Child Poverty Among Racial Minorities and Immigrants: Explaining Trends and Differentials


  • *Direct correspondence to Daniel T. Lichter, Department of Policy Analysis and Management, 102 MVR Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853. The authors acknowledge the support of research grants from Save the Children Federation, the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (1 R01 HD43035-01), and Population Center grant support from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1 R21 HD047943-01). The data used in this study are available to other researchers for purposes of replication. The authors thank three anonymous reviewers and the editor for helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.


Objective. This article examines the effects of changing family structure (including cohabitation) and maternal employment during the 1990s on child poverty rates across America's diverse racial and ethnic groups. Unlike most previous studies focused on broad pan-ethnic groups, our analyses examine children distinguished by race/ethnicity, immigrant generation, and national origin (e.g., Mexican, Japanese, Middle Eastern, among others).

Methods. The analyses, using methods of demographic standardization, are based on data from the 1990 and 2000 Public Use Microdata Samples of the U.S. Decennial Censuses.

Results. Child poverty rates declined broadly across population groups in the 1990s. Increasing maternal employment during the 1990s, rather than changing family structure, accounted for the largest share (nearly 40 percent) of the recent decline in child poverty rates. Changes in family structure played a minor role in reducing child poverty for most of the 25 groups considered in this article. Differences in family structure accounted for a large part of observed child poverty differences between minority groups.

Conclusions. Rapid increases in maternal employment during the 1990s provided a hedge against rising child poverty and a route to economic self-sufficiency for growing shares of single mothers and their children.