Many Kinds of Poverty: Three Dimensions of Economic Hardship, Their Combinations, and Children’s Behavior Problems

Abstract

Income poverty, material deprivation, and subjective financial stress are three distinct dimensions of economic hardship. The majority of the theoretical and empirical literature on the effects of economic hardship on children has treated material deprivation and subjective financial stress as only mediators of the effects of income poverty, not considering the independent effects of each dimension or the effects of their combinations. Using nationally representative, longitudinal data from the Millennium Cohort Study on more than 18,000 families in the United Kingdom, we propose seven distinct experiences of economic hardship, based on the possible combinations of income poverty, material deprivation, and subjective financial stress. We use mixed- and fixed-effects linear regression models to identify whether these different economic hardship combinations are differentially associated with children’s behavior problems between ages 3 and 7. We find that all economic hardship combinations, including those without income poverty, are associated with higher levels of children’s behavior problems. The combination of material deprivation and subjective financial stress and the combination of all three dimensions of economic hardship are associated with the highest levels of behavior problems. Based on these findings, we argue that income poverty is an important but insufficient measure of economic hardship for children and that theory and research on the effects of economic hardship on children should consider the multidimensional nature of economic stressors for families.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported in part by the Duke Population Research Center, Duke University, which has core funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P2CHD065563). This work was also partly funded through an INED visiting fellowship to Anika Schenck-Fontaine. Thanks go to the three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on this article. We would like to thank the Millennium Cohort Study families for their time and cooperation as well as the Millennium Cohort Study team at the Institute of Education, UCL. The Millennium Cohort Study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

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Correspondence to Anika Schenck-Fontaine.

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Schenck-Fontaine, A., Panico, L. Many Kinds of Poverty: Three Dimensions of Economic Hardship, Their Combinations, and Children’s Behavior Problems. Demography 56, 2279–2305 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-019-00833-y

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Keywords

  • Poverty
  • Material hardship
  • Subjective financial stress
  • Child behavior
  • Economic strain