Early childhood income instability, food insecurity, and adolescents’ behavioral health

WashU Affiliated Authors:

Abstract: Liwei Zhang (Brown School)

Objective: This research examines the associations of early childhood income instability with subsequent behavioral outcomes in adolescence, paying attention to the mediating role of food insecurity.

Background: Existing research has documented the rise in income instability in recent decades. Yet, few studies have addressed how income instability during early childhood may shape subsequent behavioral health outcomes in adolescence, beyond the effect of income levels. Furthermore, the mechanism underlying the longitudinal link remains unexplored.

Method: Structural equation modeling (SEM) was conducted with the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study, a longitudinal data set following families with children in 20 large cities in the United States (N = 3,422).

Results: Independent from average income levels, both incidence and frequency of negative income changes were significantly indirectly associated with higher levels of internalizing and externalizing behaviors in adolescence. Food insecurity operated as a mediator of the association.

Conclusion: The results suggest cumulative associations between income instability and children’s behavioral outcomes and the substantial role of food insecurity in linking the two.

Implications: Policies and programs need to promote economic stability during early childhood and to ensure food security in nurturing children’s short- and long-term well-being.

Citation or DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12727