The Effects of the Recession on Child Development

Kalil, A. (2013). Effects of the great recession on child development. ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 650, 232-249.

The “Great Recession” of 2007-2009 brought decreases in real household income as well as sharp increases in unemployment, home foreclosures, and rates of food insecurity. Kalil (2013) reviewed empirical studies of the effects of the economic downturn on children’s development. Among key findings were: (1) Young people whose parents experienced job loss were more likely to repeat a grade and were less likely to graduate from high school or attend college. These effects were not limited to children who personally experienced parental job loss. Studies comparing student academic performance across U. S. states varying in rates of job loss indicated that students as a whole are affected by these economic pressures. (2) Income instability negatively affected child development thorough loss of child care, health insurance, and other supports. Severe income losses were associated with a significant drop in preschool children’s cognitive test scores. (3) Perceptions of parents’ job and income instability were linked to academic and behavior problems among children and poor academic performance among college undergraduates. In terms of the mechanism for these effects, Kalil proposed that parents’ stress from job and income instability may increase marital and family conflict resulting in more erratic parenting practices; residential moves disrupt family routines and lead to a loss of social support; and income loss negatively affects children’s environment (school, housing, food, safety, and cognitive enrichment). These effects seem to be most severe for children from low income families and for both the very young and those transitioning to adulthood. The author suggested that monitoring and responding to these effects should be a priority for researchers and policy makers in the coming years.

Making Connections

Child development
Cognitive development
Stress and coping

Media Supplement

In addition to research that shows how the economy affects child development, there are studies indicating that child development affects a nation’s economic well-being. Some of these studies are available from the Pew Charitable Trusts .

Timothy Bartik discusses the economic case for preschool in this TED Talk. (15 min 45 sec)