Household instability and self-regulation among poor children

Dana Charles McCoy, C. Cybele Raver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Past research suggests that poverty may negatively influence children's psychological and behavioral health by increasing their exposure to chaotic living conditions in the household. The present study provides a descriptive ‘snapshot’ of instability in low-income households, and examines the associations between exposure to major destabilizing events over the course of a year and three domains of poor urban children's self-regulation. Descriptive analyses suggest that although caregivers from unstable households report higher average levels of health problems and depression, they also have greater assets/savings, are more educated, and are less likely to be immigrants than caregivers from stable households. Results of propensity score-matched regression analyses reveal that high levels of household instability are significantly and negatively associated with preschoolers' effortful control and global attention/impulsivity control, but not with their executive function. Children from mildly unstable homes (i.e., those who had experienced a single destabilizing event in the past year) showed no significant differences in any domain of self-regulation relative to their peers from stable households, suggesting a dose-response relationship between the number of destabilizing events experienced by children and their outcomes. Implications for theories of poverty-related adversity, stress, and parenting are discussed in addition to future directions for research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-152
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Children and Poverty
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 3 2014


  • instability
  • mobility
  • selection bias
  • self–regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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