Family Poverty: the Impact on Children’s Development, Health, and Behavior


Poverty has been indicated to be having negative impact on the children’s health and development in different perspectives. For instance, poverty with regard to a range of possibly amazing factors is associated with higher rates of neonatal and childhood mortality, higher risk of injury either from accidents or physical abuse and neglect and low development score. In spite of the widespread knowledge about the relationship between family poverty and children’s development and health, still there is no consensus on how poverty can be prepared to reveal its dynamic nature. Poverty has always been a global problem and as a result, many nations have been addressing these issues to try and offer solution which include policies of poverty eradication and increasing economic growth rates. In order to help address the issue of family poverty and their impact on the children’s health, behavior and development, the article will address poverty in the context of ecological, socio-cultural, economical and family influences.

Defining Poverty

Poverty is defined as the economic conditions of people regarding their ability to meet their daily basic requirements like food, shelter and clothing. The census bureau in the US uses the many income rates in relation to the size of the family and its composition to determine poverty measures (Banerjee & Duflo 2007). However poverty can be expressed simply as the economic statues in which individuals or families cannot afford to obtain basic needs like satisfactory food, clothing, and housing. Debate on the impact poverty has on the development, health and behavior is more concerned with the culture of broad perspective of poverty as with the poverty economics. The culture of poverty is indicated through some factors like deprivation of environment, organized gangs, violence, drugs dealing, failing school and struggling families

The countries that are affected most by poverty are the developing countries where in certain rural communities people survive with less than a dollar per day. More reforms have been made


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all over the world with major economic policy changes that were aimed at reducing inflation rates and increase income per capita. Poverty is hence a condition of despair, misery, dependence, and hopelessness (Petterson & Albers 2001).

The rates of child poverty is an aspect of family poverty which describes the proportion of children belonging to families that have very low income, lower that the established national poverty line. In the year 2000, a family of three was expected to have at least an income of $ 13,874 and that of four was $ 17,603. It’s estimated that about 22% of families in the US are poor; this is according to the comparable metric of half on that national median earning for the definition of poverty level. This has been also described as the highest poverty rate for children among the developed nations (Duncan & Brooks-Gunn 2000). Using the US data from the census and the poverty definition, 16.2% of individuals under eighteen years are poor and the rates of child poverty were highest in children aged between zero to fives years (Victora et al 1997). The ratio of poor families across the US is greatly varied from place to place across the nation. From Louisiana’s has 30% to New Hampshire’s 7%.

Causes of Poverty

There are several causes of poverty and can be categorized as individual causes and aggregate causes. Poverty can be explained based on some personal characteristics and abilities for example; the level of education, experience, skills and intelligence; state of the health, age and other abilities; discrimination in terms of gender, ethnicity and type of job. Aggregate causes of poverty are of two types i.e. case and generic; the case type is the total individual explanations of poverty. Generic on the other hand is explained by the economic and other widespread problems of the society such as insufficient job opportunities, lack of market and low state income (Duncan & Brooks-Gunn 2000). There are several causes of poverty and they differ in each area and hence the proper understanding of the causes could be very useful for creating solution to the same problem. Some of these problems include;

Unemployment: Lack of employment and under-employment is the centre or the root cause of poverty. Most of type poor families would turn to look for employment opportunities as the only means to improve their economic wellbeing. When people are unemployed, it means that the rats of earning are very low and others may have no income at all. Families where both parents work have been found to be well of while those with only one spouse working tend to be over


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reliant and all the money earned is spent on basic needs leaving very little for investments (Duncan & Brooks-Gunn 2000). Better paying jobs also encourage better life and the families are not considered poor when the parents can afford to provide for basic needs and at least have some for investing. The creation of employment chances is a very important step towards eradication of poverty and improvement of economy. Governments struggle to provide job opportunities to their citizens so as to create a source of income hence empowering the poor particularly the younger generation and the women. Rapid economic growth can greatly increase the production in the general population and the net result would be reduced poverty (Danzinger & Haveman 2001).

Warfare: war is a major cause of poverty in many parts of the world especially those that have experienced war like the Middle East and the most obvious example of such cause is the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Warfare usually leads to destruction of property and loss of human life causing serious problems in the affected. Not only does the war cause loss of individual property but the social infrastructures are also destroyed fro example school, hospitals, industries may be destroyed (Petterson & Albers 2001). People become less productive because they cannot find time to do some work or even if they do, they work under tension and fear of any eventuality. During the Iraqi war, from 1991 to 1993 lead to the fall in the gross domestic product (GDP) from $3,500 to $762.

Failed Agriculture: agricultural practice has been the main source of food and was also the largest employer either directly of indirectly until recent times when industrialization came to effect. Agricultural production in those families that depend on food from their farms for a living usually experiences cycles of abundance and scarcity (Victora et al 1997). Many families rely on subsistence farming causing the period nearing the harvest quite ‘hungry period’. During the time of scarcity families suffer from lack of food.

Natural disasters: there are cases when some areas may experience natural calamities that are beyond human ability or control like floods and drought. These events can cause serous damage to the property especially the floods which can destroy the infrastructure, and even kill people. When property is destroyed or lost this is a sign of poverty invasion because most of the properties are meant to generate income or are to be used for the well-being of the people like health facilities. Other occurrences such as hurricanes and earthquakes can have very devastating consequences on the communities around the globe (Banerjee & Duflo 2007).


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Population Growth: Population growth is a major cause of poverty in many developing countries because the rates are very high the nations cannot provide for the needs of the citizens such as employment opportunities, water supply, health facilities and other social infrastructure (Danzinger & Haveman 2001). The overall world’s population growth is approximated at about 80 million people per year. Such magnitude of increase can cause notable effects in almost all aspects of life especially the ecological systems hence worsening the poverty situation of the developing countries. The increase in population and the loss of habitat that accompanies can lead to loss of natural ecological factors and hence climate change which is usually unpredictable causing incidences like the El Niño rains or very long droughts and global warming. The population increase increases incidences of poverty because it comes with high number of dependent children for every working parent. This leads to a comparatively high proportion of income being used up on consumer goods, shelter, and clothing and leaving out very little for other products and investments in economical ventures, education and other infrastructure. This means that there is very little capital for poverty eradication in developing countries hence this is a set back to effort to reduce poverty and improve the economy (Banerjee & Duflo 2007).

Social Stratification: The social inequality is a major problem that heightens the level of poverty in many countries, and it originates from the notion implied by some culture about the relative worth of different classes of people as in ethnicity, sex and social group. The endorsed inequality put people in different social classes at birth mostly based on religion, ethnicity, race and gender and income level. In the history of many countries including the US, discriminatory laws split the country into two factions and a social space between the white and Africans based on skin color hence given different opportunities for development. Many Africans were traded for slavery, servitude and misused till recently when many countries dropped these discriminatory laws. In the Modern world, the type of discrimination has taken a different mode; there are schools that are well equipped and managed and only the rich can afford while those supported by governments are less equipped with poorly trained teachers. The students here lack exposure and this reduces their ability to apply and internalize what they learn to use them in development or generation of income (Danzinger & Haveman 2001).

Family Structure: it’s been noted that family trends or the way families are organized also determine their poverty rates; Environmental, social and emotional aspects of the family as also determinants of the rates of the family poverty. Estimates are that about a third of poor families


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are headed by single parents and more so single mothers. 65% of the children who are considered poor live in households that are not of their biological fathers compared to the 25% who are not poor. 55% of families in the US are poor because they are headed by single mothers compared to 10% of poor families with two parents (Klasen 2008). Another critical factor is the loss or absence of a salaried parent especially the father is a major cause of poverty. In some cases, the parents choose to be absentee parents and do not comply with the child support initiatives. The number of the elderly and the number of children also determines level of poverty. If there are so many children and elderly people depending on one parent who is earning then the overall income of the family divided by all the family members becomes very low predisposing them to meager living conditions (Singer 2003).

Education: education of the parent has also been noted to be one of the factors with contribute to poverty in most of the families. Basically in those families that have parents who are literate are likely to be employed or be involved in an income generating activities. In the US, the poverty rate is estimated to be above 62% inn families that are lead by parent withy less than secondary education. The rates are much lower in those families whose parents have attained some college education estimated at 15.2%. Note the rates are on 2.8% among families that have parents with college degrees. For this reason parent education has become a very good family income predictor. As more people now realize the importance of education, the rates of poverty are decreasing gradually though pother factors also stand in the ways like economic depression/inflation rates (Danzinger & Haveman 2001).

Impact of Family Poverty on Development

Since development is wide topic and it may include education, health and other aspects, this subtopic will look at develop differently. Development concept that will be addressed here is the cognitive development. Recently poverty affects development directly and indirectly. Physical development is affected directly however cognitive development has indirectly relation. Poverty gets its way to affect the children through morbidity, and also through casual means like parent characteristics, family process like separation and divorce and stress (Mcleod & Shanahan 1993). Family income is more positively correlated to the intelligence quotient of the children under the age of five than other factors like the female headship, ethnicity or parent education. Family income has also been found to be predictive of the children cognitive development and mental health. Whereas it’s obvious that family income directly affects the health of the family, type of housing, food availability, these financial strains could hinder development via distinctive mechanisms. Due to financial constraints, poor families will not be able to provide intellectual


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motivation to their children like text books, playing toys, adequate daycare or the preschool education that is critical for the development of the children (Klasen 2008)

In addition, family poverty can be detrimental to the development of the children through poor parenting habits; this relationship has bee described by HOME scale. Due to the chronic stress that poverty may come with, it’s common to find that parent would apply very cruel punitive measures to their children fro instance yelling at them, shouting, and even slapping rather than showing affection to them by hugging and cuddling. This is very correct particularly when the parents themselves feel that they are not receiving enough mental support (Mcleod & Shanahan 1993). In view of the fact that a supportive home and a stable home upbringing is very vital for the development of cognitive and mental health, being exposed to long-term harsh atmosphere at home translates into insecure emotionally detached children to their parents and the successive behavioral hitches, poor goal orientation, low self esteem, lack social competence, lack of self confidence and inconsistent character and conduct (Singer 2003)..

In trying to understand why poor families bring up poorly developed children, a lot of explanations exist for this. Most notable is the stress, depression, and marital dissatisfaction. It is very difficult for poor families to endure stress due to termination of employment, financial insecurity or perceived lack of support emotionally, financially ands socially. Family conflict is then very common, anxiety and concerns of financial satisfaction hence happiness arise. These in turn, indirectly affects the children bringing about deleterious impact on development (Klasen 2008).

In essence, poverty becomes a very complicated issue and cannot be handled by single magic bullet or strategy that is one dimensional. With poverty in place, there is likely to be negative influence on the family function, more conflicts, and loss of self esteem, depression and psychological distress. The understanding of the human development demands that ecological approach be taken to study the children in a home setting that is duly placed in the society context where the family works had to provide basic needs. The impact on the children on the other hand takes an epidemiologic perspective of the adverse health, social, educational and developmental outcomes depicted (Singer 2003).


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Impact of Family Poverty on Education

Education is one of the aspects of the society that is adversely affected by the poverty levels in a family. This does not only have an effect on the social welfare of the children but it affects their education as well. Generally, students from poor families have been performing poorly and such performances associated with to the emotional and cognitive growth which is relatively lower compared to their counterparts from rich families (Gordon et al 2003). Poor performance is a major concern here, and why the rift between the rich and the poor? The first reason could be that the children from poor families do not have the stability that is witnessed in high income families, implying that they cannot afford to have the intellectual incentive other children have, For instance things ranging from sufficient diet to good clothing to good learning incentives like book and instruments. Furthermore, less income limits the opportunities for didactic learning and other activities hence they lack experience to draw upon when learning new ideas meaning that they will still have less chances to relate the learnt concepts and retention of the acquire knowledge is minimized (Ludwig et al 2000).

Family income is more directly connected to the child’s ability to achieve accomplishments than to their emotional outcome. Therefore bearing this in mind one easily understands why children from the poor families often suffer from more disability and delayed development. Poor families are less likely to be able afford the decent health like obtaining the required medication; better training, or other ways of supporting vocational advancement. Such children develop negative attitude towards school (Smith et al 1997). This means that the children are likely to miss school and these will translate into these will translate into poor performance – lower grades and little knowledge is retained Absenteeism is the problem in this case and a major cause of failure.

The United States census bureau regularly computes the statistics on poverty lines for the citizens during every census which is done after every four years. The values are not based only on the family income but also on other information as provided by the family and the number of family members. In the United States, the poverty rate rose from 12.5% to12.7% between 2003 and 2004 and this increase was approximated to be about 38 million people. The census also revealed that the income for a family of three was about $ 15,000, a family of two about $12,000 and unrelated individuals earned close to $9,654 (all the statistics are average earnings) (Gordon et al 2003)


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Poor families cannot afford the well furnished schools and hence take their children in poorly equipped schools (Blau 1999). Even at this age in time, there are schools in the united states that are still ill-equipped for the increased entry of the children from poor families. The teachers are not properly trained to handle the diversity of children needs and means of improving curriculum. It is the responsibility of the government through school to compensate for the lack of exposure facilities in poor families by providing the necessary facilities which gives hands on experiences. Schools have to take the responsibility for increasing the opportunities for poor children so that the problem of poverty needs to be alleviated (Mcloyd 1998).

Impact of Family Poverty on Health

Child Health is a serious problem of the poor people because they cannot afford decent diet, pay medical bills or take insurance cover. The incidences of diseases, accidents, birth defects and mental sickness are higher in the poor families. It is an accepted knowledge that health and social class are closely related such that the richer families live healthier lives and have longer life expectancies than do the poor people. This is the true despite of whether earnings, education or other socio-economic markers are used and in spite of the medical outcome used (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan 1997). Statistics show that health improvement is directly proportional to the increase in social class and vice versa. However there are some instances health conditions decreases with increase in social class, for instance, the risk of developing stress increases with increase with responsibility but this applies to very few individuals. Other examples include cases like the instances where women who earn less seek psychological medication are more likely to get the medical therapy rather than the psychotherapy hence the same stress persists and they get less social support (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan 1997).

Statistics of the life expectancy in Canada show that those with high income have a higher life expectancy and live about 6 years longer than the poor. The infant mortality rate is about 5.8 per one thousand live births but the rate is higher in the poor families with an average of 7.5 and in the high income families, the rate is 5.0. It is quite evident that family poverty affects the quality of life and especially the children’s. The cases of children born with low birth weight are very high in poverty stricken families and also record the highest infant mortality, and poor health condition (Aber et al 1997).


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The type of food that the poor people can afford is usually not very nutritious because they tend to depend on cheap and low quality food which has fewer calories and is not properly processed. Statistics from the NCH revealed that mothers often stayed without food while working to meet their children’s’ basic needs especially during school holidays when the children cannot benefit from the free meals given at school. Contrary to expectations, the families in the rural areas are the most affected by this problem, yet this is where the farms/lands for cultivation are found (Wood 2003). The families cannot afford or even access the decent and well processed food as those families in the urban areas. There is a strong correlation between accidents in children and insufficiency, implying that children in poor families are likely to die from home fires or get hit by a vehicle compared to children from rich families (Gordon et al 2003).

The sixth annual report from the department of work and pensions opportunity for all indicated that the probability of teenage pregnancy in the poor families (lower social class) was about ten times higher than that from the girls from rich families (higher social class). The report also indicated that the child mortality rate of the teenage mothers was higher than for babies from older parents by about 60%. The children born from poor mothers also had lower birth weights compared to the children from rich mothers (Aber et al 1997). The determinants of health status are at times are complex and not restricted to poverty alone. Some other aspects include social and cultural issues like the size of the family, cultural beliefs. In fact poor health can be the cause of poverty because poor health condition reduces the productivity of individuals where by the capacity to earn some money is restricted, and medical service can utilize all the savings leading to debt and poverty (Currie & Hyson 1999).

The issues of gender have always been a problem when addressing poverty eradication and those who are affected most. Women suffer most in the poor families due to their roles as mothers and wives. However they area also an important element because in their effort to carry out their motherly and wifely duties, they serve as means through which the children receive support and preventive health services like immunization and nutrition information (Currie & Hyson 1999).


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Most of the sicknesses related to poverty are the infectious diseases (e.g. malaria, diarrhea, tuberculosis) and the deficiency illness (e.g. kwashiorkor) in children. This is because the poor families cannot access cleaner water, better food, medical services, education and sanitation. Such diseases are very common in children (Wood 2003). As much as industrialization is viewed as a way of eradicating poverty and solving the health problems in the poor countries, it also comes with other effects and “diseases of the rich” like diabetes, hypertension, respiratory illnesses and other cardiovascular problems.

Impact of Family Poverty on Behavior

Poverty can lead to deviant behavior resulting in criminal activities. The most violent crimes are committed by the poor people in the society and against the poor as well. Crime is a common occurrence every where around the world- in the urban and rural areas. Statistics show that most people are driven into crime by the poverty circumstances (Korenman et al 1995). In the United States, crimes rates in the urban areas are found in areas that are perceived to be poor. Family Poverty definitely is a major contributing factor though it also depends on other factors like unemployment, the population size, the locality and the age distribution. Children brought up in poor families are likely to grow up and become criminals. This has been associated with the neighborhoods in which they grow up (Pollitt 1994). Bearing in mind that families will go for the housing that they can affords comfortably without straining, we find that most poor families live in slums or ghettoes. Research on the other hand has shown that criminal activities are more pronounced in slum areas. Hence it’s likely that children growing up in such areas are likely to get exposed to crime at very low ages. Despair and hopelessness drive them to commit hate crimes against other people (Duncan et al 1994).

Poverty affects the rate of crime in different ways, one, we can think of it as in the fact that there are higher incidences if mental sickness in poor population than in the rich families. Poverty can also cause psychological problems like stress and even depression which may lead to activities of violence, theft, burglary and other felonious activities. Furthermore the poverty situations can cause real or apparent inferior education, which can make the youth rely less on schools, work and role models and increase the chances of involvement in crime or associating with criminal gangs. Crime is seen as an opportunity for the poor people to obtain some items or property which they would otherwise have not gotten by use of legitimate means (Pollitt 1994). In most cases, the use of forces or threats can even enable them to obtain more property and this encourages them to indulge in acts or robbery which is a very violent criminal activity. For the poor children who are so desperately for a living, the benefit of felonious activities is seen to


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outweigh the consequences or the risk of being arrested, particularly now that their opportunity cost is cheaper than that of the rich thus poverty augments criminal activities. All other factors that affect poverty are included in the effects of poverty on crime discussions like the unemployment rates, per capita income and so on (Blau 1999).

Individual earning per month show an inverse correlation with the crime levels in the society, where crime increases with reduced income. The social stratification into social classes draws focus on to; upper, middle and lower class therefore bring to mind more criminal activities. The differentiation of the composition of the people can bring about crime in different means which include; arrests, hate crimes, corruption and intimidation. In most slum areas, there are more crime activities because of many predisposing factors like easy access to guns, and congestion. On the other hand, some areas have more law enforcing officers and therefore the rates of crime in such areas are much lower (Currie & Hyson 1999).

Keeping in mind the population structure and density characteristic influence on the life situations like housing, it is very true that there is a negative correlation between the living conditions and crime. Densely populated regions are often poor and the inhabitants are mostly young people and single, single parents hence the level of crime is higher compared to less congested areas (Mcleod & Shanahan 1993).


Since poverty is a major problem that exposes children to health hazards and other social problems, there is dire need to be a means of alleviating this problem so as to solve other problems as well. Such measure will include the creation of productive employment opportunities that can accommodate a larger population. Some of the means of creating jobs include investing in agriculture labor oriented industries and encouraging the higher productivity occupation. The poor families should be educated and provided with affordable vocational training that will allow them get the opportunity to work and give out their maximum potential and expand the economy. As diverse as the causes and effects of poverty are, so should be the solutions to poverty or the means to alleviate poverty.


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