The Effects of Income, Material Deprivation, and Housing Hardship on Children’s Early Development: Evidence from a French Birth Cohort

Anika Schenck-Fontaine, Duke University
Lidia Panico, Institut National d''Etudes Démographiques
Lawrence Berger, University of Wisconsin

Experiencing various forms of economic hardship during childhood is associated with adverse developmental and health outcomes for children. Even though the economic and policy context may affect the association between economic hardship and children’s outcomes, most research has been done only in the U.S. and U.K.. Moreover, most research on economic hardship has focused only on income poverty, even though other dimensions of economic hardship – material hardship and poor housing quality – may also be associated with adverse effects on children and better capture children’s actual living conditions. This study aims to assess, the associations of income poverty, material hardship, and poor housing quality, with early childhood social-emotional and cognitive development, physical health, and sleep quality using longitudinal birth cohort data from France. France is a particularly interesting context to study these associations, having a non-negligible proportion of children living in poverty and a relatively generous welfare policy setting. We find that income poverty is the most common type of hardship, with about 13% of our sample experiencing this hardship. Most households in our sample experience no hardships (83%), or only one type of hardship (12%). However, a small proportion (5%) experiences more than one hardship. This study will use mixed-effects regression models to assess the association between the types and combinations of economic hardship and children’s outcomes. Results will be placed within the international literature and interpreted in light of the policy context of France.

Background

Experiencing various forms of economic hardship during childhood is associated with adverse developmental and health outcomes for children.1–6 These disadvantages endure well into adulthood, with adverse effects on educational attainment, employment, criminal behavior, and physical health.7 Most of the research on the effects of economic hardship has been done using data on children from the United States and the United Kingdom. However, the economic and policy context may affect the association between economic hardship and children’s outcomes.8 For the design and targeting of effective policy interventions addressing the negative effects of economic hardship on children, it is, therefore, important to examine the effects of economic hardship in the different policy contexts.

Moreover, economic hardship is often measured as income poverty; however, researchers increasingly recognize that income poverty is not a good proxy for childhood living conditions. Other domains of hardship have been put forward as important, including material hardship and poor housing quality. All three types of economic hardship are associated with adverse effects on children. While the most rigorous research has been done on the effects of income poverty, which is associated with worse children’s mental and physical health, initial correlational research suggests that material deprivation and poor housing quality are also associated with worse children’s outcomes.1–4,9–11

This study aims to assess, within the French context, associations of three types of economic hardship (i.e. income poverty, material hardship, and poor housing quality), with early childhood social-emotional and cognitive development, physical health, and sleep quality. We will look both at the individual associations of these hardships with child outcomes and the associations with combinations of hardships. France is an interesting context to study these associations, having a non-negligible proportion of children living in poverty and a relatively generous welfare policy setting.17 While hypotheses could be made that the impact of economic hardship might be weaker in France than in the US because of these policies, we know relatively little about these relationships in France.

Data and methods

We use data from the Etude Longitudinale Française depuis l’Enfance (Elfe), a nationally representative longitudinal cohort study in France that follows over 18,000 children from their birth in 2011. The analyses will use data collected from caregiver interviews on economic hardship when the child was 2 months old and on children’s outcomes at 2 years of age (N = 12,831). A data request for this project has been accepted and will be available for analysis imminently. We present below an initial description of the key variables, based on previous data requests.

The key predictor variables of interest – income poverty, material hardship, and housing quality – are constructed from information reported by the mothers and their co-resident husbands or partners at the 2-month interview. Income poverty is measured using information on total annual household income and defined as below 50% of the median income. Material hardship is measured using information on whether families were unable to afford their utility bills, heating, rent or mortgage, or their bills, and whether they recently went a day without food. Low quality housing is measured using information on whether families report that their home is difficult to heat, has damp, has mold, is noisy, or is crowded, as well as information about the lack of a toilet or bathroom. Income poverty is the most common type of hardship, with about 13% of our sample experiencing this hardship. Most households in our sample experience no hardships (83%), or only one type of hardship (12%). However, a small proportion (5%) experiences more than one hardship.

We assess several domains of children’s development and health at age 2. Early language development is measured as a continuous age-standardized MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory score.18 Behavioral development is measured using a continuous score constructed using information provided caregivers about whether the child resists parents’ directions, whether the child often defies parents when being reprimanded, and whether the child often kicks or destroys things when angry (on a 5-point scale from “always” exhibits the behavior to “never” exhibits the behavior). Physical health is measured using information about the child’s general health (on a 4-point scale from “very good health” to “very poor health”) and information about the child’s height and weight to calculate overweight and obesity.19 Finally, children’s sleep time is calculated using information on the child’s bed times and waking times.

This study will use mixed-effects regression models to assess the association between the types and combinations of economic hardship and children’s outcomes. Results will be placed within the international literature and interpreted in light of the policy context of France.

Presented in Session 1113: Families and Households