Psychological Costs of Growing Up Poor


Address for correspondence: Eric Dearing, Ph.D., Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology, Lynch School of Education, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Ave., Chestnut Hill, MA 02467. Voice: 617-552-1477.


This chapter provides a synopsis of the extensive empirical and theoretical literatures on the psychological development of youth growing up poor. Low family income has statistically and practically significant costs for children's psychological development in cognitive and social–emotional domains, as shown by high rates of academic failure and mental health problems among youth growing up poor. These psychological costs are incurred primarily because poverty limits children's access to developmental stimulation and heightens their exposure to stress in both their physical and psychosocial environments. Yet, convergent evidence from experimental and nonexperimental studies also indicates that improving the economic well-being of poor families translates into improved psychological well-being for poor youth.