Financial Distress, DNA Methylation, and Children’s Behavioral Problems

Awarded Scholars:
Daniel Notterman, Princeton University
Louis Donnelly, Princeton University
Kalsea Koss, University of Georgia
Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Columbia University
Project Date:
Dec 2018
Award Amount:
$174,855

Co-funded with the JPB Foundation

Children who grow up in low-income families have worse health, educational, and emotional outcomes than do children in higher income families. Recent studies have examined the extent to which poverty and stress “get under the skin” and affect inequalities in children’s health and wellbeing. Environmental stressors, such as family financial distress, can alter children’s stress response systems, affect brain development and impair cognitive and behavioral skills in ways that undermine educational attainment. 

Professor Daniel Notterman and colleagues hypothesize that biological mechanisms, specifically epigenetic changes, may account for part of the association between childhood exposure to financial distress and child outcomes. Epigenetic changes in response to environmental stimuli can affect gene expression, which can in turn affect the neurophysiological and stress responses that underlie cognition and self-regulation. In this project, they will advance a life course model for studying financial distress and material deprivation across childhood and the association with changes in children’s epigenome.

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