Income Inequality and Child Health

How does growing up alongside more affluent neighbors influence children?

The life chances of children vary dramatically by location and early life experience

A girl born in a poor neighborhood can expect to die sooner and spend more of her life afflicted with mental health problems than if she was born into relative affluence.Often separated by less than a mile, the fortunes of far too many children rise and fall with the resources available in their zip code. The resulting disparities are costly and many of the causes are preventable. Reducing the burden associated with early insults and deprivation will require an understanding of children’s development across time and in context.

The World Health Organization Commission has called stakeholders to action to reduce social inequalities within a generation.

However, current trends suggest that the gap between the rich and the poor is expected only to widen and that the redistribution of resources required to remedy the harmful effects of poverty on children’s lives in the near future is unlikely. Given the pervasive and growing inequalities within countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, it is crucial that we begin to identify malleable community, family and child-level factors that may buffer the effects of exposure to both poverty and inequality on children.

At present, the majority of research has focused on the effects of poverty with little attention to how the distribution or dispersion of income within a given area or setting may influence children and families.

To address the pressing policy question of how growing up beside more affluent neighbors may influence the life outcomes of children living in poverty, our team is creating geographically-derived indices that capture both the average socio-economic status of each child’s neighborhood in the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study as well as the amount of dispersion in income within a local area. With this information in hand we can then examine whether, and how, living and attending school among individuals with different social standing may influence children’s health, educational success and behavior.

For an example of our approach to measuring relative deprivation in neighborhoods that resemble those included in the Community Strengths Study see the short video below: