Get access

Income Is Not Enough: Incorporating Material Hardship Into Models of Income Associations With Parenting and Child Development


  • This research was supported by Grant 5R01HD042144 from NICHD awarded to the authors, with additional support provided by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research to Lawrence Aber and Mary Clare Lennon. The views expressed imply no endorsement by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Partial writing support was provided to the first author through a grant from NIMH to the University of Michigan School of Social Work (R24MH051363), Center for Research on Poverty, Risk and Mental Health (Carol T. Mowbray, PI). The authors wish to thank Margaret Clements, faculty affiliates of the Center for Research on Poverty, Risk, and Mental Health, and the NYU Seminar in Humanities and Social Science for their insights and advice on earlier drafts of this manuscript.

concerning this article should be addressed to Elizabeth T. Gershoff, School of Social Work, University of Michigan, 1080 S. University, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. Electronic mail may be sent to


Although research has clearly established that low family income has negative impacts on children's cognitive skills and social–emotional competence, less often is a family's experience of material hardship considered. Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–1999 (N=21,255), this study examined dual components of family income and material hardship along with parent mediators of stress, positive parenting, and investment as predictors of 6-year-old children's cognitive skills and social–emotional competence. Support was found for a model that identified unique parent-mediated paths from income to cognitive skills and from income and material hardship to social–emotional competence. The findings have implications for future study of family income and child development and for identification of promising targets for policy intervention.