense in an era of restricted budgets. The brief concludes with an examination of what a group of studies indicates about promising programs—from the Earned Income Tax Credit to conditional cash transfers to early childhood education—to lessen poverty’s effects on young children and thus boost their life chances.


Child Development & Well-Being, Child Poverty, Children, Early Childhood Care & Education, Economic Support, Education & Training, Education & Training General, Health, Inequality & Mobility, Racial/Ethnic Inequality, Social Determinants of Health