Housing options for low-income families are limited. Research has shown that disadvantaged communities can contribute to emotional and behavioral challenges for children. But few studies have looked at the quality and kind of housing affects the developmental trajectory of children. Rebekah Levine Coley of the Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology Department at Boston College decided to explore this issue in a recent study. Coley looked at housing contexts including stability, housing quality, renting versus owning, and subsidized housing. She examined how these factors affected well-being in both the children and the parents.
Coley used data from over 2,400 participants ranging in age from 2 to 21 years old. The data was collected over a 6 year period and was used to determine how cognitive, behavioral and emotional well-being was affected by housing. The study revealed that several aspects of housing affected childhood development. Coley said, “Within the four characteristics of housing considered in this research, poor quality housing was the most consistently and strongly predictive of children’s well-being across the span of childhood.” Poor housing quality affected the emotional and behavioral development of the younger participants the most and had a strong negative impact on adolescents’ reading and math skills. Stress from living in poor conditions also contributed to negative outcomes. Coley believes that parental stress from inadequate living resources, as well as stress from neighborhood factors, including crime, violence, and drugs, could culminate to decrease parental emotional availability. Combined with the stress of the child, the result could be decreased coping skills and higher levels of internalizing and externalizing behaviors.
Housing stability was examined and revealed mixed results. For instance, multiple moves led to more externalizing and internalizing. But a move within the prior year led to lower maladaptive coping and better reading skills. This could be the result of moving to a better home or better community. Although Coley didn’t fully examine the details of the stability, these contradictory findings should be explored in future research. Finally, the developmental differences of children who rented versus owned, or who lived in subsidized versus non-subsidized housing, were minimal. The cost to own a home may put a financial burden on families that outweighs the benefits of owning. And aside from the environment in which subsidized housing is located, private versus subsidized renting did not directly affect developmental outcomes. Coley hopes that future research will further examine the impact of the home, in all its contexts, on overall development and well-being in children from all socioeconomic classes.
Coley, R. L., Leventhal, T., Lynch, A. D., and Kull, M. (2012). Relations between housing characteristics and the well-being of low-income children and adolescents. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031033
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