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Heather Hill Explains Why Income Disruptions May Impact Childhood Development

Posted: 9/3/2018 (CSDE Research)

CSDE Affiliate Heather Hill, Associate Professor at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, joined the Poverty Research and Policy Podcast last month to discuss why changes in income might matter to childhood development. The monthly podcast is hosted by the Institute for Research on Poverty at University of Wisconsin – Madison.

In her conversation, Hill explains how to income dynamics – the practice of measuring how income changes over time, rather than as an average – impact childhood development. She notes: “If constant change is potentially problematic for families and for children then we need to understand how much income variability there is and whether it affects children and children’s development.”

To conduct her research, Hill uses the child development supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). Because the dataset is a nationally representative sample, it’s a great resource for Hill’s work – but it comes with limitations. She notes, “The child development supplement, however, is relatively small in terms of the number of children that are involved. It started out with about 1500 children ages 3 to 14 and they followed those children for three waves with about five years between each one. And so what that means is that when I try to look at some of these differences between groups that I was interested in, between the high and low income families between those with wealth and no wealth, it gets a little bit difficult to be able to understand whether differences exist because the sample size just gets smaller.”

As Hill looks toward future research around income dynamics, she acknowledges that there is still a lot to explore: “There’s still a tremendous amount for us to understand about the contexts in which variability might be disruptive or not for families. And that can include everything from getting a better handle on when is income variability predictable and when can families plan around changes and not have those changes be as consequential.”

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