Does Housing Quality Affect Children’s Emotional Development?

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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  • Mike

    January 2nd, 2013 at 11:18 PM

    I don’t think being poor would make a negative difference. After all its not too difficult to be poor and yet remain happy.Instead it is the external factors surrounding that which influence negatively.Things such as a violent neighborhood and having others who are more well off can cause negative thoughts and effects to creep in.If everybody was poor nobody would be considered poor in the first place.

  • sam b

    January 3rd, 2013 at 3:34 AM

    I think housing quality sets the tone for the environment children grow up in,the people they interact with and forces they are exposed to.This has a lot to do with the social and economic factors.So it really means those with a low social and economic status are at a disadvantage even before they step into school.A bit cruel if you ask me,but I guess we all have to take whatever life gives to us.

  • hollis

    January 3rd, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    I firmly believe that haing a safe home environment is key to a child being a success as he or she grows up. It doesn’t have to be the nicest home on the block, but a child should feel safe abd secure in his home, and not have to live in fear for his life either while getting there or while living there. I realize that there are many families who do not have enough money to have their own home, so this could be an apartment or whatever. And I know that some neighborhoods are iffy. But the point is that we have to collectively continue to try to make sure that housing for our children is adequate and sufficiently safe, and that they are given somewhere to live where they can feel their most comfortable and be proud to call home.

  • M Vaughan

    January 3rd, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    Housing quality can give a child the feeling of being secure or insecure. It send a message to the young mind about many things in life. Also, the quality of housing often dictates other things of the family and in turn for the child. These can include the things they are exposed to as part of being in that particular neighborhood, the friends they grow up with and more generally the environment they grow up in.

    Its not like the best housing can ensure a good future but a certain level of housing gives you that little advantage when you start.

  • Gretchen

    January 4th, 2013 at 4:15 AM

    Some of the most unhappy people that I know live in mansions. It isn’t about what te house looks like on the outside that is so important. . . but it is about how much love there is on the inside.

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