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Geographic Variations in Cost of Living: Associations With Family and Child Well-Being


  • This research was supported by a grant from the American Educational Research Association, which receives funds for its “AERA Grants Program” from the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Education Statistics of the Institute of Education Sciences (U.S. Department of Education) under NSF Grant DRL-0634035; a University of California, Los Angeles Dissertation Fellowship; and the UC San Diego Comprehensive Research Center in Health Disparities, which is funded by the NIH National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities under Grant 5P60MD000220 awarded to Dr. Sandra Daley. Opinions reflect those of the author and not necessarily those of the funding agencies. This work originated from the first author’s dissertation, and we thank committee members Todd Franke, Sandra Graham, Mike Seltzer, and Martha Zaslow. We also thank Patricia East for her feedback on this manuscript.

concerning this article should be addressed to Nina C. Chien, Child Trends, 4301 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 301, Washington, DC 20008. Electronic mail may be sent to


The effects of geographic variations in cost of living and family income on children’s academic achievement and social competence in first grade (mean age = 86.9 months) were examined, mediated through material hardship, parental investments, family stress, and school resources. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Cohort (N = 17,565), higher cost of living was associated with lower academic achievement. For poor children only, higher cost of living was also detrimental to parental investments and school resources. Parental investments and school resources were more strongly associated with achievement for lower income than higher income children. Results suggest that cost of living intersects with income in meaningful ways for family and child well-being and should be accounted for in the poverty measure.