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McLeod, Jane D. & Shanahan, Michael J. (1993). Poverty, Parenting, and Children's Mental Health. American Sociological Review, 58, 351-366.


Poor children experience greater psychological distress than do nonpoor children. However, evidence for the relationship between poverty and children's distress is limited by the use of measures of poverty at a single point in time, by a failure to examine race or ethnic differences, and by a lack of concern with explanations for poverty's effects. Using data from the 1986 Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) data set, we explored the relationships among current poverty, length of time spent in poverty, maternal parenting behaviors, and children's mental health. Persistent poverty significantly predicts children's internalizing symptoms above and beyond the effect of current poverty, whereas only current poverty predicts externalizing symptoms. Mother's weak emotional responsiveness and frequent use of physical punishment explain the effect of current poverty on mental health, but not the effect of persistent poverty. The relationships among poverty, parenting behaviors, and children's mental health do not vary by race/ethnicity. These findings support theoretical developments calling for greater emphasis on family processes in studies of children's poverty. They also argue for greater attention to trajectories of socioeconomic status in analyses of the effects of status on mental health.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

American Sociological Review


McLeod, Jane D.
Shanahan, Michael J.