Household instability and self-regulation among poor children

Dana Charles McCoy, C. Cybele Raver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


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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