Poverty and early childhood outcomes

The rate of poverty in Canada is dropping. From 2016 to 2017 the percentage of the population living below Canada’s Official Poverty Line went from 10.6% to 9.5%.

Despite making strides toward eliminating poverty, thousands of Canadians still live in poverty. The impacts of this stress can lead to worse health and development for people and their families.

Research Summary

  • Household poverty is associated with worse early childhood outcomes than neighborhood poverty.
  • Moving out of neighborhood poverty is only linked to better EDI vulnerability rates if it happened before the child’s second birthday.

What is the research about?

Children born into poverty face many challenges which can impact their ability to succeed in school and in life.

But there are different forms of poverty and families can transition into and out of poverty.

This study examined the relationships among different levels of poverty and various child outcomes.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers from the University of Manitoba used linked databases to follow 46,589 children born in Manitoba between 2000 and 2009 to age 7 to see poverty’s impact on child development.

The authors tried to answer three questions:

  • How are household and neighborhood-level poverty associated with early childhood outcomes
  • To what extent is transitioning out of poverty associated with these outcomes?
  • Does the timing of that move matter?

In the study the researchers used four categories of poverty:

  1. Both household and neighborhood poverty
  2. Just household poverty
  3. Just neighborhood poverty
  4. No poverty

Household poverty was defined based on whether a mother received Employment and Income Assistance in the month of their child’s birth. Neighbourhood poverty was based on whether a family lived in the lowest income quintile neighbourhood.

Child outcomes included:

  • Vulnerability on the Early Development Instrument
  • Placement in out-of-home care
  • Externalizing mental health diagnosis
  • Asthma diagnosis
  • Hospitalization for injury

What did the researchers find?

Of the 46,589 children in the cohort, nearly 25% were born in poverty. Of those born in poverty:

  • 25.4% experienced both types of poverty
  • 23.8% experienced only household poverty
  • 50.8% experienced only neighborhood poverty

Children born in either household or neighbourhood poverty were more likely to be vulnerable on the EDI than those not born into poverty.

For children born into household poverty, transitions out of poverty at any age were associated with a lower probability of EDI vulnerability.

For children transitioning out of neighbourhood poverty, EDI outcomes were only better if the move happened before age 2.

Transitioning into either neighbourhood or household poverty was associated with worse EDI vulnerability.

Children living in both household and neighbourhood poverty had the highest rates of placement in out-of-home care (24.2%). These rates for household poverty (17.4%) were considerably greater than those for neighborhood poverty (3.1%).

Household poverty was associated with higher odds of externalizing mental conditions and asthma, but neighborhood poverty was not.

Children born into both household and neighborhood poverty were more likely to be hospitalized for an injury (2.1%) than children not born into poverty (0.6%).

What does this research mean?

Children growing up in poverty are at risk for poorer outcomes than those never experiencing poverty or only briefly experiencing poverty in the first few years of life. Children born into household poverty have much worse early outcomes than those born into neighborhood poverty.

Supports to help families transition out of poverty would be most effective for children’s later development if they happened early in life.