Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

The purpose of this research is to explore, identify, and address how children who grow up in poverty face greater challenges in adulthood than those who grow up nonpoor. The two main areas of interest are the differentials of child well-being and school achievement. The daily hardships that poor children face include inadequate nutrition, fewer learning experiences, instability of residence, lower quality schools, exposure to environmental toxins, family violence, homelessness, dangerous streets, and less access to friends, services, and jobs. Through a literature review and analyses of a national probability data set on high school students, I demonstrate how growing up under these conditions yields significant disadvantages for poor children as they develop into adults. I contribute to this area of research by identifying important factors that mitigate the ill effects of childhood poverty on academic performance. The overall pattern in my findings reveals that childhood poverty need not be a “death sentence.” More specifically, using a national probability sample on adolescent academic performance, I demonstrate that the generally strong negative correlation between childhood poverty and academic performance is lessened when poor children: (1) attend Catholic or private schools instead of public schools; (2) reside in intact two-parent families; (3) have a parent with high aspirations for academic achievement; (4) participate in extracurricular activities; (5) attend smaller schools (<1,000 students); (6) reduce television watching and video game playing to less than two hours per day; (7) increase their time on homework (to greater than eleven hours per week). Importantly, most of these findings do not stand up well when controls are made for race and ethnicity. More specifically, African American and Hispanic students tend to do poorer than their white counterparts and their poor performance is resistant to several of the contexts and characteristics that apply to their white counterparts.