Supporting Families and Academic Success

Awarded Scholars:
Barbara Wolfe, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Seth Pollak, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Project Date:
Dec 2018
Award Amount:

Co-funded with the JPB Foundation

About 20% of children live in a household with income below the official federal poverty line, and more than 40% live in poor or near-poor households. Children living in poverty exhibit worse outcomes than their better-off peers, including poorer health, lower scores on standardized tests, lower grades and lower levels of educational attainment, and higher incidences of behavioral and emotional problems. These gaps persist into adulthood and are associated with lower lifetime earnings, worse health, and reduced psychological wellbeing. Although these associations are well documented, their causal mechanisms—especially physiological, cognitive, and social factors—are not well understood.

Recent research has demonstrated that growing up in poverty influences a child’s developing brain, and that these effects might account for part of the educational achievement gap between poor and middle-class children. Barbara Wolfe and Seth Pollak will test the effect of poverty exposure on the neural systems underlying decision making. They will explore whether this might account for the risky behaviors—and poor decisions and choices related to educational outcomes—that poor children make when they reach adulthood. They will also test the extent to which access to means-tested public housing subsidies might moderate this effect. 


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


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