Social Indicators Research

, Volume 108, Issue 1, pp 87–98 | Cite as

The Importance of Early Childhood Poverty

  • Greg J. Duncan
  • Katherine Magnuson
  • Ariel Kalil
  • Kathleen Ziol-Guest


Most poor children achieve less, exhibit more problem behaviors and are less healthy than children reared in more affluent families. We look beyond correlations such as these to a recent set of studies that attempt to assess the causal impact of childhood poverty on adult well-being. We pay particular attention to the potentially harmful effects of poverty early in childhood on adult labor market success (as measured by earnings), but also show results for other outcomes, including out-of-wedlock childbearing, criminal arrests and health status. Evidence suggests that early poverty has substantial detrimental effects on adult earnings and work hours, but on neither general adult health nor such behavioral outcomes as out-of-wedlock childbearing and arrests. We discuss implications for indicators tracking child well-being as well as policies designed to promote the well-being of children.


Poverty Economic well-being Early childhood Policy 



An early version of this paper was prepared for the International Conference on Economic Stress, Human Capital, and Families in Asia: Research and Policy Challenges, which took place June 3–4, 2010 at the National University of Singapore. We greatly appreciate the helpful comments and other assistance from Jean Yeung and Tom Boyce.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Greg J. Duncan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Katherine Magnuson
    • 3
    • 4
  • Ariel Kalil
    • 5
    • 6
  • Kathleen Ziol-Guest
    • 7
    • 8
  1. 1.University of California, IrvineIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Department of EducationUniversity of California, IrvineIrvineUSA
  3. 3.University of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  4. 4.MadisonUSA
  5. 5.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  6. 6.Harris School of Public Policy StudiesUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  7. 7.Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  8. 8.Department of Policy Analysis and Management, Martha Van Rensselaer HallCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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