Poverty and Parental Engagement

Awarded Scholars:
Supreet Kaur, University of California, Berkeley
Mahesh Srinivasan, University of California, Berkeley
Project Date:
Jun 2021
Award Amount:
$34,675

Differences in academic achievement between high and low socioeconomic status (SES) children arise at an early age. Understanding the origins of these disparities is essential for designing effective policy responses. Most studies have focused either on parents’ inability to afford inputs (e.g., nutrition or preschool) or knowledge gaps among low-income parents. Behavioral economist Supreet Kaur and psychologist Mahesh Srinivasan will examine a different potential explanation: the financial strain associated with poverty may lead low SES parents to engage less with their children—for example, due to psychological channels such as worry, sadness, or stress. They focus on parent-child verbal interaction, which differ markedly by SES, and are a prominent proxy for parental engagement in developmental psychology.  They will test the extent to which reducing financial burdens alters parental engagement with children. The pilot study will provide a cash transfer to 50 low-income, predominantly minority parents of children between the ages of 18-30 months in Oakland, CA, who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. They will collect three-week-long audio recordings from inside the household to examine the impacts of the increased income on verbal interactions. They will also examine potential psychological pathways for such an effect by conducting daily surveys to measure concepts, such as rumination, stress, and affect. Focusing on the cognitive and affective consequences of poverty, they ask: 1) whether parents randomly assigned to receive cash transfers are more likely to report higher levels of positive and lower levels of negative affect, lower levels of financial rumination, higher levels of agency, and higher levels of positive interactions with their partners and children compared to parents assigned to the control group; and 2) whether changes in parents’ affect, financial rumination, agency, and family interactions partly account for the predicted link between transfers and child-directed speech.

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