CONNECTIONS BETWEEN LOWER SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT
Why does socioeconomic status have such an impact on children’s development and well-being? What mechanisms can help to alleviate that impact? Research since the 1930s has clearly shown a connection between family stress and economic hardship or low socioeconomic status. Current research findings have consistently shown connections between lower socioeconomic status and developmental issues for children.
EXTREME POVERTY AND HOMELESSNESS
EXTREME POVERTY AND HOMELESSNESS
Today, some 46 million Americans, or 15 percent of the population, live below poverty level. Extreme poverty, including homelessness, can impact a large number of children. Some 40 percent of the homeless population is made up of homeless youth and children; these children often suffer extreme stress, do poorly in school, and lack adequate access to health care and other resources.
Intervention Can Make a Positive Difference
In addition to recognizing correlation and causation between socioeconomic issues and child development, researchers also look at ways to address those disparities. While some steps, like working to increase education and improve a family’s socioeconomic status, address the cause, many interventions are designed to reduce the impact of low socioeconomic status, without changing the family’s socioeconomic status.
· Several key differences are noted between higher and lower socioeconomic status families.
o Higher status is associated with older parents, increased interest in learning and cognitive development, and increased support for curiosity.
o Lower status is associated with younger parents, increased emphasis on obedience, and reduced access to cognitive learning.
o Affluence, or wealth, may also be associated with poor child outcomes, including poor grades and increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse.
Early childhood interventions of different types have shown significant improvements in outcomes for children. This supports the causal link between low socioeconomic status and difficulties in children. Improvements in family income consistently improve conditions for children in those families; however, other types of interventions can also impact children’s well-being.
Two different theoretical concepts are applied to explain the changes observed in children as the result of increased socioeconomic status or early childhood intervention. The first of these is the Family Stress Model. The Family Stress Model suggests that children benefit from improved relationships and reduced family stress as a result of improved family income.
In the Family Stress Model, poor outcomes associated with low socioeconomic status are the result of increased parental stress. Stress causes the parents to parent less effectively, damaging their relationship with the children. Parents experiencing stress are likely to be harsh, uninvolved, and to lack the emotional resources necessary. As a result, the children struggle with a variety of psychological and educational issues. The Family Stress Model shows a direct path from indicators of economic hardship to economic pressure, then from economic pressure to parent emotional distress, from parent emotional distress to conflicts between parents, from conflicts between parents to disruptions in effective parenting behaviors, and finally from disruptions in parenting to child maladjustment.
The second of these is the Investment Model. The Investment Model suggests that increased economic resources allow families to increase their investment, both financially and in terms of time, in their children. Increased investment provides benefits to the children, physically, psychologically, intellectually and emotionally. These investments in children involve multiple dimensions of family support including parent interaction and support of learning, access to adequate food, housing and medical care, and improved surroundings, including living in a safe neighborhood with accessible resources. Children have access to more resources, including parental time, as the family’s socioeconomic status improves.
Interventions in early childhood often rely upon the Investment Model. In this case, resources are provided to parents or children to increase the investment in the child’s learning experiences. For instance, children might be provided with free pre-school, increased access to books and learning materials, or parents might have access to parenting classes and educational resources.
Early access to learning materials, including books, is closely correlated with educational success. Improvements in neighborhoods and schools can also help to alleviate issues associated with low socioeconomic status. Schools can work to involve parents, and communities can work together to create safe and supportive spaces.
Today, both the Family Stress Model and the Investment Model are considered valid. The Family Stress Model may have an increased impact on children’s emotional development and well-being. The Investment Model appears to be more relevant with regard to children’s cognitive development. Regardless of socioeconomic status, families that are involved, affectionate and warm produce healthier and happier children. This can take many forms, but the family dinner is a popular indicator for family closeness. Socioeconomic status can also have an impact on family culture, and how public policies impact that culture.
Influence of Family Values and Policies
While socioeconomic status and ecological systems of family functioning impact children, children are also impacted in a variety of ways by the values and culture of the family, as well as public policies regarding children. Each of these impact and change how children develop and how they experience the world around them.
Culture can determine how much parents value curiosity and experimentation.
PARENTS PASS ON CULTURE, VALUES, BELIEFS
When parents interact with children, they do more than develop relationships. They also pass down information about culture, values and beliefs. In addition, other adults also pass down similar information, including teachers, care providers, doctors, friends and family. Policymakers also have their own values, beliefs and cultural preferences. This can cause conflicts between parents and caregivers, as well as confusion for children. In addition, policymakers may have different beliefs and values than families, particularly families of lower socioeconomic status.
A number of different factors can impact cultural values. What is culture? The definition adopted by the early childhood organization, Zero to Three is, “Culture is a shared system of meaning, which includes values, beliefs, and assumptions expressed in daily interactions of individuals within a group through a definite pattern of language, behavior, customs, attitudes, and practices”. This definition specifies several key factors. First, culture is shared among individuals; it is not the beliefs of a single person.
CULTURE’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO CHILD DEVELOPMENT
Culture provides tools for individuals to create scripts that they use to engage with and understand their environment and others in their environment. These cultural scripts become fully ingrained; they are not conscious, but rather considered, by the individual, to be simply the way things are. Culture is changeable, and may develop and adapt over time. While culture develops from interactions with the environment, including interactions with parents and caregivers, culture is not the same as ethnicity
IMPACT OF CAREGIVER’S CULTURE
First and foremost, individuals, particularly teachers, caregivers, and therapeutic professionals should recognize their own cultural perspective. For many professionals, their “culture of origin” or culture they grew up in and perspective that they developed is largely European American. There may be clashes and confusion between the values of the caregiver’s culture of origin and the parents’ and child’s culture of origin.
· CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
· CULTURAL SENSITIVITY
Parents and caregivers may, as the result of differing cultures of origins, have different beliefs about many aspects of child rearing.
· They may have a different vision of what success looks like for the child.
· They may have differing views on well-being for the child.
· They can have varied views on behavior and discipline, and therefore, different expectations of children’s behaviors and interactions.
· Caregivers, teachers, and others who associate with children and families can increase their cultural sensitivity in a number of different ways. First and foremost, caregivers can familiarize themselves with other cultural scripts than their own. One way to do this is to speak to parents about the type of adult they envision their child becoming. The individual they describe will help caregivers to recognize parents values.
· Individualist versus Independent Culture
· Some broad terms can be used to define cultures. Cultures are defined as individualist or interdependent.