The stress of growing up poor: Pathways to compromised development for low-income children and adolescents

Catherine De Carlo Santiago, Brian C. Wolff, Martha E. Wadsworth

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


Poverty creates stress that compromises healthy development for children and adolescents. Poor children on average do not succeed educationally or economically in comparison to children of more affluent backgrounds and are at greater risk for developing psychopathology. Chronic psychosocial stress is becoming recognized as the major mechanism through which poverty exerts its negative toll on physical, cognitive, and psychological development. We review the evidence for stress as the major explanation of the SES-health gradient with a focus on children and adolescents. We review what the stressors of poverty are for children and adolescents including inadequate physical environment, neighborhood disadvantage, violence exposure, discrimination, economic strain, and disrupted family functioning. We also include new analyses exploring children's perceptions of financial stress, their sense of control, and their psychological functioning in our sample of 98 low-income urban families. In addition, we explore how stress influences the body's physiological stress regulation systems, contributing to poverty's deleterious effects. Analyses from a second study of 73 preschool-age children living in poverty suggest that the risks associated with heightened reactivity are greater for those children in environments marked by higher stress as compared with children in less stressful and more supportive environments. We summarize the pathways to compromised development for poor children and adolescents and conclude with suggestions for intervention and prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Stress
Subtitle of host publicationCauses, Effects and Control
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages32
ISBN (Print)9781607418580
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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