Poverty and parenting both matter

Despite the best efforts of parents, children living in poverty and relatively disadvantaged circumstances still remain behind their wealthier, well-parented peers.

How far does positive parenting mediate the effects of poverty and disadvantage? New research from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, based on the MCS, examined how far poverty in early childhood disadvantages children at the start of their school careers as well as the extent to which positive parenting behaviours and attitudes mediate these disadvantages4.

Findings show that 60 per cent of children who had never experienced poverty achieved a ‘good level of achievement’ in their first year at school as assessed by their performance on the Foundation School Profile. By contrast, only 26 per cent of children in persistent poverty reached this level. Clearly, poverty matters and persistent poverty is even more detrimental for children’s attainment.

Researchers created a composite index of parenting, which took into account many aspects of the care and investment parents made in their child’s development. Analysis reveals that the quality of parenting was an important factor in how well children were doing at school and that positive parenting improved the odds of children living in more disadvantaged circumstances doing better. About half of the effects of child poverty may be accounted for by the quality of parenting the child has received in early childhood. Parenting is therefore an important mediator in redressing the effects of poverty and disadvantage, but a substantial part of the gap still remains unexplained. It would seem that despite the best efforts of parents, children living in poverty and relatively disadvantaged circumstances still remain behind their wealthier, well-parented peers.

Crucially, researchers found some evidence that the effects of poverty and parenting are independent. In other words, children’s achievement can be adversely affected by poor parenting. Achievement can also be adversely affected by poverty. Directing efforts at only poverty or parenting, to the exclusion of the other, is unlikely to close the attainment gap.

Fathers’ involvement makes a difference