Poverty, family chronic-stress and children's development

Children from highly disadvantaged families tend to perform more poorly that than their better-off counterparts in multiple cognitive and non-cognitive domains. Recent psychology and neuroscience research has found that the relationship between low socio-economic status family environments and children’s development is partially mediated by children’s exposure to chronic stress. Our analysis based on data from 60 children between 2 and 7 years of age whose parents were mainly highly disadvantaged, show that exposure to socioeconomic disadvantage in early years is associated with higher levels of chronic-stress in children as measured by hair-cortisol. Parenting is also found to be important influence on child stress in the context of disadvantage. In particular, our findings show that parent-child interactions characterised by higher empathy and emotional coaching are associated to lower levels of stress in children - which points to the importance of these dimensions of parenting for buffering stress in children growing up in poverty. Our findings also show that these forms of parenting are less prevalent amongst families experiencing high levels of disadvantage. Interestingly, this relationship between parenting and socioeconomic disadvantage appears to be entirely mediated by the effect of disadvantage on the psychological stress of the mothers.


Francisco Azpitarte [Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research, UoM]

Eric Dommers [School of Social and Political Science, Faculty of Arts, UoM]

Nicholas Allen [Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Dental and Health Sciences, UoM]

Sophie Havighurst [Mindful: Centre for Training and Research in Developmental Health]

Fatou Roost [Brotherhood of St Laurence]