Meeting the basic needs of children: Does income matter?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We review existing research and policy evidence about income as a vehicle for meeting children's basic needs-that is, income represented as the purest monetary transfer for increasing the purchasing power of low-income families. Social scientists have made great methodological strides in establishing whether income has independent effects on the cognitive development of low-income children. Our review of that research suggests that a $1000 increase in income has positive, but small, effects on children, rarely exceeding 1/10th of a standard deviation change in outcomes for children. We argue that researchers are well-positioned for more rigorous investigations about how and why income affects children, but only first with thoughtful and creative regard for conceptual clarity, and for understanding income's potentially inter-related influences on socio-emotional development, mental, and physical health. We also argue for more focus on the effects of income transfers, including when conditional on employment, as compared to more targeted direct investments in children. We end with a description of two-generation and cafeteria-style programs as the frontiers of the next generation in income-enhancement policies, a call for more focus on policies than can address income volatility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1138-1148
Number of pages11
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • Income
  • Policy
  • Poverty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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