Study Charts Decline in Children’s Economic, Social Welfare

January 15, 1992 1 min read

The economic status of America’s children has declined significantly in comparison with that of adults over the past three decades, a new study suggests.

Moreover, notes the study in the Jan. 3 issue of Science, the social condition of children, as measured by such markers as standardized test scores and homicide and suicide rates, has deteriorated sharply as well.

“American children are in trouble,” argues the study by researchers at Stanford University.

The study also found that poor families are relatively worse off than they were 30 years ago, and that most gains in family income can be attributed to a huge increase in the percentage of mothers in paid jobs.

Between 1960 and 1988, the median household income for each child and each adult grew at an inflation-adjusted rate of about 2 percent a year, the study notes, with the greatest years of growth between 1960 and 1980.

Income grew at a slower rate between 1980 and 1988, however, and was virtually stagnant for children from the poorest households, the study found. If household incomes are adjusted to remove the economic contributions of women, the annual growth rate in income for households that contain children would be sliced in half, to less than 1 percent, the study contends. For the poorest families, the mother’s inclusion in the paid workforce accounted for nearly all the gains between 1980 and 1988.

By contrast, people over age 65 saw their income grow by nearly 2.5 percent a year between 1960 and 1988--the highest rate for any age group, the study indicates.

The researchers also found that funding for public programs that target adults has grown at a faster rate than for programs that primarily benefit children.

Government spending at all levels on programs for adults grew at a rate of about 6.8 percent per year between 1960 and 1988, the study says, while spending for children’s programs grew by about 2.9 percent annually during the same period.

To provide more services to poor children and their families, the study recommends that governments make these families eligible for more tax credits and child allowances.--E.F.

A version of this article appeared in the January 15, 1992 edition of Education Week as Study Charts Decline in Children’s Economic, Social Welfare