The Effects of Childhood Poverty & Education

Updated July 20, 2017

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, in the United States, 21 per cent of children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty line. Although many of these families have working parents, low wages and unstable employment make it difficult to provide the necessary resources for proper childhood development. Not only does research indicate that poverty is a threat to a child's well-being, but it also affects his ability to learn.


Regular attendance at school is important for educational success. Absenteeism has a negative affect on academic achievement in reading, math, and general knowledge. The NCCP has found that among poor children, chronic absenteeism in kindergarten predicts low achievement levels at the end of the fifth grade. Poor families' lack of resources such as transportation, food, and clothing may prevent children from attending school regularly. Illness is another significant factor to consider with regard to absenteeism since 20 per cent of low-income infants and toddlers do not have updated immunisation, which may be required for school admittance.

Emotional Impact

Poverty's affects on the emotional development of children has a negative impact on education. According to the Connecticut General Assembly, research shows that children from poor families experience emotional problems more often than non-poor children. As explained on, emotions are connected to memory, which affect the capacity of children to grasp ideas, think and learn. This lack of emotional development interferes with language development, further preventing the development of higher-order thinking skills that assist with independent problem solving. Children living in poverty may be fearful, which can be converted to aggression, irritability, and apathy, all of which have a negative affect on learning.

Low Academic Performance

Poor cognitive development affects academic performance. Children who live below the poverty line are 1.3 times more likely to have developmental delays or learning disabilities compared to non-poor children. Research indicates that nutrition impacts children's cognitive ability and that poor nutrition retards physical growth, brain development, and cognitive function. Chronic stress from lack of nutrition and a poor environment inhibit the growth of dendrites and limit interconnections among neurons. Poor children who attend school hungry perform more poorly on standardised tests compared to non-hungry children. Poverty also increases the risk for lead poisoning, which lowers IQ and causes speech and hearing problems.

School Unreadiness

A significant effect of child poverty on education is school unreadiness; the CGA states that 40 per cent of American children are not prepared for primary schooling. School unreadiness is seen in low-income children, who enter kindergarten lagging behind their peers and by fourth grade do not meet reading proficiency standards. Children in poverty may not be ready for school because they miss out on things that help with the development of academic skills, such as computers, visits to zoos and museums, preschool programs, and having access to literature and educational reading materials.

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About the Author

Residing in Michigan, Ann Perry has been writing about health and fitness since 2004. She holds a Master of Arts in anthropology, as well as a Master of Public Health.