Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 36, Issue 5, pp 739–760 | Cite as

Poverty and Problem Behaviors across the Early Life Course: The Role of Sensitive Period Exposure

  • Michael J. McFarland
Original Research


Research routinely finds that children exposed to poverty exhibit more problem behaviors than their nonexposed counterparts. This research, however, lacks developmental specificity with regard to timing and the pathways by which poverty exposures manifest across the early life course. I utilized 15 years of prospective data from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development to assess how poverty exposures and financial strains at different ages (0–1, 2–5, and 15) were related to problem behaviors during early childhood (ages 2–5), late childhood (ages 5–12), and adolescence (age 15). Results show that poverty exposures during infancy and to a lesser extent early childhood were robust predictors of problem behaviors in early childhood, late childhood, and adolescence because they were linked to more problem behaviors at younger ages, which persisted over time. These associations partially operated through financial strain. Poverty during adolescence was mostly unrelated to problem behaviors during adolescence after taking into account exposures at younger ages. Overall, this study provided initial evidence that poverty exposure during infancy may have lasting implications for problem behaviors across the early life course.


Problem behaviors Poverty Sensitive periods Life course Stress process 



This research was supported by an infrastructure 5 R24 HD042849 and a training 5 T32 HD007081 Grants awarded to the Population Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. This study was also supported by training Grant T32HDOO1763 to the Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing at Princeton University by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Center for Demography and Population HealthFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

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