Research Project

Poverty, health, and inequality in child development

Margot Jackson is Associate Professor of Sociology. She joined the PSTC in 2008. Here she describes her research. 

My research focuses on the dynamics of inequality over the life cycle and across generations, and the ways in which circumstances during childhood have long-reaching effects throughout children’s schooling and into adulthood. In a recent paper in Demography with Dohoon Lee, I examine the effects of poverty and poor health on children’s cognitive development. It is increasingly clear that poverty and health have a reciprocal relationship, with each affecting the other, and with the two working together to contribute to inequality in child development. Health and poverty both vary over time, and each simultaneously obscures, explains, and produces variation in the effects of the other. As a result, it is difficult to disentangle these intertwined effects, and most research to date has focused only on the effects of health on poverty or the reverse. 

Using appropriate techniques for disentangling simultaneous effects and data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study, we examine how the reciprocal relationship between poverty and child health during early childhood affects estimates of each circumstance on children’s cognitive development, and assess how these effects vary with age and across racial and ethnic groups. We find that both poverty and poor health have meaningful negative effects on children’s cognitive skills, but that while the effects of health appear to level off after age 5, the effects of poverty accumulate, strengthening by age 9. 

The PSTC has provided an instrumental source of support and intellectual community in completing this and other research, affording the opportunity to interact regularly with students and faculty who share these interests across departments.